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Over its century-plus history, jazz has forged its shape-shifting identity by encompassing a rainbow of musical dialects in an improvisation-infused setting. While jazz’s potency launched into popular appeal based on the integration of the European classical music sensibility and the grassroots of African-American cultural heritage, it has not remained a static idiom. Indeed, jazz has become organically enlarged, expanded and revitalized by cultivating new influences into the tradition, from the Afro-Cuban movement of the ’40s to today’s artists embracing their ethnic heritage.
One of the most compelling and exciting young jazz artists ushering the genre into groundbreaking new territory is trumpeter/bandleader Etienne Charles, who, still in his 20s, has already recorded three impressive and well-received albums for his own Culture Shock Music imprint. His new album, Creole Soul, is a captivating journey of new jazz expression. It buoyantly taps into a myriad of styles rooted in his Afro-Caribbean background and plumbs the musical depths of the islands, from calypso to Haitian voodoo music. Also in the jazz amalgam mix are rock steady, reggae, belair, kongo and rock as well as the influence of Motown and R&B music Charles listened to on his parents’ record player when he was growing up.
“Jazz is Creole music,” says Charles who was born in Trinidad, relocated first to Florida and then New York to further his jazz studies (graduating, respectively, from Florida State’s and Juilliard’s jazz programs) and today teaches jazz trumpet at Michigan State University. “As a person in the new world, I’ve been influenced by so much music. And my family has a mixed background, with French Caribbean, Spanish and African roots as well as Venezuelan influences. I come from a fusion of rhythms, a fusion of cultures. That’s what this album is all about: focusing on soul music that is Creole at heart.”
As befitting an artist who excels with such a diversity of musical styles, Charles has performed with a range of musicians, from Roberta Flack, Rene Marie and David Rudder to Wynton Marsalis, Johnny Mandel, the Count Basie Orchestra and Maria Schneider. He also worked with steel pan all-star Len “Boogsie” Sharpe as well as jazz masters Frank Foster and Benny Golson.
"A daring improviser, Charles also delivers with heart-wrenching lyricism"
"…had strength and a clear, almost classical sense of thematic organization."
Jazz St. Louis is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to lead our community in advancing the uniquely American art of jazz through live performance, education and community engagement.