Lord Kitchener and Pan Music:|
A Match Made in Heaven
by Les Slater
photo: Carl Newallo
Presentation from the Kitchener symposium held at Medgar Evers College - Brooklyn, New York, USA
“I made the steel band a real study. I know the runs and the notes that mean something to the sound of the band. I can hear the sound of the tenor pan.” (1)
It is to our eternal good fortune that there developed very early a symbiotic relationship between Lord Kitchener and the steel band milieu, and that despite spending a goodly portion of his early career in England, that bond with the pan culture only grew stronger after he relocated to Trinidad and steel band haven.
In that opening quote from Kitch, from the Pan magazine Fall 1987 issue, he is of course conveying a sense of what gave him such facility in composing music for the steel band. Many others would doubtless lay claim to similar familiarity with the pan idiom. Whether this is in fact so is ultimately a moot point. Suffice to say that the Kitchener connection to pan proved to be literally in a class by itself, well beyond the contact point attained by lesser mortals and considered by them to be special. Pan magazine summed up in these words the serendipitous circumstance of Kitch’s return to share space once again with those whose lot it was to secure pan’s place as a spellbinding new addition to musical culture: “For the steel bands, the ranks of the music suppliers now included someone who had a real feel for what embodied the quintessential panist’s turn-on.” (2)
It became quite obvious upon his return home that he had pan music very much in his sights. He returned late in 1962, in time for the Carnival of ’63, and he began his impressive run of road march mastery with The Road, followed in ’64 by Mama Dis Is Mas and My Pussin in ’65. Evident in all of them was Kitchener’s propensity for crafting melodic lines that ideally suited the steelpan format, most significantly, the dominance of staccato form as opposed to legato, in the notes that found their way into his musical sketches. In that period, when steel bands were the predominant road/party music for Carnival revelry, Kitch was also well aware of the importance of people-friendly chorus lines. So that whether in the Carnival-themed The Road (“De road make to walk on Carnival day…”) and Mama Dis Is Mas (“De band will be passin’ down Frederick Street…”) or the slightly risqué My Pussin (“Is my pussin/My pussin/My pussin…”) the audience sing-along requirement was handily met.
By 1967, Kitch had ramped up the use of another feature that would be a trademark of his compositional style, the strategically placed rhythm pause for dramatic effect. Indeed 67, his highlight selection for 1967, demonstrated the pause effect in spectacular fashion, and introduced a new platform that, again, would become synonymous with Kitchener’s exceptional tunesmith abilities, the extended melodic line, here located within the verse. The then unusual device of a two-bridge verse, making for a multi-part work, each section having its own distinctive character and feel, made 67 not only the runaway 1967 road march but a definite landmark in the galaxy of hit material that would be amassed by Kitch. For pan’s orchestral voice, grounded in a rhythmic assertiveness, 67 had a pulse to it that was akin to manna from heaven. As we listen to an excerpt, the entire piece of course evinces a celebratory atmosphere, but check how different are the three musical moods defining the three elements that comprise the verse – how different is:
Tina why you sleepin’
This is Jourvert morning
Tina why you sleepin’
This is Jourvert morning
Gul ah really think you makin’ fun
Can’t you hear de band dem passing on
Everybody jumpin’ in de fete
And you fold up in yuh coverlet
And how different that mood is from:
If you want to lie down
And roll in yuh nightgown
Gul ah have no time wid you
When you miss me ah jumpin’ too
And again, the exchange between Kitchener and this Tina judiciously spiked with those exciting rhythm stops in advance of sections two and three.
’67 was a monster of a road march and a Kitchener milestone, but shame on anyone who thought this represented the limit of Kitchener’s creative genius, where steel band-targeted material was concerned. In three years would come Margie, which Kitchener later acknowledged as his first important musical challenge to panists. Prof. Waldron’s serious exploration of Margie as an inspired work on so many levels addresses its musical complexity as well, much to our delight. From the panists’ standpoint, here they were being served up chord progressions that were a departure from standard road/party fare of the day, and they obviously welcomed it, judging by Kitch’s copping the road march title once more. But we need only reference Prof. Waldron’s examination where amply detailed are the properties that made Margie an outstanding composition. As an aside, in a nod to current happenings, perhaps it bears noting that Kitch’s Margie, who we have reason to believe was not a local, may have had a somewhat tepid response to his entreaty to “lime” on Carnival day. But what a difference 38 years makes, with an indoctrination to the art of liming being recently offered on national TV in America by another non-T & T local, Queen Latifah.
Kitchener would say of his taking the panists for a run with Margie, that he “just kept on challenging them after that.” (3) As the 70s progressed, there was another stage demanding his focus, alongside Carnival street parading and its demand for the music of revelry. Panorama, which had begun the same year Kitch had reconnected to Carnival (1963), was fast becoming the major Carnival forum for steel bands. With high-tech enhancements powering up the capacity of brass bands and, increasingly, deejays for road and party music, the steel bands’ prominence on the Carnival music scene correspondingly faded. But before that major shift had become a fait accompli, Kitchener’s status as supreme crafter of music for the road had been indisputably established. In fourteen Carnival celebrations between 1963 and 1976, Kitch won the road march title no fewer than 10 times. (4)
The Panorama would allow Kitchener to reach deep into his reservoir of musical skills to come up with some of the most stunning works ever written for pan and erase any doubt as to his nonpareil ranking as a composer for this medium. From the mid-70s there would be such niceties as Pan in Harmony and Pan in the 21st Century. In both pieces, apart from his musical acumen, he continued to demonstrate a familiarity with and fondness for the constituent units of the pan orchestra, something he tended to do throughout the years of his writing on pan themes as, for example, in Steelband Music in the 1960s. In Pan in Harmony, he was again singing the praises of individual pan instruments and the fantastic music they make together:
You can hear bass and the guitar in the background
While the cello and the tenor with the big sound
And they all join together
With the rhythm of the drummer
Pappy-O / Harmony fo’ so. (5)
Over his career, he would create individual odes to the guitar pan, the iron man, the flag woman – not to mention the countless shoutouts in his pan-themed compositions to major modern-day figures, the likes of Clive Bradley, Ray Holman, Boogsie Sharpe, Jit Samaroo et al. No aspect of what made steel band music happen escaped Kitchener’s purview. Indeed one particular gesture of salutation resulted in Kitch running afoul of many historians and would-be historians of the pan phenomenon, when he referred to pioneer Winston “Spree” Simon as the “inventor” of pan in the 1975 road march, Tribute to Spree. (In truth, Kitch should have known that claims about who did what, particularly in the pan culture’s infancy, are a toxic area that should best be studiously avoided.)
Beginning when he wound up living in LaCourt Harpe in Port of Spain, after coming to town from Arima, and found himself cheek-by-jowl with the Bar 20 steel band’s practice yard, Kitch obviously considered himself intensely partial to pan music. The decades-long avid interest would perhaps suggest a desire, along the way, for hands-on involvement on his part, but he was quick to set the record straight: “I don’t know anything about pan; I can’t play it at all.”(6) Inspired by Bar 20, his Beat of a Steel Band in 1944 set the stage for his unbroken identification with the world of pan, represented in a manner that best did it for him, namely, compositions that spoke to or were designed for this evolving new musical experience that was so sweetly compatible with the calypso tradition in which he was immersed.
1979 would come to assume special significance in the odyssey, for this was the year of Symphony in G. The piece is considered by many to be the first of Kitchener’s “major reach” efforts. Structured with a minor-key verse, this works to perfection as the attention-grabber, suggesting something grand to follow. Those expectations are stylishly fulfilled as the composition unfolds, all the way through Kitchener’s use of patently classical lines that conclude the chorus. Symphonic indeed! But 1979 happened, coincidentally, to be the year of a steel band boycott of Panorama, thereby denying audiences what would surely have been a number of bands trying to take the measure of Symphony in G. Going against the grain, Desperadoes treated a grateful Carnival Tuesday audience in the Grand Stand at Queen’s Park Savannah to Clive Bradley’s brilliant arrangement. A sampling seems appropriate.
Driven by the need he recognized to supply Panorama’s fiercely competitive participants with imaginative material, Kitch would spare no effort through the 80s and 90s to do so. Pan magazine referred to his reveling in a “Kitch vs Kitch game of ‘Can You Top This?’” (7) Symphony in G, it turned out, was merely setting us up for the tremendous flow of compositional wizardry that would follow. Such works as No Pan, Sweet Pan, Heat, Pan Night and Day, Pan In A Minor…lured us into thinking there was nothing left in the tank. Guess again. We would continue to be surprised by how awesome were Kitchener’s abilities on the musical front. Always, after his last super offering, was the chance that lurking around the corner was another Iron Man, Bees’ Melody, Earthquake, Guitar Pan…
Kitch let on that music was first in the process of designing these pan-themed masterpieces. “Music is what I’m looking for,” he said. “Once I get the music – those chords and that melody – then finding a theme is easy.” (8) But, remarkably, those were not “afterthought” lyrics that accompanied the music. His lyrics had him assuming any number of roles. He was advocate, as in his lamenting the steel bands’ reduced presence in Carnival in 1985’s Pan Night and Day. (“Every night, every day/People want to hear the steel band play…We want you for all the time/Not just for Jourvert”) He was, as always, the compelling storyteller, as in his experience with the musical bees of Bees Melody (1992), or the folks in Earthquake (1994) mistaking the rumble of pans in the Panorama for genuine earth tremors. And he seemed to particularly relish the role of teacher, shown off to advantage in the 1987 blockbuster, Pan In A Minor, where pan arrangers and players were his total focus:
Ah walk around the room and ah started to create
Ah know ah have to prove to them
Ah have the ability
Ah there and then decide the minor should dominate
If not entirely
For most of the melody
You notice the chorus carries a simple hook
From the seventh to A minor…(9)
Lyrics that reflect a desire to share such musical intelligence with panists are quite rare. But, aside from getting into such technicalities vis a vis musical content, Kitch oftentimes assigned himself the responsibility to be instructional in the manner of his phrasing, again, clearly intended for the pan player’s benefit. The verses of Pan in Harmony are illustrative of this, as in: “If you pass by Salvatori Jourvert mornin’/Yuh go hear pan till yuh giddy they ent jokin’” (10)
This in my view underscores the depth and genuineness of the commitment that Kitchener maintained to the world of pan. It must be said that the pan community in large measure recognized his genius. In the era of a preponderance of steel band music on the road, Kitchener came to be dubbed rather early the “Road March King.” Later, when forces combined to shift the steel bands’ gaze almost totally to Panorama, he was again front and center. There were 36 Panorama contests between 1963 and 1999, the year before Kitchener left us. The record compellingly makes the case: bands performing Kitchener’s music were in the top three in 29 contests, winning on 18 occasions. (11) Here are excerpts from two of his Panorama winners, Pan Night and Day (1985) and Iron Man (1990).
The love affair between Kitchener and the pan medium was no fly-by-night affair. For most of his long tenure as a troubadour in calypso, where pan was concerned there was passion, there was dedication. And his profound understanding of what best constituted the music of the realm, remained in place to the very end. Along came Toco Band in 1999, as he got ready to bow out, as proof of that. One is constrained to say it will be many, many moons, if ever, before we see his equal.
(1) Les Slater, “Lord Kitchener and Pan Music Have a Thing Going” Pan, Fall 1987
(4) National Carnival Bands Assoc., Trinidad & Tobago Complete Carnival (2006)
(5) Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), “Pan in Harmony” from album Home For Carnival, KH Records (1976)
(6) Les Slater, “Lord Kitchener and Pan Music Have a Thing Going” Pan, Fall 1987
(9) Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), “Pan in A Minor” from album Kitchener the Grand Master, B’s Records (1987)
(10) Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), “Pan in Harmony” from album Home For Carnival, KH Records (1976)
(11) National Carnival Bands Assoc., Trinidad & Tobago Complete Carnival (2006)
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