In The Blink of an Eye: St. Lucia Jazz 2001

In the blink of an eye, the fireworks obliterates the darkness Jazz in St. Lucia - just a little bit of our spirit opens up for 10 days -...
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in St. Lucia – just a little bit of our spirit opens up for 10 days – it’s simply ethereal.

In the blink of an eye, the fireworks obliterate the darkness. There is a kind of hush and the anticipation from the crowd hangs until the next magical explosion. As sure as you can hold your breath, the skies dance again, and if music is your thing, your senses will fill up with beat after rhythmic beat of gentle and highly emotive sounds.

That’s Jazz in . The festival has grown steadily over the years and today it stands as a benchmark in the region against which other music festivals can be judged. This is one baby that has learnt how to crawl, creep and then walk steadily from strength to strength and has not only met, but continues to surpass its objectives. Whereas the St. Lucia Tourist Board will spend an estimated $2 million dollars on promoting and organizing the festival, the country benefits from some $47 million in returns from the 12,000 odd visitors who arrive and literally take Castries by storm.

While St. Lucians have an innate love for music and the sounds of music in one form or another have wafted through many a kitchen whether at sun up or sundown throughout the years, our love for Jazz has slowly been molded through our years of involvement in the festival. It had to grow on us. There was just no getting away from it, as Media houses came out in full force, selling the event and making it “a not to miss activity.” Today, ten years later, we can afford to look back on our errors in organization, attempting to best each year, and to continue to develop a St. Lucia that is “a careful mix of Acoustical and Fusion Jazz with R&B,” as this has kept the audiences growing and satisfied.

Each year, a new element is added to ensure that patrons continue to be satisfied. There has been a distinct movement towards embracing all St. Lucians into the Festival that in the beginning, was billed as a Pigeon Island event, Pigeon Island being highlighted as a National Landmark in St. Lucia. Crowds were thrilled there for two days and nights under skies for ceiling and the sea creating the most natural backdrop for the main stage performances. For nature lovers, this was euphoria. Hotel venues were quite popular in the beginning as well, offering a highly charged romantic ambiance.

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The introduction of fringe jazz has taken the festival out of the boundaries of the regular locations and has opened it up as an affordable celebration of music. The city centre explodes with energy during the day and at night a whole new feeling comes home to roost. There is a pulsing expectation as children, grand parents, and any other person who is alive, comes out to breathe in the scent of jazz. It’s like the sun never goes down for one week of glorious musical notes.

Teatime jazz is a whole other story. La Place Carenage, St. Lucia’s newest duty free shopping complex, takes on a persona all of its own. Normally it is a comfortable place to lime on an afternoon, or just to watch the sun set. I hear there is nothing better than a domino game and a nice cool drink just at about 4 o’clock, but when Jazz erupts, the natural harbour that hugs the sea wall trembles in expectation.

Not only has the frenzy caught on and spread all over Castries, but on its way down South Jazz has stopped along the east coast just beyond a quaint little village called Dennery. Its strains are caught within the Mabouya Valley, at the Fond d’Or (in English Valley of Gold) Nature and Historical Park. A new addition to this year’s event, this location has potential to become one of the strong holds of St. Lucia Jazz, steeped as it is in ancient Caribbean and Latin American mythology. And if you’re lucky you might come across a lazy boa constrictor just doing its thing.

Finally the notes arrive in the south of the island, to the two largest towns (in that area) of Soufriere and Vieux Fort. There must be something about the sun going down on you because come the magical sunset, and the sweet sounds of Jazz in the south, it leaves you breathless, and full of anticipation.

Back in Castries, students receive a special free performance from the likes of Victor Lewis and Donald Harrison during a jazz musical workshop this year. This free concert has been part of the jazz festival every year since the beginning in 1992. Held in collaboration with the St. Lucia School of Music, this is organized to help develop the students’ appreciation of music.

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[aesop_image imgwidth=”850″ img=”” credit=”Festival Archive” alt=”Chuck Brown At St. Lucia Jazz Festival” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionposition=”left”]

In 1992, this was a bold step that the St. Lucia Tourist Board had embarked upon. After all St. Lucia is a small country, and for the most part, unlike many first world countries, is characterized by a somewhat unsophisticated music audience. So to first dream the festival, then to move to invite music greats like Alex Bugnon, Wynton Marsallis and Bobby Watson (1992), Regina Belle, Herbie Hacock, Earl Klugh (1993), Will Downing, George Benson, (1994), George Duke, Al Jarreau, Tito Puente (1995), Roy Hargrove and Najee (1996), Santana and Chuck Mangione (1997), Grover Washington Jr. and Chic Corea (1998), Harry Belafonte, Nestor Torres and Roberta Flack (1999), Spyro Gyra and Lou Rawls (2000), is a feat near unimaginable except that we have lived the dream, so we know. Our local artistes like Ronald “Boo” Hinkson, Luther Francois, Emerson Nurse and Sojourn have rubbed shoulders with these legendary musicians.

And for 2001 the line up has been even more impressive: among them, Miriam Makeba, Acoustic Alchemy and Carl Thomas. If you’re into real earthy settings and jazz, then you should plan eventually to experience St. Lucia Jazz at the Great House. This is a wholly personal experience between you and your jazz. Just as the arms of the music reach out to embrace you, so to does the warmth of the night. It’s a heady feeling that will leave you on a high for a long time.

And of-course the St. Lucia National Cultural Centre is another unique nighttime venue full of promise. There’s something about the lighting or the way the sound jumps out at you, but somehow, the music in its entirety, sucks you in. And if you’re lucky enough to be entertained by Taj Mahal, whose performance on stage with a live audience is as legendary as the monument from which he borrows his name, then life would have been worth it. If your heart can take sitting on the edge of your seat for an evening, as he rips the blues out of your soul, with his voice, his harmonica, and his sheer raw energy, then think about coming home to St. Lucia Jazz.

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Eventually the fever boils down to three glorious days of fusion jazz, funk jazz, just all out jazz, mellowed by the soft notes of rhythm & blues. The Friday late night at Pigeon Island is a must do. But not alone. This time, it’s a treat that two of you must share. This cannot be one solitary moment.

The Saturday is really a family lime. There is something for everyone. From those who just want an all over tan, to those who just want to show off their already tanned bodies, to the grandmother who revels in watching her grand children gyrate to the crazy sounds everywhere, to the lover of jazz, and the musician who has never been to St. Lucia before, and who vows to return. It’s all there, packed into about 44 acres of solid beautiful space, and rolling hills, backed by the ever present, all absorbing, for today, silent sea.

Sunday: there is a feeling of “this can’t be over! Not yet.” But it is. And the silence is shattered by the fireworks. And if you’re lucky the rain won’t cry over your parade. As another tantalizing year of jazz in St. Lucia is officially over. Even while we understand that it can’t last for ever, there is this nostalgia already, because although we know that the festivities are just beginning what with Carnival right around the corner, there is that special something about Jazz in St. Lucia. We’ll have no choice now but to wait until May next year, to feel the freedom again.

This year, all arrivals, whether artist or “good-timer,” received the official welcome to St. Lucia with the – red carpet and all – treatment. Throughout the years, St. Lucia has thrilled many a performer, whose only dream now will be to return here for a real vacation, or even perhaps to perform at another St. Lucia Jazz Festival. And as they continue to listen to the people, “2001 is only Ten and counting,” and very successful to boot.

Photos copyright Chris Huxley & the St. Lucia Tourist Board.

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