Etienne Charles

STILL WORKING: Etienne Charles

Taking time to pause, rest and reflect.

That’s what ace trumpeter Etienne Charles says he has been doing with the unexpected downtime forced by the restrictions of the ongoing global pandemic.

“Personally it has been a time to pause, reflect and rest. I was in the middle of a hectic, some may say frantic, tour schedule when lockdown happened, so my body took a well-needed recharge,” the laid-back smooth jazz maestro told the Express via WhatsApp yesterday.

The highly demanded US-based musician said while postponements and cancellations of events have meant a loss in income, the lockdown in his home-base of Michigan has gifted him valuable time with family. He says he spent his days video chatting with family in the US and back home here in T&T.

“Professionally, the main challenge was dealing with more than a year of shows, recording sessions and research trips being cancelled or postponed. Adjustments have been many, but I am grateful as it has me more connected with family. We do weekly ‘Zooms’ with a whole crew on my dad’s side and periodic ‘Zooms’ with my mom’s family, seeing everyone (even though it’s on a screen) has been really uplifting.”

The solitude has also opened space for Charles to be creative. He said he used the extra hours to create new musical works, as well as visit a number of unfinished shelved projects.

“I have been creating a lot of new music as well as mixing previous recording projects. I’m currently sitting on a few albums ready for release,” Charles beamed.

“Is it difficult to be creative in an uncertain time like this? Everybody is different with this. I know some people who have been prolific and some who haven’t played much while adapting to this new sobering reality.

“I did both. I spent the first couple weeks relaxing and reading, then I was able to get back to a serious daily practice, study and writing regime,” he revealed.

Charles said fans can look forward to reliving some of his iconic performances on his web channel Creole Soul TV in the upcoming weeks.

“I’ve curated a series of concerts, combinations of livestream and pre-recorded, all HD quality, to be aired on my web channel. Some of the concerts include folklore, Carnival: The Sound of a People, Creole Orchestra Live in New York, Creole Christmas, and much more,” he said.

Holding virtual class

Charles currently serves an assistant professor of jazz studies at Michigan State University (MSU) in the US. He has been a part of MSU’s renowned music programme for the past decade.

However, like most educators the world over, the pandemic has forced him to adjust his approach for the start of the new semester to facilitate distance learning.

“I’ve been teaching this summer. I taught a virtual programme for Carnegie Hall in July, as well as some private students. We’ve already started our semester at Michigan State University. I’m in my 12th year here now, and it’s definitely a new way of working.

“All of my instruction this semester is virtual: via Zoom with high-def audio interfacing. I spent all summer on a technology committee getting our college ready for the scenario of online instruction, in the likely event of in-person instruction being prohibited,” Charles explained.

That scenario became reality a week before classes began this month. MSU decided to make all undergraduate instruction virtual, and Charles was already ahead of the eight ball.

“We’ve hit the ground running with all students and faculty having access to first-rate audio gear for lessons and recordings,” he boasted.

Charles said the recent opening of live performance spaces in Michigan means he will soon be returning to the stage for both live and livestream events during the American fall season.

“I have a couple live performances scheduled for this fall at venues that have been operating at smaller capacity with strict physical distancing measures in place. Many music venues here in Michigan are back up and running. There are also venues that are open for the band to perform to a virtual audience via livestream,” he said.

The fiercely patriotic trumpeter spared a thought for the thousands of music fans in his homeland currently starved of live in-person entertainment, begging them to “hold a strain” and “to keep doing the right thing” to ensure the health and safety of themselves and their loved ones.

“Please continue to stay safe. The virus doesn’t spread itself. Stay inside if you can. The live music industry worldwide has been dealt a vicious blow with the spread of Covid-19 and the wound gets deeper every month that we can’t go on stages.

“Kudos to those who are dedicated to beating this virus and have been putting in the work. Props to the people of T&T for keeping the curve down. I must show love and gratitude to the music lovers in T&T,” Charles concluded.

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