Clive “Zanda” Alexander

‘kaisojazz’ creator:

Clive “Zanda” Alexander

A serious musical innovator and doting big brother.

That’s how ace steel pan arran­ger Carlton “Zanda” Alexander remembers his late brother, piano virtuoso Clive “Zanda” Alexander.

“My brother was a serious innovator in music. He came back (to Trinidad and Tobago after studying abroad) and he had the consciousness of taking the calypso and reharmonising it, exposing new colours,” a celebratory Carlton said during a moving WhatsApp call with the Express yesterday.

Clive Zanda, widely regarded as the creator of kaisojazz, was passionate about improv and stretched the boundaries of extemporaneous creation beyond his music into his work as an architect, Carlton revealed.

“He used to say architecture is frozen music. He created what he called Tropical architecture because Clive had to innovate that, too,” Carlton chuckled.

Clive “Zanda” Alexander sadly passed away on January 6 at the Port of Spain General Hospital (PoSGH). The 82-year-old largely self-taught pianist had been admitted to the St James Medical Complex five days prior to his passing, complaining of low blood sugar. A diagnosed diabetic, he was later transferred to PoSGH after doctors at the St James facility determined he was suffering from renal failure.

Carlton said he was very close to his brother all his life. He wrote to him frequently while he was studying in the United Kingdom. And he says his brother always put him in the same room as the industry leaders in both architecture and music, thereby directly helping him to prosper in both fields.

“He meant everything to me. We spent a lot of time together, working on architectural drawings and playing music. He took me to his first-ever show at UWI (The University of the West Indies, St Augustine). He introduced me to (US-based Trinidadian jazz double-bassist) Dave “Happy” Williams. When he brought down (iconic American jazz drummer) Elvin Jones to Trinidad, he stayed at Clive’s home in Blue Basin (Diego Martin), and I had access to him. When (American jazz drummer) Max Roach came, I was also able to meet him. So I was exposed to these top, renowned musicians through Clive,” Carlton recalled.

An immense talent

The first of nine children, Clive “Zanda” Alexander was born in South Trinidad in the then-sleepy village of Siparia in 1939. His father, Vincentian Richard Alexander, was a shoemaker by profession that played the guitar and led the community’s church music programme. His mother, Louisa, a homemaker, sang gospel.

As a boy, Clive Zanda first played music on self-made cardboard bongo drums. At 15, he started classical piano classes where his immense talent as an improv musician was immediately apparent. So much so that his instructor often left him to his own devices.

Alexander completed a correspondence course in architecture while working at his father’s cobbler shop. A district engineer famously noticed his drawings while visiting the shop and got him an apprenticeship as a trainee draughtsman. In 1959, Alexander emigrated to the UK to study architecture.

“When he left for England in the late 50s, I think I was 14; out of the four boys, I was the one who used to write to him regularly in England. I started to get involved in architecture and he had a good friend who was coming back to Trinidad, the late architect Claude Benjamin, to open his firm in San Fernando. Clive wrote me and told me to go see him and that was the first job I ever got in the late 60s,” Carlton said.

It was during this time Clive Zanda started to thrive and make a name on the London jazz scene. After training with composer Michael Grant, he formed his own combo and worked on the fusion of calypso and jazz.

Returning to T&T in the middle of the defiant Black Power movement in 1969, Clive Zanda worked with the late Scofield Pilgrim, a music teacher at Queen’s Royal College, to start the Gayap workshop where musicians could build a community and learn from one another.

It was around this time that Alexander labelled his calypso, folk and jazz musical experimentation kaisojazz. And in 1976, he released his first album, Clive Zanda is Here! With Dat Kinda Ting. He would go on complete three more LPs during his lifetime, including Pan Visions Revisited (2000), Pan Jazz Conversations (2003) and Piano Vibrations (2016).

“When he came back and opened his practice, I was working with Ministry of Works on Edward Street (Port of Spain) as a senior draughtsman technician. A lot more started to unfold. He opened AB architects on Dundonald street. So I would work with the ministry from 8 to 4 and then go work with Clive.

“After work, we would play music. People like Felix Roach and Ralph Davies were at these sessions and younger musicians you know today, like Michael Boothman and David Boothman. Ray Holman used to pass through, too, and hold class,” Carlton said.

A legacy we can’t ignore

Jazz music promoter Nigel Campbell, director of Production One Ltd, recalled going from life­long fan to trusted friend after meeting Clive Zanda at their Jazz Artists on the Greens concert in 2007.

“We officially met at Jazz Artists on the Greens 2007 where he sat in on a performance with the late Raf Robertson. I was however a fan of him and his music going way back to 1977 when I heard his version of Sparrow’s “Mr Walker” on the car radio. I mistakenly thought it was Dave Brubeck and was so impressed that “Sparrow get though with a big jazz name playing his music”. When I heard it was Zanda, I became a lifelong fan,” Campbell recalled.

Clive Zanda later called on Campbell to write the liner note essay on his reissue of his debut album, Clive Zanda is Here! With Dat King Ting Calypsojazz Innovations.

“I was privileged to write the liner note essay and interview him to get a fuller under­standing of his true role in the local music scene. We (Production One) produced his 2018 concert performing that first album, thereby completing the circle of my first connection with the music and person,” Campbell said.

Campbell said Zanda, whose talent on the ivories was heard live all over North America and the Caribbean, “represents a kind of pioneering figure in how to see and hear our music in a new way”.

His contribution to the development of kaisojazz shows that our music, our calypso, can have a global presence beyond Carnival. The end result of his experiments he began in the early 1960s, with the mixing of expanded harmony and the language of jazz with the rhythms and “feel” of calypso and our folk forms, created a pathway and set the template here and regionally for a number of artists to follow.

“From Luther Francois, Annise Hadeed, the Boothman brothers, up to a new generation, including Etienne Charles and Élan Parl, have all gained inspiration and commercially developed careers and repertoires based on the work of Clive Zanda. That is an impact and legacy we should not ignore,” Campbell concluded.

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