'Creole Christmas' a trip through the tropics - Albuquerque Journal

‘Creole Christmas’ a trip through the tropics

Etienne Charles likes to cook up a gumbo of Christmas music.

Etienne Charles will perform at the Outpost Performance Space. He will perform some holiday classics with a twist.
Etienne Charles will perform at the Outpost Performance Space. He will perform some holiday classics with a twist.

Charles, a trumpeter from Trinidad and Tobago, brings together his own jazz interpretations of traditional American, European and Caribbean holiday tunes into a seasonal concert called “Creole Christmas.”

“The show is a combination of sounds in the New World,” Charles said in a phone interview.

The source of those sounds can be rhythms derived from such Caribbean island nations as Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti and Martinique.

Charles and his band will play, for example, a straight-ahead jazz version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” a slow bomba dance take on “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” ballet, and the Mighty Spoiler’s “Father Christmas,” a popular Trinidadian calypso song from the early 1950s.

The band also incorporates other classics from Trinidad and Tobago.

One is “Indian Parang Chick.”

The band also likes to play waltzes that were composed in the 1910s and ’20s by Lionel Belasco, whom Charles considers the most prominent of Trinidad’s composers from that period. The Belasco pieces are “Juliana” and “Roses of Caracas Waltz.”

Many of the songs in the Wednesday, Dec. 14, concert are on Charles’ 2015 CD “Creole Christmas.”

The bandleader sometimes doesn’t decide until he’s on stage what interpretation to give a song.

“We will do ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas.’ ” But sometimes we do it as a reggae, sometimes as jazz. It depends on our mood,” Charles said.

The concert at the Outpost Performance Space is part of a five-concert national tour.

When he’s not on the road, Charles is at Michigan State University, where he is an associate professor on the music faculty. He teaches composition and arrangement, gives jazz trumpet lessons and conducts the school’s big band.


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