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Calypso and Calypsonians in North America, 1934-1961

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Archive for July, 2010

Calypso auf Deutsch

Posted by Michael Eldridge on July 16, 2010

Earlier this week one “DottoreFunk,” an anonymous German music fan who specializes in “[u]ploading great live jazz music that appears late at night on German TV,” posted to YouTube a documentary film by Tobias Kremer und Elmar Sommer called “WDR Big Band Calypso Fever.”

What the film documents, more specifically, is the run-up to “Calypso Night“—a February 5, 2010 concert by the WDR Big Band.  WDR is the state-supported radio station for northwestern Germany, based in Köln; its house big band, led by Brooklyn-born Michael Abene, is one of the world’s premiere jazz orchestras, and undoubtedly one of its most versatile.  It caught “calypso fever” courtesy of American steel pan virtuoso Andy Narell, who brought along Calypsociation, a Parisian steel orchestra with which Narell has been, uh, calypsociated since 2001, and veteran calypsonian Relator (a/k/a Lord Relator, né Willard Harris), who has lately been convincingly carrying the torch of the late Lord Kitchener, most notably on University of Calypso, an utterly terrific album released last year on Narell’s Heads Up label.  (The disc pays tribute to Kitchener’s U.K. recordings of the 1950s, which featured sophisticated arrangements employing some of the best British-based jazz musicians of the day, many of them West Indian.)

For the February concert, broadcast (and webcast) live on WDR—alas, I missed it—Narell and Abene adapted the small-group arrangements for a combined jazz and steel orchestra, with often stellar results.   A promotional video for the concert broadcast still lives on WDR Big Band Köln’s MySpace page, and you can download a copy of the “Calypso Night” concert program from WDR—though not, sadly, a podcast of the concert itself.  (Is there a CD and/or DVD in the works, perhaps?)

Kremer and Sommer’s film aired on the German “EinsFestival” channel beginning May 18.  Still photos from the film and/or the concert are available at the EinsFestival website, at, in WDR Big Band Köln’s MySpace, and at the WAZ Media Group’s “DerWesten” website.  For the moment, at least, the film is available in its entirety (split into five parts) on YouTube.  Even if you don’t understand German, it’s fantastich. Here’s part 1:

(Edit: sadly, the moment is no more: WDR has apparently requested that the videos be removed—chalk up another one for [state] capitalism killing music…)

(Edit, 26 October 2010: the video is back, in its entirety, here.  Meanwhile, a lovely “making of University of Calypso” video is here.)

(Edit, 25 June 2012: Narell has now released recordings of that splendid concert and others on DVD.)

Posted in Calypso, Jazz | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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