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From The Checkout Archives: Trumpeter Etienne Charles Celebrates 'A Creole Christmas'

Jessica Cowles
Etienne Charles

A few years ago, the Trinidadian jazz trumpeter Etienne Charles released A Creole Christmas, a brilliant musical meld of Christian hymns, Venezuelan parangs, and island calypsos. He brought that festive sound into our studio in 2016, leading a sharp and versatile band.

As on A Creole Christmas, Charles warmly shared some of the customs he grew up with in his Caribbean household — the months-long process of soaking cherry wine and rum to make black cake; the meticulous cleaning of his house before Christmas morning; and his culture’s unique caroling tradition, known as parang.

“So we have the sacred songs we sing, which are the hymns that you sing in church,” Charles said, “and then we also have the semi-sacred tradition of parang, which is where we sing songs about nativity in Spanish — a Venezuelan folk tradition that came to Trinidad. And then on top of all that, the third tradition we have is singing calypsos.”

Charles also shared a brief history lesson of some of his island’s musical heroes: Theophilus Philip, known as the Mighty Spoiler, “almost like a Charlie Parker of calypso.” As for the “Jelly Roll Morton of calypso,” Charles also toasted the early Tin Pan Alley Trinidadian pianist and composer Lionel Belasco, who wrote a holiday cheer, the beautiful “Roses of Caracas Waltz.”

Etienne Charles – trumpet
Victor Gould — piano
David Williams — bass
Alex Wintz — guitar
Mark Whitfield Jr. — drums

Audio Mix — David Tallacksen

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For more than 15 years, Simon Rentner has worked as a host, producer, broadcaster, web journalist, and music presenter in New York City. His career gives him the opportunity to cover a wide spectrum of topics including, history, culture, and, most importantly, his true passion of music from faraway places such as Europe, South America, and Africa.