The Evolution of Pan

24 Feb 2006

Musician Andy Narell

An interview with Steel-pan legend Andy Narell

Playing steel-pan since the age of eight, Andy Narell has achieved international acclaim. Turning down medical school to be a conductor, Narell decided to dedicate his life to the art of playing the pan. “What I’m trying to do with the pan, I have been evolving my whole life. It was very limited, the idea of what people thought the pan should be. I had to be a writer and producer of my own records early on. I had to create them myself,” he says.

For over 25 years Narell has focused on the evolution of the steel-pan in convergence with jazz. His work has lead to the release of over 11 solo albums, 2 as co-leader of the Caribbean Jazz project (with Paquito D’Rivera and Dave Samuels) and 2 with the group Sakésho (with Mario Canonge, Michel Alibo, and Jean-Philippe Fanfant).

As a band leader, he has played hundreds of concerts and jazz festivals throughout the USA, Canada, Europe, Japan, the Caribbean, South America, and South Africa. His most recent travels found him and his band, in Toronto on April 2nd, playing at the Mod Club for Jazz by Genre – Caribbean Jazz.

From the moment he was told of the project, Narell expressed immediate interest and was elated about the opportunity to play with long time friend David Rudder. “If it feels like it is good music and it’s coming from the heart…I’m into it.”

You could feel a surge of energy being released into the crowd when David joined Andy and his band on stage. Their chemistry was undeniable as they played to an audience with what looked like an insatiable appetite for their music. “I would hope that they come away from the concert feeling the music was sincere. That they saw how much fun we were having and had fun,” says Narell.

Cross-pollination of musical genres appears to be a natural progression according to Narell. “What’s happening is the mix of all different kinds of world music. It’s so accessible now. I live in Paris, so we have a lot of people from Africa…musically they’re dominating. All this mixing and crossing…everyone is playing with everyone.”

Narell has performed and recorded with artists as diverse as: Aretha Franklin, Irakyere, Chucho Valdes and Tito Puente to name a few. Despite being an icon in his own right, Narell is, “always trying to grow,” and although he feels there is always room for improvement he also believes that, “With age you realize time is limited. You have to try everything. You run out of time trying to be good.”

Paying homage to other musicians helps Narell, keep things in perspective. “For me, the musicians who have set the bar so high…I have to look and say I gotta get there. Anytime you put on a Miles Davis record or Stevie Wonder, it keeps you humble. Most good musicians walk away and say, ‘I’m gonna try not to suck.’ You gotta stay humble. Life keeps you humble.”

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