Wednesday, 24 June 2015

ON THE RECORD: Musician Seretse Small on fatherhood, success, and plans for the road ahead

TRIPLE THREAT: Small (centre), Webster and Harris get in performance mode at The Devonshire.

On Monday evening at the Devonshire, Devon House, avante-garde musician Seretse Small unveiled his latest body of work: an awe-inspiring suite of jazz-inflected instrumentals exploring the powerful imagery in the work of renowned and reclusive artist David Marchand, who has mounted a new exhibition, his first solo showing in over a decade, dubbed “Tsunami Scarecrow”.

Of course, such an auspicious occasion calls for nothing but the best, and the master guitarist (accompanied by Warrren Harris and Mijanne Webster, also on strings) did not disappoint, serving up some truly beautiful strains that left patrons spellbound as the artwork themselves bore witness from their places on the wall. If nothing else, what we heard paid testament to Seretse’s constantly evolving skills and his resourcefulness as an artist ever challenging himself. TALLAWAH caught up with the 47-year-old afterward to talk about creativity, his phenomenal mom, and all that jazz.

TALLAWAH: Every so often you’re tackling something fresh and innovative. What’s left for you to accomplish?
Seretse Small: A lot. I want to build up my music school, the Avant Music Academy. I want it to become a full-fledged institution that is known throughout the Caribbean. At the moment we have 96 students and 13 teachers, and the goal is to become a premier music college. When I fully retire, I want to become a major composer. I want to do more film scores. I want to mine Jamaican music; I feel there’s so much more to dig into. I want to create music education solutions that meet the needs of our people.

TALLAWAH: How did you spend Father’s Day this past weekend?
S.S.: My [23-year-old] daughter is in New York, but she called me in the morning. I had a celebratory chocolate cake, then I went right back to composing music for tonight.

TALLAWAH: When it comes to writing and composing music generally, where do your interests lie? 
S.S.: Jamaica doesn’t provide a lot of opportunities for certain kinds of composing, so I have to get as creative as possible. But I’ve always wanted to be a film composer. My mother was a huge influence on me when I was younger because of her involvement in the theatre – imagery and the art of telling a story. I did the score for [New Caribbean Cinema’s] Ring Di Alarm. It was a great experience, so I want to do more work like that.

TALLAWAH: Local jazz musicians don’t seem to get as many opportunities to shine as their reggae and dancehall counterparts. Your thoughts.
S.S.: We are not a jazz culture; the Jamaican audience is not conditioned for jazz, so you’re really challenged to do that kind of work. But I’m looking forward to seeing how we can devise our kind of improvisation language. I think dancehall has already given us a good head start.

TALLAWAH: It’s astonishing how your mom Jean Small continues to evolve and excel as a writer and performer to this day.
S.S.: Everything she gets is well deserved. I’ve been with her and seen her work, and I kept telling her, You’re great, you’re phenomenal. And she would just laugh. So seeing her get all these accolades now, it’s like, You’re all just coming to the party.

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