Etienne Charles

Assoc. Professor

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About Me

Hailed by The New York Times as "an auteur" (Ben Ratliff) and by Jazz Times as a "daring improviser who delivers with heart-wrenching lyricism" (Bill Milkowski), Trinbagonian Etienne Charles has received critical acclaim for his exciting performances, thrilling compositions, and knack for connecting with audiences worldwide. Perhaps more than any other musician of his generation or Eastern Caribbean origin, Charles brings a careful study of myriad rhythms from the French, Spanish, English, and the Dutch-speaking Caribbean to his compositions.

Charles’ latest album, Carnival: The Sound of a People Vol. 1, is an excursion into the varied acoustic sounds, grooves, chants, and rituals of his native Trinidad & Tobago Carnival. His 2016 album San Jose Suite was a musical discourse on the effects of colonialism through the scope of the experiences of First Nation peoples and African descendants in three San Jose locations, Costa Rica, California, and Trinidad.

In June 2012, he was written into the US Congressional Record for his musical contributions to Trinidad & Tobago and the World. In 2013, his album Creole Soul reached #1 for three weeks on the Jazzweek chart and was eventually named #3 Jazz Album of the year by Jazzweek. Also in 2013, he received the Caribbean Heritage Trailblazer award from the Institute of Caribbean Studies (Washington, DC). In 2015, Charles was named as a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in the Creative Arts. In 2016, he was the recipient of the Michigan State University Teacher-Scholar Award, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Millennial Swing Award, and was a featured panelist and performer at the White House for a Caribbean Heritage Month Briefing.

He made his debut as producer and songwriter on the album Petite Afrique by Somi (Sony/Okeh 2017) which won Outstanding Jazz Album at the 2018 NAACP Image Awards. He has been featured as a bandleader at the Newport Jazz Festival (RI), Monterey Jazz Festival (CA), Atlanta Jazz Festival (GA), Pittsburgh JazzLive international Festival (PA), San Jose Jazz Festival (CA), Java Jazz Festival (Indonesia), Ottawa Jazz Festival (Canada), St. Lucia Jazz Festival, Barbados Jazz Festival, Library of Congress (DC), Carnegie Hall (NY) and Koerner Hall (Canada). As a sideman he has performed with and/or arranged for Roberta Flack, Marcus Roberts, Marcus Miller, Count Basie Orchestra, Frank Foster’s Loud Minority Big Band, Monty Alexander, Gregory Porter, René Marie, Paulette McWilliams, and many others. He has been commissioned as a composer and arranger by the Savannah Music Festival (2017), Chamber Music America (2015), the Charleston Jazz Orchestra (2012) and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble (2011).

As an educator and conductor, he has done residencies at the Juilliard School, Stanford University, Columbia College Chicago, Oakland University, Kent State University, Walnut Hills High School, Cultural Academy for Excellence, and the US Military Academy. His dedication to the preservation of artistic traditions in his homeland inspired him to form and lead the carnival bands, “We the People” (2017), “Street Party” (2018), “D’longtime Band” (2019), and “Euphoria” (2020), which featured a full live brass band on a truck going through the streets of Woodbrook and Port of Spain playing vintage calypso and soca. Understanding his role as an Artist citizen and seeing live music as a way to uplift all people, he is dedicated to bringing it to those who aren’t able to attend concerts. Specifically, in his homeland of Trinidad and Tobago, he has done performances and workshops at Princess Elizabeth Center, St. Dominic’s children’s home, St. Mary’s children’s home, St. Jude’s school for girls, St. Michael’s school for boys, St. Margaret’s school for boys, Youth Training Center and Maximum Security Prison.