Thursday, August 11

ONE-ON-ONE WITH DYNAMIC DRUMMER DION PARSON, NEW CD AND CARIBBEAN JAZZ

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SJT:        Thanks for talking to us, Dion.  Tell us about the new CD.

DP:         The new CD is entitled “Dion Parson & the 21st Century Band, Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Volume I.”  I was approached by Dizzy’s booking agent about putting together a collective project with Ron Blake and me at the helm and some other Caribbean guys.  He asked me for a CD and I gave it to him and a couple of months later he called to say they wanted to book us.  We were invited to play there three years ago for Caribbean Heritage Month, which is celebrated every June.  We recorded the live set last year and that’s the CD that we released on June 19th.  We recorded this year’s set for Volume II which will be released at the gig next year which is always the week leading up to Father’s Day. 

SJT:        Would you classify your sound as Caribbean Jazz?     Dion Parson

DP:         Well, yes I would classify it as Caribbean Jazz but what I would really classify it as is good music – good music with quelbe (kwel-bay) and Jazz influences.  Quelbe is the national music of the Virgin Islands, so the band stays to the instrumental version of it.  All the band members have something in common – we are educators, or have our masters’ degrees in jazz studies or music composition – and we grew up listening to quelbe and calypso so it is an easy marriage of the two genres.  

SJT:        Was this project a deliberate attempt to make the music listener friendly, or did it come about by accident?

DP:         It is deliberate, very listener friendly.  The way I pursue writing and arranging music for the band is to put myself in the listener’s shoes.   The average person, maybe 5% of the audience understands your creative force, the other portion just wants to be entertained and if I can capture the creative force of the band and put it into entertainment I’ve done my job.  For example, the new calypso, which I think is a good way to classify what we hear at home, if you’re not living on the island and caught up in that music a lot of it doesn’t make sense to the average listener.  Half of it I appreciate and the other half I just leave alone, because ultimately I want to be inspired to take what I like and interpret it for our audience.

SJT:        Has your artistic vision changed at all from your first project 9 years ago to this current one?   

DP:         Yeah it has changed because I’ve shifted to wanting to learn more about Virgin Islands history and culture as it pertains to music and I want to make that a bigger part of my music.  We have a uniqueness.  So the first two CDs were the ones in which we wrote original tunes to introduce people to our sound.  Then I shifted my focus to finding jazz standards and arranging them in a musical form using quelbe or different calypso styles.   

SJT:        How did you go about building the band 

DP:         About ten years ago I started to seek out fellow musicians from the Virgin Islands that had the same  musical upbringing as me, that were jazz musicians.  It made it easier for me to write a song and say ‘let’s play this,’ or ‘it sounds like this’ or ‘this is reminiscent of Jam Band, or Imagi, or quelbe or reggae,’ and they knew what I was talking about without me having to explain it.  But they don’t necessarily have to be from the Virgin Islands or even the Caribbean.  For instance, the percussion player, Alioune Faye, is from Senegal, and Nicholas Payton, who was our special guest at Dizzy’s is from New Orleans.  The sounds of carnival are what we are familiar with in those cultures so it is easy to work with musicians who know that.  Even Terrell Stafford, who fills the trumpet chair from time to time, he grew up in a largely West Indian neighborhood, so he knows our sound. 

SJT:        So how are you trying to get the word out, that there is a Virgin Islands musical gem here, like the 21st Century Band? 

DP:         I am working with the VI Department of Tourism and the VI Lottery has gotten on board because I’m one of their spokespersons.  In conjunction with the lottery commission, I go home five to six times a year to take part in a program called “Mentoring through the Art of Music.”  Through this program I’m putting together the VI Youth Ensemble which is a group comprised of the best of the kids that we have been working with.  We’re hoping to continue to mentor these young people and to move the educational programs in the territory to that level.

 

 

 

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About Author

Kim Betton is the founder and editorial director of SmoothJazzTimes.com. The award winning television anchor/reporter and producer has worked in markets across the U.S. including NBC4 & USA Sky Radio in Washington, DC, WBKW-TV Buffalo, New York, FOX 13 News Memphis and KARK4 / FOX 16 News in Little Rock. Kim has a true love for good music! She is also a vocalist for smooth jazz and Broadway show tunes. Her love for music and the arts inspired her to launch this magazine. If you have a story idea email her at kim@smoothjazztimes.com. Thanks for checking us out! Enjoy!

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