Barbados' First Lady of Jazz



Article from the American Music Journal

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Excerpt from article "Jazz in Barbados" published by The Society for American Music in the American Music Journal, Volume 12 (Spring, 1994) by Warren R. Pinckney, Jr.

The Ernie Small & CiCi Duo: 

On June 26, 1990, I attended a performance by the organist-trumpeter Ernie Small and the singer CiCi at the Coach House, an English-style pub and restaurant located in St. James. The Tudor architecture of the Coach House was complimented by tropical foliage on the grounds. Patrons paid a cover charge in the lobby where the maitre d' safeguarded the pub's dress code.

Approximately fifty middle-class men and women, from about thirty to sixty years of age, sat in the pub-restaurant areas; this clientele was mostly white but included some blacks. Around 9:00 p.m., the band began to play the first of two sets of songs. Small and CiCi were situated in a corner of the barroom and performed primarily vocal arrangements of nostalgic cabaret songs, adding some jazz touches. These songs included "The More I See You," "My Funny Valentine," "Don't Blame M," and "Round Midnight"; several numbers showcased Small playing the organ and trumpet simultaneously. Austin's vocal quality and style reflected the influence of the vocalist Sarah Vaughan, particularly in the way CiCi used slides and smears. Small's organ style, on the other hand, recaptured the delightful keyboard sounds of the thirties and forties, reminiscent of the music of Fats Waller and Count Basie.

Their second set included "Night and Day," "Sophisticated Lady," and "My Funny Valentine." Toward the end of the set, Small performed "Happy in Love" on the organ (with drum machine) and trumpet simultaneously, rendering the most memorable performance of the entire evening. His lyrical style of playing the trumpet was characterized by an expressive tone and use of wide vibrato, which displayed his obvious admiration of Louis Armstrong; his comping (i.e., accompanying) and walking bass line provided a remarkable illustration of collective improvisation by a one-man band. In keeping with the pub-restaurant environment, the duo's function was primarily to provide background music for patrons. This explained in part the audience's response with sporadic, yet heartfelt applause throughout the evening.

These performances represent a range of different approaches to performing jazz: the modern instrumental styles of the Ebe Gilkes Trio, the stylistically diverse sets of instrumental and vocal arrangements performed by Jazz Incorporated, and the vocal-instrumental orientation of Ernie Small and  CiCi. Each group performs music consistent with the distinctive quality of the venue in which it performs and the expectations of the audience. Membership in the middle class has been invariably a prerequisite for attendance at live jazz performances in Barbados. The ambience of exclusive tourist hotels, cover charges, and dress codes, as well as other elements that reinforce a status consciousness, play significant roles in determining what segments of Barbadian society will be exposed to or acquire an appreciation for live jazz on the island.

Warren R. Pinckney, Jr., (1994).  Jazz in Barbados.  American Music Journal, Volume 12, No. 1, (Spring, 1994).

1994 University of Illinois Press

 

 

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