A serious musical innovator and big brother.
This is how steel plate organizer Carlton “Zanda” Alexander remembers his late, talented brother Clive “Zanda” Alexander.
“My brother was a serious innovator in music. He came back (to Trinidad and Tobago after studying abroad) and had an awareness of taking calypso and reformatting it, exposing new colours,” said a celebratory Carlton during a WhatsApp call with Express yesterday.
Carlton revealed that Clive Zanda, widely seen as the creator of kaisojazz, was passionate about improvisation and extended the boundaries of improvisational creativity beyond his music to his work as an architect.
“He used to say architecture is frozen music. He created what he called tropical architecture because Clive had to invent that too,” Carlton said with a laugh.
Clive “Zanda” Alexander sadly passed away on January 6 at Port of Spain General Hospital (PoSGH). The 82-year-old pianist was admitted to St James’s Medical Complex five days before his death, where he complained of low blood sugar. Diagnosed with diabetes, he was later transferred to PoSGH after doctors at the St. James facility determined he had kidney failure.
Carlton said he was very close to his brother his whole life. He wrote to him a lot while he was studying in the UK. He says his brother always put him in the same room with industry leaders in both architecture and music, which directly helped him thrive in both fields.
“He meant everything to me. We spent a lot of time together, working on architectural drawings and playing music. He took me to his first show at UWI (University of the West Indies, St. Augustine). He introduced me to Dave Williams (Trinidadian double bassist) who is based in the United States. When he brought (American jazz bassist) Elvin Jones to Trinidad, he stayed at Clive’s house in the Blue Basin (Diego Martin), and I was able to get in. When (American jazz bassist) Max Roach came in, I was also able to meet him. So I got to know those Famous musicians through Clive,” Carlton recalls.
Clive “Zanda” Alexander, the first of nine children, was born in southern Trinidad in the then sleepy village of Sibaria in 1939. His father, Vincentian Richard Alexander, was a shoemaker by profession who played guitar and led the community’s church music program . His mother, Luisa, a housewife, sang the gospel.
As a boy, Clive Zanda first played music on cardboard bongo drums. At the age of fifteen, he started classical piano lessons where his immense talent as an improv musician came to light immediately. So much so that his coach often leaves him to his own devices.
Alexander completed a correspondence course in architecture while working in his father’s cobbler’s shop. The county engineer was famous for noticing his drawings while visiting the shop and had him apprenticed as an apprentice painter. In 1959, Alexander emigrated to the United Kingdom to study architecture.
‘When he left for England in the late fifties, I think I was fourteen years old; of the four boys, I was the one he used to write to regularly in England. I began to get involved in architecture and he had a good friend who was going back to Trinidad, the late architect Claude Benjamin, to open his firm in San Fernando. Clive wrote me and told me to go see him and that was my first job in the late 1960s,” Carlton said.
During this time, Clive Zanda began to thrive and make a name on the London jazz scene. After training with composer Michael Grant, he formed his own group and worked on merging jazz and calypso.
Back at T&T in the middle of the bold Black Power movement in 1969, Clive Zanda worked with the late Scofield Pilgrim, a music teacher at Queen’s Royal College, to start the Gayap Workshop where musicians could build a community and learn from each other.
Around this time, Alexander described his calypso, folk, and jazz musical experiences as kaisojazz. In 1976, he released his first album, Clive Zanda is Here! With Dat Kinda Ting. He would complete three more LPs during his lifetime, including Pan Visions Revisited (2000), Pan Jazz Conversations (2003) and Piano Vibrations (2016).
“When he came back and opened his clinic, I was working with the Department of Works on Edward Street (Port of Spain) as a Senior Painter Technician. More started coming out. He opened AB on Dundonald Street. So I’m going to work with the Department 8 through 4 and then work with Clive.
“After work, we would play music. These sessions were attended by people like Felix Roach and Ralph Davies and young musicians you know today, like Michael Putman and David Bothman. Ray Holman used to go through them too and attend class,” Carlton said.
A legacy we can’t ignore
Jazz promoter Nigel Campbell, One Ltd Production Manager, remembers going from lifelong fan to trusted friend after meeting Clive Zanda at Jazz Artists on the Greens Concert in 2007.
“We met officially at Jazz Artists on the Greens 2007 where he sat on a show with the late Raf Robertson. I was nevertheless a fan of him and his music goes back to 1977 when I heard his version of Sparrow’s “Mr Walker” on the car radio. I mistakenly thought it was Dave Brubeck And I was so impressed that “a sparrow shines with a big jazz name playing his music.” When I heard she was Zanda, I became a fan my whole life,” Campbell recalls.
Clive Zanda later invited Campbell to write a liner note article about the re-release of his debut album, Clive Zanda is Here! With the innovations of Datking Teng Calypsogas.
“I was honored to write the written note article and to interview him to get a fuller understanding of his true role in the local music scene. We (Production One) produced his 2018 concert performing that first album, thus completing the circle of my first contact with music and person,” Campbell said.
Campbell said Zanda, whose ivory talent has been heard live across North America and the Caribbean, “represents a kind of pioneering figure in how our music is seen and heard in a new way.”
His contribution to the development of kaisojazz shows that our music, our caisojazz, can have a global presence beyond carnival. The end result was his experiments that he began in the early 1960s, blending extended harmony and jazz language with the rhythms and “feel” of calypso and our popular forms, creating a track and setting the mold here and regionally for the number of artists to follow.
“From Luther François, Anis Hadid, the Boothmann brothers, up to the new generation, including Étienne Charles and Ilan Parle, they have all gained inspiration and commercially developed careers and careers based on the work of Clive Zanda. This is an influence and a legacy that we must not ignore,” Campbell concluded.