Andre White may have only left college in May, but he is already a veteran steelband arranger and was— for the third time—the winning arranger at the Brooklyn Panorama this past Labor Day. A multifaceted steel pan performer, arranger, and jazz soloist, Andre White has little time to enjoy the triumph. Success brings opportunity and for White the future looks busy. Born in the US with a Jamaican than Trinidadian heritage, White does not fit the traditional mold of steelband arrangers. His path to success challenges the conventional norms and may indeed foreshadow the future course of Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument.
Musically literate and an accomplished jazz soloist, White studied music at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. His ambitions go beyond that of Panorama “I went to Berklee to become a musician. I want to push that envelope and, to be honest, I want to be a bebop pan player.” His advanced training and gifted musical ear serve to create a style all his own. “I’ve really been approaching steelband arranging like big band jazz arranging” said White during our interview and he hopes that by being true to himself he too, can be recognized along with the greats of steelband arranging the likes Boogise Sharpe and Clive Bradley.
Despite his youth, a mere twenty-two years old, White has already amassed an impressive résumé as a steelband arranger. Since 2006, he has arranged for Adlibs Steel Orchestra of Long Island winning the Brooklyn Panorama in 2008, 2011, and 2012. White also arranges for other steelbands in Trinidad and is a regular in London where he led Mangrove Steel Orchestra to victory in the BAS Panorama last year. Mangroves leader Matthew Phillips sums it up, “We feel very lucky to have found Andre when we did back in early 2008. To my mind Andre is a genius and the band and me personally have learned a lot from him and will continue to do so.”
Indeed, White is one of the brightest stars of a youth movement in pan and made history in 2008 as the youngest steelband arranger to win Brooklyn Panorama. He is also acclaimed for attracting younger musicians to the Long Island band. Adlibs Steel Orchestra boasts a membership 90 players strong mostly under the age of eighteen.
The energy and exuberance of Adlibs Steel Orchestra was on full display recently at the 2012 Brooklyn Panorama where White’s arrangement of ‘Baddist’ expertly balanced youthful enthusiasm with the craftsmanship of a seasoned musician. White has an encyclopedic memory of the history and arrangements of Panorama tunes. However, he makes no apologies for his strong desire to use current popular hits as he continues to push the limits of steelband arranging. “People want to hear popular music, and the pan arrangers and players need to give that to them. I don’t think we should look for songs that sound like Kitchener and others of the 90s and 80s. We’re not living in the 90s and 80s.”
What does the future hold for Andre White? For starters, those in the New York area will likely see his work continue with Adlibs. “Adlibs is home for me” said White, who will also return to Mangrove in 2013.
Pan lovers can also catch White performing in jazz venues throughout the New York and Boston area.