elan trotamn
by Mary Bentley

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Elan Trotman is a man of many talents.  He is an award winning talented artist who plays both the saxophone and flute. He writes and produces.  He plays alongside other artists as well as fronting his own band, and, he teaches music to the children in the Boston public school system.  He has six albums to his credit, but since 2009, he has been making a name for himself in the smooth jazz world.  Smoothviews had a chance to catch up with Elan to discuss his career and his latest release Tropicality.

Smoothviews (SV): Tropicality is your sixth and latest release, but I think people are still getting acquainted with you and your music.  Your last release, Love and Sax, really put you on the smooth jazz radar.  Are you one of those “overnight successes” 20 years in the making?  Can you tell us a little bit about you and your music so our readers can familiarize themselves with you?
Elan Trotman (ET): I’d have to say that my 2009 album, “This Time Around,” was my official intro to the smooth jazz scene, which included my very first radio single, “Lovely Day.” “Love and Sax” (2011) definitely helped to give me a boost as a new artist with the success of the single “Heaven In Your Eyes” feat. Brian Simpson. After performing some dates with Brian Simpson and Peter White later that year, more opportunities came for me to record and tour.

SV: Tropicality released a month ago on February 19th.  It’s being called an autobiography and a tribute to your home, Barbados.  As an artist, you choose to bring us your story through your music.  How difficult (or easy) is it to convey that story through song?  
ET: I’d say that it’s more of the concept than a story. “Love and Sax” was full of romantic ballads and slow jams while “Tropicality” is a compilation of island grooves and rhythms. But the story of me leaving Barbados to start a career in Boston is a big part of my evolution as a composer and an artist. My island heritage has influenced how I approach composition and improvisation, and I wanted those same elements to be evident on this album.

SV: Jonathan Butler was born and raised in South Africa, and you can hear how that is reflected in a lot of his music.  The same for Hiroshima, the Asian influences are very much a part of their distinctive sound.  How much of Barbados and your island upbringing is a part of your musical style?
ET: There are many similarities between the music of all of the Caribbean islands, but each island has subtle characteristics in its grooves. I actually took influences from the islands as well as other regions that reminded me of Barbados. They are comprised of: Barbados (Calypso), Jamaica (Reggae), Cape Verde (Zouk), Brazil (Bossa) and Latin America (Samba). Most of the elements are in the rhythms, but harmonically, I tried to maintain a strong contemporary jazz presence.

SV: You also have a bit of a Gospel background as well.  Correct?
ET: Yes, I grew up playing gospel music and I even held a music position at a Baptist Church in Boston during my college years. Understanding and experiencing the history of black music with blues and spirituals definitely helped me to be able to bring R&B and soul into the equation as far as my approach to melody goes.

SV: You produced this CD with Peter White, who also played on three of the songs here.  I know you’ve worked prominently with Peter before; I remember seeing you with him last year I believe, at Berks Jazz Fest.  I think there was good chemistry between you and Peter.  To me, it’s evident on the song “Tradewinds.” How did you and Peter hook up?
ET: Peter and I met at a festival in Southern California in the summer of 2011 as he was putting together his annual UK tour and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I got the invite, and we’ve been friends ever since. Peter has been a great friend and a mentor, and we actually began writing the song “Always With You” on that tour. Once we returned to the U.S., he took a keen interest in helping me with not just that song, but overseeing the entire album, by giving me feedback, helping with arranging and editing, and even providing additional guitars on other tracks. I’m very grateful for him.

SV: Speaking of Berks, this interview will publish at the beginning of April.  You are the scheduled headliner for the Berks Sunday  Jazz Brunch on April 7th: Elan Trotman & Friends.  I’m looking forward to seeing you do your own show.  Can you tell us who some of your “friends” will be?
ET: My band and I will be heading down to Reading from Boston and we’ve very excited to be showcasing some of my new music at the Jazz Brunch. Many of the artists that I’ve worked with over the last couple years will be in town for the fest and we will certainly be inviting them on stage for some surprise guest appearances!

SV: You are also a music teacher within the Boston public school system.  That’s wonderful especially nowadays when music education is becoming scarcer for our children who attend public schools.  I know Nick Colionne is a long time mentor for children at a school in the Chicago area.  So many of the musicians in this genre participate in some type of music education, whether it’s working with kids in schools, or teaching at the college level like Walter Beasley, or holding master classes like Gerald Veasley does at Berks, or Chuck Loeb, or Alex Acuna, – any number of very talented professionals who choose to share their knowledge and experience with others.  How did you decide to become involved in music education?  
ET: I chose to major in Music Education at Berklee for a number of reasons. I knew that there would always be opportunities to play and tour, but I wanted that security of knowing that I could find employment right after graduation. I also hope to go back home to Barbados one day to teach young musicians about jazz. I’ve recently taken some time off from teaching to pursue my career as an artist, but I do miss being in the classroom.

SV: And what do you hope to pass along to the students?
ET: In my time with Boston public schools, I taught at the elementary school level and my personal curriculum included beginner band, theory, chorus, music history and music technology. Most importantly, my goal was to help students to discover their own “voice.” To help them understand that art is your own expression, whether it is through singing, playing an instrument, dancing, rapping, poetry or acting. The students are often under lots of pressure with trying to meet academic standards and music was a wonderful opportunity for them to have a positive and fun experience while being creative.

SV: You are a multi-instrumentalist and we hear you playing several saxophones as well as the flute on this release.  You’ve got a lovely version of the Bob Marley classic “Wait in Vain” which features you primarily on the flute.  As a multi-instrumentalist, how do you decide what instrument to lead with?  Do you write specifically with one or the other in mind, do certain songs lend themselves to one or the other?  What is the process?
ET: I like to let my albums take their own shape. It’s usually one song that gets me going, and I just try to maintain consistency throughout. I do try to showcase my skills on all of the horns and flute as well as producing and writing. But I also enjoyed working with other producers and composers this time around. It was definitely a learning experience for me as I’ve always produced my music in the past.

SV: The talent line-up on this CD is phenomenal.  This is truly an international project with musicians from many countries playing and representing on this CD.  We talked about Peter White, but you’ve also got Jeff Lorber, Paul Brown, and Nick Colionne,  U-Nam and Lin Rountree, as well some of the most talented and recognizable side/supporting artists out there (Luis Conte, Lenny Castro, Ricky Lawson, Tony Moore, Alex Al.  You’ve also got some talented musicians from your native Barbados as well as other island nations.  It must have been an incredible experience working with all of this talent to pull this album together.  Can you tell us a little bit about that?
ET: All I can say is …. “I’m extremely grateful to all of these amazing musicians and producers for joining me on ‘Tropicality.’” This business is all about relationships and I treasure the ones that I’ve made over my short time in the industry. I try to give 100 percent in everything that’s put before me and strive for excellence. This project is testament that if you believe in your dream, anything is possible. It all began as a dream and with hard work, dedication, and some help along the way, it’s now a reality.

SV: Well, Elan, thank you for giving Smoothviews some of your time today.  We appreciate it.  Good luck with the new CD, and we’ll see you at Berks.

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