Who was/is Rudy Smith ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Rudy Smith grew up in Port of Spain, the capitol of Trinidad and Tobago. He was born in Woodbrook at 27 Methuen Street and grew up in Cobo Town at 21 Charles Street in the same yard as famed calypsonian Lord Pretender (aka Aldric Farrell). He heard the sounds of steel drums from the time he was a young child in his neighborhood and started playing when he was very young. The first band he played in was called the Tomahawks and later the Melo Harps, both bands of kids playing in the neighborhood.
But soon Rudy came to the notice of Merrymakers, a legendary steelband that had both a senior and youth band. Smith was recruited into the youth band while he continued to play with other groups in the area until he became at the young age of 13 a member of the adult version of Merry Makers. He went with them on tours to Surinam, Martinique and Venezuela. Besides regular club gigs in Port of Spain, the band was also working with Beryl McBurnie and her dance troupe at the Little Carib theatre in Woodbrook.
From an early age, Smith was determined besides playing steelpan to learn as much as he could about steelpan construction and tuning. His tuning abilities and involvement with a group called the Beatniks (with future quarto legend Robert Munro) led to Smith blending steelpans for Renegades Steel Orchestra several times while he was a teenager. He continued to play with other groups and had been less and less a part of Merrymakers when a unique opportunity came up.
In 1962, Merrymakers were booked to go as a small ensemble of eight players to Europe with a singer and limbo dancer. Smith was seen as an essential member as an “all rounder” who could play any of the pans as well as build and tune the instruments.
The group left on December 8, 1962 and for Smith it was a life changing moment and an epic journey. They took a flight from Trinidad to Barbados, then we took a cruise ship to Genova, Italy and from there, a train. Half a century later, he has remained as a performing musician on steelpan in Europe. Merrymakers took a boat from Trinidad and they played first in the Canary Islands, then Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, France, even going to Tunisia.
When The Modern Sound Quintet disbanded, Rudy Smith became a jazz player who performed all over Europe with different groups. He moved to Copenhagen in 1983. Along with journalist composer Ole Matthiesen who is also a pianist and composer he formed the Rudy Smith Quartet and that group has been playing and recording ever since with a new album Glass World released in 2017.
Smith returned to Trinidad in 1979 and organized a version of the Merrymakers Steelband to tour Sweden, which resulted in the creation of yet a local Swedish steelband. The band in question, Hot Pans, are still active today and have come down to Trinidad, even appearing in performance on the road for Carnival. Starting in 1988, Smith began performing with various groups at Pan Jazz concerts in Trinidad and started coming down to Trinidad to arrange for Panorama. Smith’s arranging prowess has since been heard with both Valley Harps Steel Orchestra and Birdsong Steel Orchestra, and one can further hear his arrangements played by the Mangrove Steel Orchestra in London and Hot Pans Steelband in Sweden, among other bands. In many ways, one could argue that Smith has done it all with steelpan on almost every continent.
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