VETERAN musician, bandleader, composer and arranger, Gregory Piper, will break new ground at The Jazz Sampler tonight. For the first time in the four-year staging of the marquis event, Piper will present a Big Band experience when he leads a 35-piece orchestra comprising String students of the St. Lucia School of Music, as well as past and present members of the Royal St. Lucia Police Band. It’s a treat not to be missed.
Gregory Cassius Piper, affectionately known to his friends and associates as ‘Piper’, started playing the steel pan under the tutelage of Gregory ‘Shining’ Emmanuel who at the time (1960’s) had just formed the Diamond Steel Orchestra. Perhaps he always knew he would be a front-line man, so he chose the tenor and double steel pans. He still enjoys playing to this day.
Faced with the harsh reality that their son would not give up his addiction to pan music (which was at the time associated with school dropouts and hooliganism), Piper’s parents decided to seek the intervention of their neighbour, Mr. Randolph Beckles, the then Bandmaster of the Royal St. Lucia Police Band. That’s how young Piper was formally introduced to music as a profession.
His membership of the Police Band catapulted him to prominence as a musician. Gregory Piper joined the Royal St. Lucia Police Band in 1969, just after leaving the St. Aloysius R.C. Boys’ Primary School. At the time, he earned a monthly stipend of only forty dollars. Hard work, determination, and discipline propelled him to success as a young musician. Piper credits his musical achievements to the exceptional tutoring and guidance of Rudolph ‘Toto’ Charles and Carlos Mynns, both former Bandmasters of the Royal St. Lucia Police Band.
Mr. Rudolph ‘Toto’ Charles tutored Piper in the art of musical arrangement, an undeniable skill which would propel him to the position of Bandmaster. He developed the ability to arrange a wide variety of music, including fanfares, military marches, calypso, soca, classical music, chorale music, as well as arrange for concert bands, dance bands, and orchestras. Throughout his career in the Police Band, Piper played the B-flat clarinet, and on occasions, would also be featured on the tenor pan and the saxophone.
Piper has arranged some of the most enduring calypsos in Saint Lucia from the likes of Herb Black T.C. Brown, Lord Jackson, Lucian Parrot, Invader and the late Pelay. Piper has also collaborated with a number of international musicians/arrangers including Frankie McIntosh, Kenrick Georges, Nicolas Brancker, and Arthur De Coteau.
In 1979 – the year Saint Lucia became an Independent Nation – Piper took a leap of faith and formed the band Reasons, an offshoot of his experimental band, Mixtures, which consisted of steel and brass instruments. Reasons was one of the most popular dance bands in Saint Lucia during the 1980s and 1990s. As one of their original songs boasts ‘Reasons Rule de Party’ in their heyday. Its infectious ‘zouk’ rhythms and groovy selections earned the band regional and international success. Reasons toured extensively throughout the Caribbean, United States, England, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Turkey and Scotland – entertaining Saint Lucians in the Diaspora and foreigners alike.
In 2006, Gregory Piper became Director of Music of the Royal St. Lucia Police Band. He was influential in the band’s release of its first album, Caribbean Royalty, which features many classical pieces as well as local folklore favourites. The album was dubbed ‘a masterpiece’ by many, and is one of Piper’s finest accomplishments. In 2010, Piper formally retired from the Police Band after 41 years of service. He holds the record for being the longest serving member of the Police Band. Upon retirement he served as Musical Director of the Charles Cadet Youth Orchestra. He is currently, Musical Instructor for Wind Instruments at the Marigotand Gros Islet Secondary Schools, and St. Mary’s College. He also serves as Musical Director of the Rotary Calabashers.
Gregory Piper has also been instrumental in mentoring young and emerging arrangers, who provide an invaluable service to calypsonians and other artistes in St. Lucia.
Over the years, Gregory Piper has been awarded for his contribution to policing, music and country. He is the winner of The Saint Lucia Medal of Merit for outstanding contribution to the music industry; the Saint Lucia Long Service Cross, for outstanding and dedicated service to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Band; and The Police Long Service Medal, for 41 years of dedicated service to the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force.
Jazz Sampler 2016 is being staged at the National Cultural Centre tonight under the theme ‘The Master and Apprentice’. Local music icons have been paired with young, up and coming artistes and musicians. Showtime is 8:00 p.m.