News / Arts & Entertainment

Haiti's Godwin Louis Takes Long Jazz Journey

Godwin Louis
Godwin Louis
TEXT SIZE - +
Richard Paul
The annual Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition is one of the most prestigious jazz contests in the world. And as the name of suggests, the Monk Competition is decidedly international, with semi-finalists in the most recent contest coming not only from the United States, but also from countries including Austria and Australia, the Netherlands, Israel, and Chile.

One finalist in the competition, Godwin Louis, has had a jazz journey that has taken him from Haiti to New York.

Louis can remember the first time he heard jazz, all thanks to a relative in Connecticut.

"I was living in Haiti at the time and I have an uncle who’s a jazz guitarist, so he would send us some jazz CDs to check out,” he said.

He says he remembers listening in particular to a disc by alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and also to tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ “Live at the Village Vanguard.”  But it was the cassette tape Louis’s uncle sent down of saxophonist and bebop innovator Charlie Parker that really did it.

“That was sort of my introduction to jazz and improvisation,” he said.

Godwin Louis Takes Long Jazz Journey
Godwin Louis Takes Long Jazz Journeyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

The Parker recording that inspired Louis was of the saxophonist playing the song “White Christmas.”

“It was sort of like, Wow!, the liberties! It’s not quite the melody but it’s following some kind of shape that’s - it goes with the melody and it’s - it makes sense, but I just don’t know what it is," he said. "I want to be able to play like that.’”

Haiti might not be the first place you’d think of when you think of jazz.  But today - and during the time Louis was growing up there, "jazz absolutely was popular,” he said.

And Louis continues to working to see it stays that way.  He’s partnered with a number of Haiti’s best jazz players to demonstrate the country’s connection to jazz - a connection that goes back hundreds of years and is deeply rooted in Haitian and U.S. history. Both Haiti and the Louisiana territory that stretched from New Orleans up along the Mississippi River had been French colonies in the New World.

“A lot of Haitians migrated to the Louisiana Purchase, so with them they brought the culture, the architecture, cuisine, they brought their rhythms and everything else they could,” he said.

When he came to America to study jazz in 2009, Louis felt like he embodied this fusion.  He’d been living in Haiti, and had grown up with Haitian rhythms that had long ago contributed to the creation of jazz. So it all seemed to fit.  At the time, he says a teacher told him

“Man, some how you’re playing our music authentic, but it’s not the way we play it, but I can hear it - the authenticity and I think it came from that," he said.

Like in so many other places in the world, many Haitians immersed themselves in the culture of the United States, and on that score, Louis certainly went along.

“I also spent a lot of time of course, growing up in the [19]90s listening to popular music of the 90s," he said. "So I think all of it, when I play I guess I try to somehow - whether or consciously or subconsciously - find those influences and just play.”

Having been one of the finalists at the Monk Competition, says Louis, is “absolutely a dream come true.  I get to add about 25 people on Facebook every day.  I get more, you know, Twitter followers and so it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty cool,” he said.

And when he plays it, it’s also pretty hot.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Saxophonist Craig Handy has an exciting new band called 2nd Line Smith, which combines the organ-jazz repertoire of Jimmy Smith with the “second line” rhythms of New Orleans parade music. Craig Handy joins "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten at Washington’s Bohemian Caverns jazz club to talk about the music and perform with the band.