News / Arts & Entertainment

Haiti's Godwin Louis Takes Long Jazz Journey

Godwin Louis
Godwin Louis
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

AU Takes Action on Boko Haram, Defers on S. Sudan

African Union is moving forward with a request for a military force to stop the spread of Boko Haram insurgency in West Africa; Ban Ki-moon welcomes decision to form a five-nation force More

Mass Protests Held for 58 Killed in Pakistani Shi'ite Mosque Bombing

Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims took to the streets across Pakistan Saturday to protest a powerful bomb blast at a mosque in Sindh province during Friday prayers, killing dozens of people More

Williams Wins Australian Open with Straight-Set Victory over Sharapova

The win is Serena Williams' sixth in Australia, and her 19th overall Grand Slam title More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

Singer Leyla McCalla takes up not only the guitar, but the banjo and cello to perform songs from her new disc, “A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” music that mixes the Creole rhythms of Haiti with the French Quarter flavor of New Orleans on this edition of "The Hamilton Live."