Saxophonist infuses Caribbean rhythms with jazz

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An article by Tony Sauro for RecordNet.com.

Elan Trotman still was gasping a bit.

He wasn’t out of breath from practicing saxophone. The Boston-based jazz musician still was rendered nearly speechless by how far Jim Rice — a Baseball Hall of Fame member — could propel golf balls.

“Man,” said Trotman, 37, with a degree of awe only jazz role model Grover Washington Jr. might elicit. “He was bombing it. I was being outhit by a 63-year-old man.”

Of course, Trotman — a nine-handicap golfer playing in a charity tournament with Rice in Canton, Massachusetts — was expressing his amusement. Rice hit 382 home runs during 16 years (1974-89) with the Boston Red Sox.

Being a jazz golfer isn’t all that makes the affable Trotman unique. A teacher for 10 years, he and his mentor are the only U.S.-based jazz saxophone players from Barbados. Pop-soul singer Rihanna (Robyn Rihanna Fenty, 28) was born in the same city (Saint Michael) as Trotman. Trotman and wife Gracy have two children.

No doubt he can out-blast Rice on alto saxophone. That’s not his plan Sunday, when Trotman opens a five-concert outdoor summer jazz series at Stockton’s University Plaza Waterfront Hotel.

“I love golf,” Trotman said. “There are definitely a lot of similarities between golf and playing saxophone — mentally and physically. They require a lot of repetition. Definitely lots of practice. Consistency. Tempo. You have to control your emotions. Things of that nature. Your ‘pre-game routine.’ I really wasn’t much of an athlete. Oh, I played a little bit of cricket.”

Not many American jazz players can say that. He’s been infusing sounds and rhythms from his Caribbean island birthplace into contemporary jazz styles since 2001.

“That’s just one component,” said Trotman, who’s backed up by Sacramento’s Cecil Ramirez Group Sunday. “You’ll definitely get a taste of the islands. But I also like to be pretty diverse. I try to mix in some originals with pop and pay homage to musicians I really (respect). Like Grover Washington Jr. (1943-99).”

Trotman has released three CDs and numerous singles — 10 of which made it to Billboard magazine’s jazz top 25 — in 14 years. Contemporaries Dave Koz, Kirk Whalum, Terri Lyne Carrington, Najee and Gerald Albright are vocal supporters.

“It’s so refreshing,” said Trotman, who grew up absorbing intoxicating island rhythms. “Caribbean music is very simple. Very harmonic. Feel good. I wanted more. I felt that it’s much bigger. A jazz platform could stretch things outside the box of the language of calypso and reggae by fusing them.”

Trotman needed some musical coaching. He got it from Arturo Tappin, a native of Barbados. Tappin attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music. After returning to the island, he helped Trotman begin fusing calypso, reggae and other Caribbean sounds and rhythms with jazz.

“He’s a Grover Washington Jr. disciple,” Trotman said. “He had a pretty good balance of the jazz aspect and the smooth aspect. He showed me how to have a great appreciation for traditional jazz, contemporary R&B, swing be-bop and also play the most smooth and soulful things.”

At Tappin’s urging, Trotman enrolled at Berklee — with funds from the Barbados government, a former British colony in its 20th year of independence.

Born in Saint Michael, Trotman grew up in a home without professional musicians but with lots of instruments. Mom Daisy taught Spanish and French. Dad John was a marshal in court. His two siblings are studying in Jamaica.

Trotman began playing piano at 7. However, the first show he saw — by Washington Jr., a funk-soul-jazz saxophonist — was an epiphany. He shifted solely to saxophone at 12.

“That’s kind of what really turned me on,” Trotman said. “I … hadn’t been exposed to this. Once I heard that, I started opening my ears. Digging deeper and deeper.”

He continued that at Berklee, with “access to the giants,” and by digging into be-bop — listening to the “the bible of jazz” (Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” 1959).

After graduating from Berklee, Trotman taught music for 10 years in Boston before putting the lessons he’d learned to professional use. His dad and an uncle guided Trotman — who performs the National Anthem at Major League Baseball games — to golf after college.

“I’m pretty good (hitting drives) off the tee,” he said with puzzlement. “It’s definitely difficult to take. Being humbled by a 63-year-old man.”

Honored often in the Barbados, he’s charitable in return. Trotman annually gathers athletes and entertainers for a golf tournament that generates funds for education in the Barbados.

The organization’s name? The Never Lose Your Drive Foundation.

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