An Interview with Cannonball artist Elan Trotman

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As Cannonball artist, Elan Trotman prepares to release his sixth album, “Tropicality”, co-produced by Peter White, his itinerary has taken him to Spain, Italy, France,  and placed him shoulder to shoulder with musical giants like Gerald Veasley, Euge Groove,  Phil Perry, Kim Waters, Kirk Whalum, and many more.  Just before his departure on The Dave Koz Smooth Jazz Cruise, Elan graciously took the time to talk with free lance jazz journalist, Marjorie Savoie.

Marjorie Savoie: Elan, thank you for taking the time to talk with me.
Elan: No problem!  Thank you.

Marjorie: You’ve got a full schedule, with many exciting ventures on the horizon.   But I’m wondering, could you take us back where it all started?  Where did you grow up?
Elan: I grew up in Barbados.  It’s a small island in the Caribbean, high in the West Indies; about 250,000 people.

Marjorie: What was it like growing up there?
Elan: Kind of laid back.  People are very friendly; hospitable. It’s low key.  You go to the beach and hang out; a lot of tourism.  Everyone knows everyone.

Marjorie: Recording artist, Rhianna is also from Barbados.  Have you ever met her?
Elan:  Yeah, I met her once, back around 2008, or 2007.  She was just starting out. She wasn’t as famous as she is now. So I did go up to her and introduced myself, and put on my strongest Barbadian accent so I could impress her.  I just congratulated her.  Told her if she ever needed anything, don’t hesitate.  And, I never heard from her! (Laughs)

Marjorie: Well maybe you’ll have a chance to work with her some day in the future! Do you ever do any of her music?
Elan:  Occasionally. I’ve done a couple of Caribbean festivals, and I try to maintain relationships with other Barbadian composers and artists. I usually try to include one of her songs.

Marjorie:  Now you were a very serious and dedicated music student when you lived in Barbados, and you earned a full scholarship at one of the most prestigious music performance schools in the world.  Tell me about where you went to school, and what it was like during your college years.
Elan: The Barbados government offered me the opportunity to go to Berklee School of Music, in Boston.  I became aware of Berklee through a couple of graduates from Barbados, who had returned to the island.  One in particular, Arturo Tappin, became like a mentor to me.  He’s also a saxophone player. He introduced me to jazz.  He was a reggae jazz artist; very successful down on the island.  He introduced me to jazz and be bop, and played me some records; Grover Washington Jr. and Charlie Parker. He really mentored me and got me ready for the audition process, when I finally decided that I wanted to pursue it.  I applied for a scholarship from Berklee, got accepted, got a full scholarship, and the rest is history.
As for the second part of that question, Berklee is like a melting pot of very talented young musicians from all over the world.  I’d say there are more international students than American students there. All of us were already strong players and strong musicans, but Berklee was the place that kind of refined that.  All the things we were hearing and playing, we didn’t necessarily understand what it meant theoretically.  So, Berklee kind of brought meaning to that.  Also just the environment, because you’re always growing as a musicians.  You’re playing together on a daily basis, staying up until 3am, buying jazz records, and trying to play along with them.  And we all grew together as musicians. The most amazing part about Berklee is that you form relationships.  There are long lasting relationships in the music industry were started at Berklee. Some of the guys I went to school with are now working with some of the biggest names in the business.

Marjorie:  Who are some of the people you connected with at Berklee who continue to play a major role in your life?
Elan: A lot of my peers have moved out to Los Angeles.  I have friends who work with Toni Braxton and Brian McKnight; singer/songwriters who have written for Kelly Clarkson; one is a drummer for the Black Eye’d Peas.  A lot of them I can call up and put a band together.  Like, if I’m going to Los Angeles, there are musicians I can call up and say, “Hey, can you put together a band for me?”  Without going into names, there’s just a whole host of them.

Marjorie:  I understand it must be difficult, because if you mention one name, you don’t want to leave anybody out?
Elan:  Exactly!  Yeah, but one in particular, Nikki Glaspie, she’s a female drummer, and she’s on my 2009 album.  She played on, “Lovely Day”.  She’s done a couple of tours with Beyonce.  So, that’s a prime example.

Marjorie:  Now, being on the receiving end of an exceptional education, you’ve also, “paid it forward” by investing in the lives of students.  Can you tell me about your teaching experience?
Elan:  Well, when I went to Berklee, I didn’t want to do a performance major, because I wanted a degree that would allow me to have some security financially, and have a family.  So I ended up doing Music Education; a four year major.  And I actually got hired for a teaching position right out of Berklee.  As soon as I graduated, I was hired, and I was teaching within the next two months.  I got a High School jazz band gig, and ended up switching over to Middle School after than that, teaching band and general music.  I finally settled in Elementary music, and I did that for about seven or eight years, in the Boston public schools.  I taught kindergarten through fifth grade. I think the kids really connected with me, because I was younger than all the other teachers in the building.  I brought something different.  I tried to connect with them through the music that they appreciated. Also, I tried to make the experience fun for them, instead of getting bogged down with the old testing; pass and fail. It’s nice to let them just have a change, and to be able to express themselves artistically.  And I think that they appreciated the fact that I was also an artist, trying to make a name for myself.  And they would see me performing, and they’d see my YouTube videos, and the pictures with Rhianna, and they really thought I was pretty cool.  So it was a fun experience, but obviously, all good things must come to an end.  It got to the point where I had to make a decision, if I wanted to continue to teach, or I wanted to just walk away from that, and try to make a living as a full time musician.  That was the decision I made last year.

Marjorie:  Well, that seems to have been a good decision, and I’d venture to say that you’re probably going to see a lot of those young people grow up and become something because of what you’ve invested in them.  So now you’re doing music full time, and you’re becoming a very successful artist.  So tell me about the people you’re working with, because you have a really great team of musicians.

Elan:  Well unfortunately, I’m not always able to travel with my band.  Usually, with up and coming artists like myself, we have to travel alone and put together a band in whatever city we’re in. But I do have some really good friends here in Boston, who went to Berklee with me.  They hook up with me any time I’m in the greater Boston area, New York, Connecticut.  We’ve been down to Washington, DC and Pennsylvania a couple of times. But I use lots of different musicians, and I’m very fortunate to have some good friendships with musicians who respect me and are willing to work with me.  And not only for playing, but even for recording, I’m able to call up musicians and have them play on records for me.  I really treasure the relationships that I have my fellow musicians.

Marjorie:  The band you play with locally went through a tragedy, a couple of years ago.  Could you talk about that?
Elan: Yeah, my main band for the past five years has been with Anthony Steele on drums, Tyrone Chase on guitar, Mark Copeland on keyboards, and Webster Roach on bass guitar.  I’ve also played with Walter Beasley.  In November, almost two years ago, Webster Roach had a stroke.  And it was definitely tough for all of us.  He was irreplaceable; just a great, strong musician.  I venture to say that he probably did more playing with me than he did with Walter Beasley, and I really got used to playing with him.  It was tough to find a replacement.   I was able to find another bass player that kind of reminds me a lot of him, but it’s always tough. You know, he wasn’t that old, and was perfectly healthy, so it really caught us off guard.  It’s been tough not to be able to have him on stage with us.

Marjorie:  So how do you stay strong and keep going during difficult times like that? 
Elan: I’ve always loved music.  Music has always been my first love.  That’s what motivates me. Even when I was teaching, that really wasn’t where my passion was.  I always wanted to be on stage.  Always wanted to play.  I grew up watching videos of Najee, Kenny G, Grover, and seeing them perform at the Barbados Jazz Festival, and always dreamt of being them; being on stage, playing in front of thousands of people.

Marjorie:  You once mentioned that there was someone in particular who played at the Barbados Music Festival who inspired you to pursue music as a full time career, correct?
Elan:  Well, that festival is one of the biggest festivals in the Caribbean for jazz. Over a span of about 4 or 5 years, before I went to Berklee, I saw Kenny G, Grover Washington Jr, Najee, Kirk Whalum, Fourplay, Spyro Gyra. They all had a huge impact on me, but definitely Grover Washington, in particular, because I knew he was Arturo’s mentor. So it was kind of like a passing of the torch.

Marjorie:  You mentioned earlier that you were hoping to have a family some day.  Has that dream come true for you?
Elan:  Yes, I’ve been married for almost ten years.  Me and my wife got married right out of college.  We’ve got two beautiful kids.  I’ve always been a family man who wants to be with his wife.
I never ventured to go out and tour.  I always wanted to stay close to home. Family is essential. When the fans are gone and your friends are gone, your family’s always going to be there.

Marjorie: How does life on the road impact your role as a husband and father, and how do you stay connected with your family when you’re on the road?
Elan:  Well, this is all new for us.  It hasn’t even been a full year. And it’s getting more and more intense in terms of the amount of travel. So it’s a gradual adjustment for us.  It’s a little tougher for my son, because he’s at that age where he wants to play with me, go play golf, or go fishing, and things like that.  So, we keep in touch on Skype, and we talk on the computer every day.  I got him his own cell phone, so he can call me whenever he wants to talk. But they’re very supportive, and I’ve always promised them that I would never do any extensive touring.  I do mostly weekend tours.  Just a couple days here and there. Actually, this September through October is probably the longest I’ll be gone.  I’ll be out West for about two weeks, and then I’m doing the Dave Koz tour.  So that’ll probably be the longest.

Marjorie:  Even in your local performances, you’ve been working with some pretty amazing people.  Tell us about some of the legends you’ve performed with.
Elan:  I’ve been very fortunate.  My mentor, Arturo, he’s been touring with Roberta Flack for about ten years, and he called me up to do some subbing for him in 2006 or 2007, I believe.  So I did a couple of months of shows with Roberta Flack, and that was amazing.  I’ve collaborated with Brian Simpson, Tony Terry, and Cindy Bradley on the, “Love and Sax” album. Tony Terry was actually in the Roberta Flack band, so that’s how I met him.  Brian Simpson, I had just seen him at a couple of festivals, and I reached out to him.  Same thing with Cindy, and I met her at a festival, and they were kind enough to be guests on my album.  And since then, I’ve just been networking with people.  Every time I go out to Los Angeles, I meet great people.  I met Tony Moore, a drummer; I met him at a jazz club when he was touring with Gerald Albright.  Tony helps me get down there with the Los Angeles circuit, as far as musicians, and even clubs and networking.  And then there’s Jeff Lorber, who did some work on my last album.  I hooked up with Peter White; I met Peter White at a festival.  He heard me play in Mission Viejo, and he asked me to go to Europe with him for a two week tour in London last Fall.  I hooked up with Paul Brown and he produced a song on my new album.  He also asked me to play a song that he just produced with Patti Austen. It’ll be hitting radio in a couple weeks. So you know, it’s just amazing to me that all these people that I grew up looking up to and hearing on the radio, like Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum…I met Kirk Whalum back in Barbados, at a Gospel Fest, and shortly after, he played on a song on my 2005 album; a Gospel-Jazz album.

Marjorie:  How many CD projects have you released to date?
Elan: I’ve released five albums, actually. My Christmas albums, which are EP’s, and then I had my debut album in 2001, right after I finished Berklee, called, “Memories”. It features some kind of Caribbean music; there’s some steel drums on there. It also features some inspirational music. And then I did a complete Gospel-Jazz album, in 2005.  That’s the one that features Kirk Whalum on a song.  Then I did the Christmas album; it’s called, “A Reggae Christmas”.  And then in 2009 was my first really commercial album that I marketed, and it had radio airplay. “Lovely Day”, that was my first radio single ever.  “100 Degrees” was another radio single from that album.  And then in 2011, “Love and Sax” was my fifth album, but technically my second official commercial album.  That’s the album that featured Tony Terry, Brian Simpson, and Cindy Bradley. “Heaven in Your Eyes” was the first single from that album, and that one went to number eleven on Billboard, which was a huge accomplishment.  It also debuted in the top twenty on Billboard’s, Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.

Marjorie: You’ve gotten some awards as well.
Elan: Yeah, I’ve been nominated for a couple of Boston music awards.  And I also won the New England Music Award for Jazz Male Artist, two or three times.

Marjorie: Congratulations!  And now you have this new CD coming out. 
Elan:  Yeah, I’m really excited about that!  It’s called, “Tropicality”, and it tells a story about the music I grew up with; essentially the music that influenced me.  Caribbean Music, Calypso, Reggae, Latin Jazz; it’s all showcased in this project.  And I’m really excited because, unlike my last to albums, which were smooth jazz, this one definitely showcases who I am; you know, my native roots. Obviously, fused with Smooth Jazz, but it will be labeled more as Tropical or Caribbean Jazz, fused with Smooth Jazz.  And it really has set me apart from a lot of people.  It’s kind of like how Jessy J was able to use her Latin American roots, and bring that out in her music, with the help of Paul Brown.  That really set her apart from a lot from a lot of other saxophone players, like I hope that this will set me apart, in more ways than one, because there are so many saxophone players out there, and we all sound very similar.  And I think radios going to embrace it, and I think it’s going to be huge for me.  And then on top of that, just being able to collaborate with some more amazing artists, like Peter White, who pretty much co-produced the entire album.  He sat down and really mentored me, and helped me with the arrangements and production, just out of his kindness.  He played on about three songs.  We co-wrote a song together.  Last year we start to write the song, and we finished it this past Summer.  So Peter has played a big role in this album, “Tropicality”, as well as Jeff Lorber, who produced three songs on the album for me, and features on three songs.  Paul Brown produced one song that he wrote.  And I have some very special guest artists, like Terri Lynn Carrington on drums, Lin Roundtree on trumpet, and Nick Colionne on guitar.  It’s just going to be a great album; it’s just about to be finished.  The first radio single is going to hit radio during the second week of September.

Marjorie:  Do you have a release date yet?
Elan:  No, I don’t. I’ve always put out my albums independently, and I really don’t want to rush it, because I think it has so much potential.   So, I’ll see if there’s any labels or companies that are interested in helping me release it, and if that doesn’t work out, then I’ll release it independently. But I really want to take my time, and promote it well. We’re gonna go ahead and start with the radio stuff though.

Marjorie: Is there any specific brand of saxophone or other equipment that you endorse?
Elan:  Yes, I’ve been playing Cannonball Saxophones for about three years, and I’ve been endorsing them.  I have four saxophones from Cannonball.  Two of them are actually Gerald Albright signature series.  I also have endorsed a northeast company called, Theo Wanne.  They have both helped me to have a distinct sound, and I really appreciate all that they’ve done to support me and help me to develop my own brand and my own sound. And for most part, I love the support and the sound that I get, and it’s great equipment.   I just love it!

Marjorie:  One of our readers wanted to know what size mouthpiece and reed set-up you use.
Elan: My tenor sax is a Cannonball Big Bell series, with a Theo Wanne Durga mouthpiece.  It’s a metal mouthpiece, and the opening is a size 8.  And I used Rico Jazz reeds, just a regular wooden reed, size 2 ½, or medium.  My alto is a Gerald Albright Signature Series Big Bell, with Theo Wanne KALI mouthpiece, size 8.  On my Sopranos, I’m using their GAIA mouthpiece size 8, with Rico Jazz size 2 ½ reeds. And I have two sopranos; one is a curved Gerald Albright Signature Series, and the other is called the Arc.

Marjorie:  Is there anything else you want to say to your fans?
Elan: Definitely! I try to encourage people to join my social networks.  You can email me or request me as a friend on Facebook.  I have two different pages on Facebook.  I’m just getting into Twitter, but I seem to be getting some followers.  Fans can free to reach out to me.  Check my website to see where I’ll be performing.  I have a pretty full schedule between now and December.  I’m playing a bunch of different cities, and hopefully I’ll be able to meet some of my new fans!

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