Clarence Curvan was one of the top Trinidadian musicians / bandleaders to emerge from the Caribbean in the nineteen sixties.
As the post war generation came of age, a fresh new sound of music emerged in Trinidad, and the Clarence Curvan Orchestra, featuring Clarence on drums, was at the forefront of that musical revolution.
Clarence Curvan was born in Port of Spain ,Trinidad, and grew up on St Vincent street a stone’s throw from the Old Brigade calypso tent, separated from the tent by a galvanized iron fence. According to Clarence, he grew up with calypso in his bones, since from the age of six he would peek through a hole in the fence at the activities in the nearby calypso tent. Through the hole he managed to experience performances by many legendary calypsonians, including icons like Lord and Lady Iere,Sir Galba, Spoiler, Spitfire, Growler, Lion, Attila the Hun, and many others.
When he grew older, he got his parent’s permission to visit the calypso tent, and was mesmerized by the singers and musicians. This sparked his interest in music, and as a result, he started playing the piano, but soon became interested in percussion.
In the late fifties, the Cyril Diaz orchestra was the main backup band for calypsonians, and Clarence gladly accepted a request by Cyril Diaz( and the Mighty Sparrow) to join the band’s rhythm section.
In 1960, Clarence started his own band, and by the time he released his first record which was a guitar driven version of Chet Atkin’s “Teensville”, the band had established itself as one of the top bands in the land.
His band introduced several young musicians who were to become legends of the Trinidad music scene, including Beverly Griffith, Roy Cape, Ron Berridge, Clive Bradley Freddie Harris, and others. However, of all the musicians that he played with, he had the most praise for the talents of guitarist Freddie Harris, who according to Clarence, seemed to be born with a special gift.
He remembers some of Freddie’s guitar solos to this day.
His first dozen releases all topped the local music charts, and his “610 Saga” set the record for topping the NBS radio chart for the longest time.
He also backed up calypso performances and recordings, and worked with singers such as Power, Shadow, Nap Hepburn, Brynner, Pancho and many others.
Not surprisingly, Clarence was also involved with the steelbands. He played bass with Starland Steel Orchestra, and, ever the leader, he soon became the band’s captain. Unfortunately he had to give up the steelband, when leading two bands became too much of a chore.
The band’s 1962 album , “The Greatest Sound Around” was one of the best local albums of that era , and featured hits like “Minuet in G” (Paderewski).
And “Tonight” from the hit movie “West Side Story”.
In the mid sixties, the music changed, and so did the band’s membership. Clarence changed direction, and his band became the first sponsored dance band in T&T, when Fernandes (Vat 19) sponsored his band, and he received a contract to play at the Choy Aming Penthouse in Port of Spain.
After Beverly Griffith migrated , one of his new members, the late legendary pan arranger Clive Bradley. replaced him as keyboardist and arranger, and his arrangements took the band to a new, more soulful direction, since one of the duties of the newly reconstituted band was backing up visiting American soul and pop artists, like Percy Sledge. and others.
In 1969, Clarence accepted a contract from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, and because of his expertise in the soul music genre, his band supported visiting soul singers like Clarence Carter, Johnny Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Betty Wright, and many others.
As a testament to Clarence’s musical versatility, he was pleasantly surprised when one of his recordings was currently getting airplay in Germany, where it was re-released as part of a compilation album celebrating American Funk music of the late sixties and early seventies.
The tune, “Feeling Nice” is the featured tune on the CD “Feeling Nice Vol.1” which was released in June of 2017 on the Tramp Germany label.
For all his musical accomplishments, Clarence remains humble and accessible, and is effusive in his praises to former band mates like Ron Berridge, Beverly Griffith, Freddie Harris and Roy Cape, with whom he has personal relationships to this day.
Clarence Curvan moved to New York in 1970, and he continues to be involved with music and culture.
He has traveled the world as an unofficial Trinidad cultural ambassador, judging calypso and steelband competitions from Europe to the US to the Caribbean.
Among his many accomplishments, he has participated in the following cultural activities:
- Judged the Nottinghill Carnival in London, England, 1996-2004..
- Judged USA Calypso Finals,1978
- Judged Panorama Finals at New York Labor Day
- Judged the Calypso Finals at Carnival in Baltimore, Boston, New York for several years
- Worked with the Grenada Carnival Committee, Prelims to Final in 2000.
- Judged the Calypso Finals, Trinidad & Tobago Carnival 2008 and 2012 Port of Spain.
- Provided music for Trinidad &Tobago Independence Celebrations in Miami, Atlanta ,New York Washington DC, Baltimore.
- Performed for Sir Ellis Clarks Departure At the United Nations, New York, as he departed the UN to take up the Presidency OF T&T
Over the years, Mr Curvan has been recognized by many prestigious cultural organizations internationally, and has received numerous awards, including the following:
- 1993- An award from the Woodwind Institute of Trinidad & Tobago
- 1996- An award from The West Indian Dance and Cultural Association of Maryland, USA
- 1999- An award from the Trinidad Folk Arts Institute- Music Maker Extraordinaire
- 2005- An award to commemorate the 43rd Anniversary Of Trinidad &Tobago Independence, by the T&T Independence Committee of Miami Florida.
- 2007- The Caribbean Extravaganza Award For Being Vivid Advocate of the Art Form and Culture of Trinidad & Tobago- Buffalo New York
- 2008- The Joey Lewis Award for his commitment and support to T&T culture
- 2008- The New York Council Award on the 46th anniversary of Independence or Trinidad &Tobago
- 2012-TUCO Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Calypso Art form.
Incidentally , with the exception of “Feeling Nice” and (I believe) “Land of 1000 Dances”, all arrangements were done by band-member , the noted pianist and steel-pan arranger, Mr. Beverly Griffith.