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Monday 21 October 2019
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Adan Hagley fuses Caribbean music with jazz

Adan Hagley mixes calypso, Latin and other Caribbean genres with jazz.
Adan Hagley mixes calypso, Latin and other Caribbean genres with jazz.

Passionate about the creative arts, pianist Adan Hagley seeks to connect people using his musical gift. He believes whether through music, film or dance, art has the power to make life-altering impacts on the lives of those who come in contact with powerful pieces of creation.

"I am passionate about creating. Other than music, I am very much into film and dabble in almost anything related to the creative arts."

Hagley, 29, focuses on jazz and jazz-fusion. He fuses jazz with mostly Caribbean music such as calypso, Latin and funk. As he loves a wide range of music, his work is undoubtedly affected, resulting in a unique sound – unlike anything that may be heard coming from most places around the world. "I would say, other than jazz, the foundation really is calypso. When I was in the United States, learning the theory of jazz, what stood out to me was how interested people from other regions were in my approach in terms of rhythm."

Presentation College, San Fernando graduate Adan Hagley's dream came true when he went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

It was not long before Hagley was reminded of what made him unique among a cohort of some of the best young musicians in the world, studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, starting in 2009. The college has produced giants of the music industry including Quincy Jones, Chaka Khan, Steven Tyler, John Mayer, Charlie Puth and Meghan Trainor.

This rhythm, he said, is unique to the melting pot which is the Caribbean – a tempo which comes naturally to him and maybe most musicians from the region.

"I might play something and think I'm playing it like them, but I'm not. Naturally, we have that swing. Even in calypso and reggae music, there is a more laid-back feel to it. So the way I play music, and even the way how I speak, people will hear it and think, 'Oh, that's interesting.'"

Asked what it was like attending the prestigious school of music, Hagley said, "Berklee was a dream for me. Getting in after my last year in form six, I was like, 'Whoa, this is actually happening.'"

A former student of Presentation College, San Fernando, the man from Point Fortin said he did a lot of the preparation for college on his own.

"There aren't many teachers who would teach jazz or many other contemporary styles of music in TT. So I was mostly self-taught, but I did a few classes when I would travel overseas."

Adan Hagley

Getting to the point of being eligible for Berklee College, Hagley said, was a process. Starting piano lessons at eight, he, along with some of his family, gained great appreciation for the art.

"I think a lot of us in the Caribbean would have learnt how to play the piano. But I took to the piano because of the influence from my older cousins. I actually had a love-hate relationship with it."

It was not until he got the high school, playing at church and in a band he formed with friends, that his love and deep appreciation for playing the piano grew.

"We did my first gig, we played at a staff dinner at Hilton, and it honestly changed my life. And I thought, 'Wow, this could actually be a career.'"

While at Presentation College, Hagley had selected courses to equip him to study engineering at university, but when the lightbulb lit up and he came to the realisation that music was a viable career path, the trajectory of his life changed.

"I had a year or two of struggling with my parents when I told them I wanted to do music. I think very early on in sixth form I knew music is where I was heading, but my father kept saying, 'You will need to get a real job.'"

He first considered music as a potential "side hustle," but the thought of his passion being something he would only do when he was not consumed by a job in engineering did not last.

"I could not see myself having that 8-5 job, sitting around a desk. So I persisted and eventually, they realised I was serious about music."

At that point, he was performing at music festivals, musicals in prayer, taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to perfect his craft.

His current mantra of everything happening the way it should is a thought he keeps in mind as he goes through this stage of releasing his first album.

"Everything has come full circle. Between leaving TT for Berklee in 2009 to now, ten years later – it is kind of a funny thing, seeing everything come together. To think these were some ideas I had since then, and the things that I used to be insecure about," to see them come full circle, Hagley said, is unreal.

The album, Insomnia, was inspired by a challenging time in his life.

"The album is a good reflection of where I am now and the journey that I have been on for the past ten years – coming into myself as an artiste."

Hagley revisited his days on the campus of Berklee College, noting the insecurities having become things that made him stand out, even in a space where there was a Caribbean students' club. "There was a culture shock, as much as I grew up visiting the US. Living there was a totally different experience."

Asked if he thinks TT is ready for jazz in a way that would see him benefiting from his work being consumed locally, Hagley has high hopes.

"I think we are getting there. There are a lot of jazz events popping up all over TT. There were about six in the past few weeks, which shows there is a demand, even though it may not be as big as the demand for soca and dancehall."

He said his goal remains to find a middle ground – creating jazz music but bridging the gap between jazz lovers and everyone else by fusing the genre with other genres of music for a more universally palatable sound.

"From the beginning, I fused soca and jazz, modern soca. I am a big fan of Voice, so one of the first songs I did was Cheers to Life by Voice and that was very well received."

He's is now pushing himself to gain more experience in the business side of the industry, such as copyright, marketing and promotion.

He looks forward to further growth and is excited about the launch of his album on October 12, which will be made available on CDs and all streaming platforms.

"I really hope it will be well received and hopefully open up opportunities for myself and my band to do shows throughout the region – then the world."

Visit newsday.co.tt for extended conversation in the full video interview.

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