A 36-year-old invention is now making its way into the pan world but outside of TT – the birthplace of pan.
Strangely, Trinidadian Jim “Jimi” Phillip invented the Porta pan back in 1984 and has been using it as his personal instrument since but it is only now being requested by pan players worldwide.
Porta pans are now in the USA, Canada, the Caribbean and the market place seems to be growing.
Back in 1984, Phillip invented the tenor pan minus what is called the skirt, which made it easily portable hence the name Porta pan.
The quiet Phillip is a man of many talents, he is a pan tuner, arranger, innovator, author, teacher, inventor and a musician.
Phillip said he used the 18-inch mould sheet metal from the hardware to make the instrument and it works as normal.
Wearing his hat as a pan tuner Phillip said, “Drums are not made for pan, we started making pan from drums because it was the only thing available at the time.”
In 1986 Phillip won the WITCO Rudolph Charles Pan Innovation Award for a collapsible pan stand and placed third with a pan note measure he invented.
After perfecting the Porta Pan and placing it on his winning pan stand, Phillip placed third in the same competition in 1988.
Phillip said he started tuning pans in 1967 at the back of his mother’s house in Chaguanas.
Back then tuners never taught anybody, you had to sit and watch and learn.
“I was around Wallace Austin and had to watch his every move while he was tuning. Austin also had an association with the legendary Rudolph Charles and I was able to be in his company whenever he came to Austin.
Charles took us up the hill by Despers to make and tune pans.”
After working on his tuning skills for three years, Philips felt he was good enough to be on his own.
He migrated to Canada where he lived from 1975-1982 and played in Vancouver, Edmonton and Quebec.
He was a drummer with several bands and he still makes an annual trip to Canada to be a part of the Caribana festival.
It was on his return to Trinidad that Phillip started inventing and innovating and captured the prestigious awards.
He also invented a Pan Balancer-–an instrument which shows the precise spot on the pan to bore the hole to hang it on the stand.
Another one of his inventions is a collapsible pan tuning stand to make tuners’ work more comfortable. Added to this, he invented a line of pan tuning hammers. The award-winning Pan Note Measure is a precise measuring device pan tuners use for drawing notes on the pan when it is being made.
The last pan Phillip invented was the two face bass back in 2008 for Pan Revival Steel Orchestra.
It is used in the single pan band. It has two playing surface with one port.
Phillip is in the process of building a Porta Pan steel ensemble with tenors, double tenors and guitar pans along with a four bass and six bass. He says he made pans in the different ranges –alto, soprano,tenor and bass, to make sure it could stand the test of playing.
He still thinks one of the biggest problems the industry has is the miking of the pan and will be working on getting the proper microphones to do the job right.
Phillip also feels there is the need to teach pan players to get the right touch. Too often they beat the pan which caused people to think pan is noisy.
“I will like to raise the awareness on this topic and start teaching steelpan playing skills,” he said.
Phillip is an advocate for music literacy and is the author of two books on how to play pan.
As a teacher he runs the Jimi Phillip Pan Institute at his Endeavour Road, Chaguanas premises.
The institute is certified by the Ministry of Education and is registered with the National Training Agency.
He has conducted classes in pan tuning for students from the University of the West Indies, the University of TT and the Ministry of Education.
In 2010 he taught teachers from several secondary schools the art of pan tuning so they can carry on classes for students to do Level 1 at the Caribbean Vocational Qualifications (CVQ).
Phillip’s latest invention has nothing to do with the pan, he has invented what he calls the nozzle squeezer for aerosols paint tins.
“While using the paint tins I found that my fingers were always dirty with the paint so I worked on something to solve the problem,” says Phillip.
The squeezer is patented and is now awaiting production in Japan.