“Things came sharply into focus one night. The Roland Prince Quartet was riffing on Thelonius Monk, and she was enjoying it, the wind brushing her face as she stood outside under the stars on a break.” (excerpted from Dancing Nude in the Moonlight by Joanne C. Hillhouse)
Here is the man himself, Roland Prince, 1975, playing guitar in Italy with the band led by iconic jazz drummer Elvin Jones.
I don’t claim to be an authority on jazz, Elvin Jones, or even Roland, though I did enjoy his music and have had the opportunity to interview him and his wife, Calypso Val, whose music he produced. The first interview was about his extensive journeying as a jazz man and on hearing of his untimely, much too early at age 69, passing on July 16th 2016, I tried to dig it up so that I could share it here with you. But it was at least two computer crashes in the rear view and, unless I can dig through the Daily Observer archives for a hard copy, lost to me. I interviewed him for part of a series of interviews with Antiguan and Barbudan artistic masters that I called Vintage – his sister Althea Prince was also included in that series.
I say all of that to say that Roland is gone and I feel inadequate to the task of documenting why his art and life mattered – feeling keenly the absence of Tim Hector’s encyclopedic awareness of such things; people think of him and his Fan the Flame column as political commentary but for me what was particularly appealing about it was his coverage and insight as related to Antiguan and Barbudan art and culture. I do what I can here and have in other places I’ve written but there was a knowledge-base stored in Tim’s head that I don’t have.
My research, missing articles aside, and reflection turned up some things that I’ll mention, however.
Roland Prince (born January 1st 1946) was a jazz soloist, sideman, and ultimately bandleader – if you’ve been to Antigua, and dined at places like Russell’s and O.J.’s you’ve heard him play with Val, with the Roland Prince Quartet. The last time I heard him play live was a couple of years ago at the Watch Night dinner – Watch Night, on the eve of August Monday, right in the heat of Carnival, is the night set aside to honour the ancestors, symbolically, on the night they stepped from bondage to freedom in 1834. Roland lectured, I don’t know how else to think of it, as he played, and I remember being struck by his mastery of his instrument – he was on the keyboard that night – and his well-deep knowledge of music history.
It hits me, not for the first time, thinking of this, how under-utilized he (many of our master artistes, because I’m thinking master classes, really) are by the powers that be – how unheralded by them and us, to some degree, even in death.
Roland’s wikepedia discography lists 1977’s Color Vision with Frank Foster, Kenny Barron, Al Foster, Bob Cranshaw and others – whose names I’m dropping by the way because the jazz folk will know who they are; 1972’s Senyah with Roy Haynes and Lean on Me with Shirley Scott; 1991’s Black & Black with David Murray; 1973’s Life is Round with Columbia Records jazz fusion ensemble Compost; and 1971’s Awareness with Buddy Terry. Then, of course, there is his extensive list of recordings with Elvin Jones:
New Agenda (Vanguard, 1975)
Mr. Thunder (EastWest, 1975)
Summit Meeting (Vanguard, 1976) with James Moody, Clark Terry and Bunky Green
Remembrance (MPS, 1978)
Elvin Jones Music Machine (Mark Levison, 1978)
Live in Japan 1978: Dear John C. (Trio (Japan), 1978)
Elvin Jones Jazz Machine Live in Japan Vol. 2 (Trio (Japan), 1978)
I am not in a position to provide a listing of any awards – national or otherwise – Roland may have received (perhaps someone will enlighten me in the comments section) but I was present at the one and only National Vibes Star Project Awards where he was presented with a lifetime achievement award – alongside Reginald Samuel, sculptor and national flag designer, and the original Burning Flames, which literally changed the rhythm of soca in the region.
Roland was one of a small handful of Antiguan and Barbudan musicians whose musicianship landed them a place with world class bands – the short list of these I’ve been fortunate to interview includes people like Dell Richardson of Osibisa, Calvin Fuzz Samuels who played with Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Rico Anthony who was the original drummer for Arrow’s multinational band, and, of course, Roland who played with Elvin Jones’ band.
Roland is part of Antigua and Barbuda’s Prince family which includes politician Sydney, writers Ralph (Jewels of the Sun and inspiration for the Prince Literary Journal after his death) and Althea (How Country Pond got its Flowers, Ladies of the Night, Loving this Man, Being Black and more – also editor of So the Nailhead Bend So the Story End), educator John (also a poet), sculptor Arnold Prince (who also authored the textbook Carving Wood and Stone: an Illustrated Manual), and others down the generations.
In a decade old interview with me (‘Althea Prince: No Labels Please’, P. 13, Daily Observer, February 3rd 2006), Althea said “’What I think is important …is that our parents provided an environment that was conducive to artistic and intellectual growth.”
There you have what I’m able to offer (considering I’m not Tim) of what shaped the man and his contribution to arts at home and abroad, and if you were online when news of his passing broke, you might have had some insight to how he impacted others – something I hope he knew in life.
“One of Antigua’s brightest musical lights has dimmed. But his wizardry on the frets and keyboards will remain as bright as always for all time. Our icon. Our Prince.”
Though some were skeptical that he knew, that we know, even now.
“The great Roland Prince has passed away. Another one of our unknown greats. Not sure even Antiguans understood who this man really was. …We lost a genius,” wrote one poster.
Justin ‘Jus Bus’ Nation, an Antiguan raised and based music producer who’s produced Grammy nominated tracks for the likes of Snoop Dogg and Jah Cure, and whose collaboration with Roland, Free, is a favourite of mine, posted publicly, “Antigua & Barbuda just lost a great one! Rest in peace Roland the experiences you gave me in the few studio sessions we had together are timeless and forever imbedded in my mind & soul.”
I’m left – and will leave you – with one thing someone said, somewhat bitterly, and understandably so (especially considering how little newsprint our artistes rate at the end), “I’m sick of us only knowing the value of people after [they’re] dead…we, this little 108, we’ve produced so much, given the world so much, but we refuse to acknowledge each other.”
“Roland Prince,” he said.
She was surprised he even knew who that was. Her expression must have showed as much because he laughed.
“What?” he said. “One of the top jazz guitarists in the world, and he from Wadadli. You think I wouldn’t know that? How ignorant you think me be?” (excerpted from Musical Youth by Joanne C. Hillhouse)
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, and Musical Youth). All Rights Reserved. Seriously, a lot of time, energy, love and frustration goes in to researching and creating content for this site; please don’t just take it up just so without even a please, thank you or an ah-fu-she-subben (credit). If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.