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Tough questions for Don Drummond book author - Heather Augustyn launches ‘The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist’

Published:Friday | February 12, 2016 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Heather Augustyn speaks at the lecture hall, Institute of Jamaica, East Street, Kingston, last Sunday.
Dr Christopher Charles
Don Drummond playing the trombone.

The 2016 Grounation series, dedicated to an exploration of trombonist Don Drummond’s life and work, started last Sunday with a book launch by Heather Augustyn, extended ‘reasoning’ by Herbie Miller and music by a cast which included Ibo Cooper.

The afternoon’s host, Elaine Wint, commented on the size of the audience inside the lecture hall, Institute of Jamaica, East Street, Kingston. And, when Dr Christopher Charles, senior lecturer, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, had finished his analysis of Augustyn’s book, Don Drummond – The Genius and Tragedy of the World’s Greatest Trombonist, summed up its effect in Jamaican style.

“You know wha me waan say? Me nah play wid you at all… Me a take up my marble when you a come,” Wint said, to laughter from the audience. However, Augustyn acquitted herself competently in her response, responding to some of the issues Charles had raised and reading from the early section of her book.

Charles made it clear from the outset that he enjoyed reading the book, which he had finished the previous night, commenting on Drummond as “the only true don in Jamaica.” His comments came in three sections - an understanding of the book, suggestions to Augustyn for corrections and questions he would like her to address.

In the first, Charles covered from the Alpha institution which Drummond attended, the relationship between Drummond and dancer Margarita (who Drummond was eventually convicted of murdering) showing Jamaica’s deep class divide and said Drummond was a victim of the time he lived in, when treatment of mental illness was very different from now.

As Drummond went to the police station to report Margarita’s death, Charles observed “very few people who commit murder turn up at the police station to report it.”

Among the issues with the text Charles raised, were the accuracy of dates about the attempt at West Indian Federation and the process of bammy preparation. “We don’t peel bammy in Jamaica; we peel the cassava used to make it,” Charles said, to a gust of laughter. There was also the matter of the spelling of ‘brawta’, Charles pointing out that while these may seem relatively small inconsistencies “they have deep cultural relevance. If you get these small things wrong we start to wonder what else is wrong.”

“I highlight them not to detract from the text, which I enjoyed,” Charles said of the negatives he picked up.

He also said that there was not a riot in Tivoli Gardens in 2010, but armed defiance of the Jamaican state to which the state had to respond. However, Charles also said he was happy Augustyn spoke about the physical violence of the rude boys, as he gets the impression from reading some other books that violence was a feature of only dancehall.

In a general comment on non-Jamaican researchers getting involved in Jamaican culture, Charles said “we welcome other people to join in and do the work with us, but always get the inside eye.”

Among the questions he had for Augustyn were, if there was a transitional genre between earlier forms of Jamaican music and ska, and if early music producers like Clement ‘Sir Coxson’ Dodd, were aware of copyright issues. He also noted that while the title refers to Drummond as the world’s greatest trombonist, in the text, persons placed him in the top five. He also questioned her saying that requests for Drummond’s medical records were unproductive, asking where Michael Jackson’s medical records can be accessed for a book.

And, he asked, as the impression is that ska died with Drummond, is this so?

Augustyn thanked Charles for his “critique - not criticism. I take it in the spirit that it was offered.” There was applause and Augustyn went on to say that she would correct the errors. She further broke the tension by relating speaking to two young Jamaicans involved in popular music, one of whom had never heard of Drummond and the other who asked if he was a drummer.

In identifying Drummond as the greatest, Augustyn said, it was because of his reach, his enduring and extensive effect globally - reaching youth from the USA to Japan, playing Guns of Navarone. There was also a “proud Mama moment” when her six year-old hummed, Guns of Navarone, in the hallway of  their home.

“Roger Steffens told me there are over 500 books on Bob Marley. I love Bob Marley, but I wanted people to know the music that influenced Bob Marley,” Augustyn said.

She said there was a transitional music before ska, noting the shuffle beat and performers like Laurel Aitken. “I don’t know why I am telling you this. It is your music,” Augustyn said, laughing.

And she noted, in response to another question by Charles about the role of the other members of the Skatalites along with Drummond, that every one was a leader in their own right.