Barbadian Trailblazers: Saxophonist Arturo Tappin
by Karen Rollins Jun 17, 2019
Barbados may only be 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, but it has undoubtedly produced several talented individuals in a variety of fields including music, art, business, science, and sport.
A lot of these people sometimes go unnoticed, even by people on the island, but that does not minimise the achievements they’ve recorded or the heights they’ve reached.
In this series, Yello takes a look at Barbadians who have blazed a trail and made a long-lasting impact far beyond their island home.
Saxophonist and musician Arturo Tappin was born in Barbados and his Caribbean roots have heavily influenced his career even though he was formally trained at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
Arturo was a musical prodigy from a young age. By 15, according to an article in ‘Caribbean Beat’, Arturo had “a working knowledge of most instruments and a mastery of music theory”, he was accomplished on the violin and clarinet and was in choirs at school and church.
But Arturo didn’t pick up a saxophone until he joined a jazz band as a clarinet player and found out that they really needed someone to play the sax. He told ‘Caribbean Beat’ about the switch: “I was into the pure sound of classical clarinet,” he said. “But because of the raw sound of the sax, I could do more emotionally, and I soon fell in love with the instrument”.
He wasn’t immediately enamoured with jazz either, but his dad’s love for the genre and continuous playing of records by artists such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davies, eventually seeped into Arturo’s musical psyche, and he grew to love it too as he developed his undoubted talent with instruments.
At the age of 19 Arturo won a Philwoods Alto Saxophone Scholarship and left Barbados to study at Berklee where his eyes and ears were opened to new sounds and cultures.
Arturo credits the training at Berklee for starting him on the road to a glittering career, he told ‘Caribbean Beat’: “My first year I practiced six hours every day. What I learned in that year would otherwise have taken me ten. It was my greatest period of growth.”
In 1994 he was ready to release his debut album, ‘Strictly Roots Jazz’, and that was quickly followed in 1995 by his second ‘Java’ which truly cemented his smooth, roots reggae-jazz fusion style and led to him being described as “a cross between Teddy Pendergrass and Kenny G”.
Arturo has since gone on to play or record with various major artists such as Monty Alexander, The Wailers Band, and Third World, as well R&B superstars Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross, and Anita Baker.
He’s also performed at several prestigious jazz festivals throughout the Caribbean, Europe and the US, and played in front of two former US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as well as Prince Harry.
In 2018, he was honoured with an Award of Excellence in the Arts by former Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson for his cultural contributions to Jamaica and the entire region.
Arturo’s reputation as the ‘smoothest, saxiest horn man the Caribbean has to offer’ means he’s still in demand today and performs in sold-out shows all over the Caribbean and the UK with his all-Barbadian group the ‘Arturo Tappin Band’.