IT WILL be some time before top guitarist Dean Williams takes to the stage again, decked off in one of his dapper suits which has become his signature style. Coming off a busy Carnival season where he played with Baron, Kees and Etienne Charles, Williams and his band the Dean Williams Quartet were looking forward to the jazz season. But the season never got off the ground and gigs were cancelled due to an invisible enemy—Covid-19.
But the beat goes on. While Williams is looking forward to the day his band can take to the stage once more, he is teaching up-and-coming musicians via online classes. Since 2011, Williams has been lecturing students enrolled in the Fine and Performing Arts programme at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago (COSTAATT). Prior to that he taught at the University of Trinidad and Tobago.
Lecturing online is not as easy as it may sound; it requires advance preparation. In addition to musical theory Williams teaches jazz guitar and classical guitar. He demonstrates the lessons online and the students record themselves so that Williams can identify their strengths and weaknesses. It’s also been a period of adjustment for his students, most of whom miss that one-on-one contact with their lecturer. Inconsistencies with technology and data can make the learning experience frustrating.
Williams had a much different experience when he first started learning the guitar. It was as if he and the musical instrument fell into alignment.
“My dad taught me my first guitar chords. I enjoyed the sound of the guitar, the ease at which you could play it. The emotional sound of a guitar is different from that of other instruments like the piano and trumpet. And as I got older, I thought it was cool to see a guitarist on stage jumping and running around. I knew I couldn’t sing so the next best thing for me was to become a guitarist,” says Williams.
The musician was inspired by local artistes including calypso icons Lord Kitchener and Sparrow, as well as the late great Fitzroy Coleman who was also the subject of Williams’ Master’s degree thesis. As time went by, Williams only got better and better at playing the guitar. He learned to play most guitars and most styles of music from rock, ballads and jazz to calypso, country and western.
Over the years Williams continued to perform with several soca acts but in 2010, he left Destra’s band and began playing with the jazz concert series. He began touring and playing with local and international acts while earning a reputation for himself back home as the guitar virtuoso. Williams entertained audiences in style, dressed in suits.
“I miss going on stage all dressed up in one of my suits. As far as I can remember, my grandfather was always dressed in a suit. And my grandmother was a seamstress and always bought me three-piece suits. So wearing a suit is a very natural thing for me,” he says.
As much as he misses the thrill of live performances, he is not underestimating the risks posed by Covid-19.
“I choose life over money and over my right to movement. I have a strong interest in health care, I’ve been trained as an EMT so I appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Covid-19 may appear to be the first of its kind but every few years there is a surge in airborne diseases and epidemics,” he says.
Williams is using his extra time at home catching up with family and friends and working out. It will take some time before people come together again to enjoy live concerts but when things return to some sense of normalcy, Williams will be ready.
“I went through my library and found material I recorded in the past,” says Williams. “When I get back to the studio, I’ll be recording and re-releasing some of that music.”