It seems that fate had something to do with shaping a young St. John boy into a top-rated musician.
It just so happened that when a nine-year-old Victor Provost was practicing on the piano in the office of the St. John School of the Arts, the members of Steel Unlimited II were playing right upstairs.
“I don’t remember ever having heard the steel drum before that,” Provost, a 25-year-old accomplished musician today, recently recalled. “I closed the piano and walked upstairs and asked Miss Frank if I could play.”
Thankfully SJSA Director Sis Frank complied and Provost took his first step on the road to success.
“That first class lasted about three hours and I learned how to play my first song on the steel drum,” he said said. “When I got home my father pulled an old steel drum that he had gotten from Albion Sewer out of the closet and set it up and I practiced on that.”
Provost joined Steel Unlimited II under the direction of renowned pan musician Rudy Wells and dedicated himself to three-hour practices three days a week. The hard work soon paid off as the young musician toured with the group to destinations across the globe, from New York to Switzerland.
Steel Unlimited II
Wells was an indispensible influence on the budding young musician.
“In his day, Rudy Wells was one of the top two or three pan players in the world,” said Victor’s father, Jim Provost. “I don’t think that people really knew what they had in him at the time. We were very lucky to have him instructing the kids.”
Provost stayed with the band until 1995, when the group disbanded due to the director’s scheduling conflicts. But Provost didn’t let that little setback keep him from continuing with his steel drum playing.
“By this time I was just getting ready to start high school and Bamboula used to sell full-sized steel drum sets,” he said. “So I walked in and asked if I could play outside the shop for some after school money. Soon after that a couple of other store owners in Mongoose Junction started booking me to play.”
At the tender age of 15, Provost was already a paid musician. Over the next five years, the St. John pan prodigy kept plugging away at his craft.
“I started playing with Carl Powell and the Paradise People at resorts and different functions,” he said. “I kept up with it all through school.”
During his senior year in high school, Provost instructed the Love City Pan Dragons and he was the first instructor of the Baby Pan Dragons.
After graduating from All Saints High School, Provost attended the University of Pittsburgh for a few years, until “the need for green” prompted him to return to his music full time.
“I ran out of money after two years and started going to school part time and working in a bank,” he said. “I always kept music at the forefront and played with a group called the Real Silk Band. Carl Powell’s cousin was the leader of the band and he got us connected.”
Provost joined the Real Silk Band for two European tours where he played across Western Europe. After immersing himself in the music world once again, Provost faced a crossroads with one fork leading to a career in banking and the other intricately tied to the steel drum.
Time To Choose
“Banking was taking up too much of my time, which I would have rather spent on music,” he said. “I needed to make a decision about what direction I wanted to go in. I decided to relocate and moved home for a few months in my transition.”
While on St. John, Provost played with a number of bands including Paradise People and the Jazz Islanders. He also performed a number of shows with his similarly talented younger brother Eric. Now a resident of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Provost is in the process of forming a band.
“It’s great up here,” he said. “I have plenty of gigs and I’ve met a lot of other musicians. I’ve played with a lot of people in informal situations, but I’m getting a formal group together.”
Jazz on Pan
Although most often associated with the Caribbean, steel drums are actually popular throughout the world.
“Steel drums go over big everywhere,” he said. “I’m not really into playing the cruise ship music and I play a lot of jazz. The comment that I get the most is ‘I didn’t know you could do that on a steel drum.’”
Provost continues to impress audiences who are lucky enough to hear his performances. And the musician is quick to point out the importance of music, especially for young people.
“The steel drum is a unique instrument to play,” he said. “At a novice level, it’s very easy to learn. It gives kids a sense of satisfaction and self-worth.”
Discipline and Appreciation
“The fact that you can learn a song in three hours – I wasn’t a virtuoso, any one can do it – it’s a great way to build self-esteem,” Provost continued. “Since you don’t play as a soloist, but as a section, you learn to work as part of a unit. You learn discipline and appreciation for all types of music.”
Although he doesn’t consider himself a virtuoso, his father, among others, has a different opinion.
“Since he was young we’ve been awed by his talent,” said Jim Provost. “We’re very proud of him. He does things on the pan that nobody else does.”
“He is a super jazz improvisationist,” the proud father continued. “You put that together with his talent on the pan and you really have something. Victor is now at least one of the top two or three pan players in the world.”
Jim Provost seems to be completing the circle that began all those years ago when young Victor Provost first heard the sounds of the steel drum at the SJSA. Jim is now a pan instructor at the school.
CD Available on St. Thomas/St. John
The father also urged Victor Provost in his latest endeavor – a CD, titled Smooth Steel. The recording is loaded with great cover songs from A.C. Jobim’s “Girl From Ipanema” to Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba” and an original piece written by Provost titled “Fish Bay Bossa (Back in My Arms).”
Provost’s CD can be found on St. John at Bamboula, Nest, Bougainvillea, Paradise Barbershop, Pink Papaya, Big Fish and Mumbo Jumbo. On St. Thomas, the recording is for sale at Parrot Fish Music and
The Music Shoppe II.
For more information about steel drum classes at SJSA, check out their website at www.stjohnschoolofthearts.org.
And, keep an eye out for Provost in Love City in December, when he is planning a visit home and will definitely be playing around the island.