Pannist Joy Lapps releases her “Girl in the Yard” album

By Lincoln DePradine

Joy Lapps

Recording artist and award-winning steel pannist and composer, Joy Lapps, continues a summer tour this weekend in Toronto, where she’ll perform songs from her newly released album titled, “Girl in the Yard’’.

“It’s been a long time coming,’’ Lapps commented on the musical album, telling The Caribbean Camera it’s aimed at putting listeners in a “happy mood’’.

Lapps will be featured at the Beaches International Jazz Festival on Sunday, July 24, the final day of the 2022 event.

The annual festival, which began July 2, is one of Canada’s largest free jazz concerts.

Lapps, who has been recording for almost a decade, was introduced to the pan as a teenager, with the late St Vincent-born Vince Cato tutoring her after she joined a steelband at the Church of the Nativity in Malvern.

Since her learner’s days in Malvern, Lapps has moved on to mastering the pan, pursuing business and music studies and raising a family. She’s the mother of two sons with her husband Larnell Lewis, who himself is a musician.

At the “Pan Alive’’ competition of the Ontario Steelpan Association, Lapps first performed with Pan Master and then with Pan Fantasy, which she now refers to as her “home band’’.

She also has performed in several countries and cities, including at panorama in New York and at semifinal at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad, with Birdsong Steel Orchestra.

Joy Lapps

Lapps has combined her talent and professional training to become an educator and a consultant, with her work focusing on facilitating multi-modal teaching and learning.

She holds two degrees from York University, including an International Bachelor of Business Administration. She returned to York and in 2015, Lapps completed a Master of Arts in “History, Development and Composition for Steelpan in the Jazz Ensemble’’.

“My Master’s was fully funded by York. They want you to explore something that hasn’t been done because, at the end of the day, they want you to add to the body of academic literature that is there,’’ Lapps said.

In preparing her thesis for the Master’s program, Lapps reviewed published literature on the steelpan; interviewed musicians with many years of experience in the steelpan jazz; and listening to recordings of steel orchestras.

“I attempted to map out the tradition of steelpan in jazz by looking at the discography. I don’t think I have more than one woman’s name on that list from the early 60s,” she said. “And so for me, I was trying to fill a gap.’’

It was during her studies and research that Lapps started writing some of the music for “Girl in the Yard’’, which pays homage to women that have helped facilitate her mastery of the steelpan and supported her success in the Steelband movement.

“These are the women who have allowed me to flourish in a creative space where, traditionally, women were considered outsiders,’’ Lapps explained.  “The process of composing and recording this album became an exploration of how I’m able to show up in the world because of the women, especially in my community, who have supported me.”

Her academic training and music background have allowed Lapps to work with various organizations, including the Toronto District School Board and the York Region District School Board, in planning and executing new steelpan programs.

“It’s a mix. Sometimes, I’m performing; sometimes, I’m consulting; sometimes, I’m leading workshops. Last year, I taught music pedagogy at Humber College,’’ said Lapps, a 2016 Canadian Juno Award winner.

Lapps, a GRAMMY-nominated steel pannist who has recorded with Jamaican reggae star Gramps Morgan, has her own ensemble called “The Joy Lapps Project’’. Her husband, too, has a band, “The Larnell Lewis Band’’.

Husband and wife, who reside in Oshawa, have performed on the same stage, and are together on the 2022 summer North American Tour that includes stops in Halifax, Nova Scotia; British Columbia; Alberta; Quebec; and the United States capital, Washington, DC.

Lapps released “How Great Thou Art’’, her first record of music, in 2004.

Other recordings followed including the latest “Girl in the Yard’’, which is Lapps’s first full-length album featuring her original music and arrangements.

The album, recorded at Canterbury Music Company in Toronto, has some “mellow tracks’’, as well as Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Brazilian rhythm that is “fairly upbeat’’, Lapps said.

The ensemble represented on the album includes Lapps, a specialist tenor pannist, as well as musicians playing string instruments and others such as piano, flute and clarinet.

“Girl in the Yard’’ was released on July 8.