Singapore International Jazz FestivalThe Singapore International Jazz Festival

Article by Stella C. and Haybert K. Houston. Performance photos by Haybert K. Houston


Early May 16, 2001, we boarded Singapore International Airlines to Singapore to attend the first Singapore International Jazz Festival, and what an experience that was!

On Arrival

We arrived in Singapore on May 18, 2001. May 17 had disappeared in thin air because we crossed the international date line, and some fifteen, or so, hours ahead of the San Francisco Bay Area time. After a little rest, we were invited to a get together at a local brewery across the street from our hotel, the Conrad International. There we met our hosts Rick Clements, Vice-President Public Affairs; Belinda Choo, Assistant Manager, Public Affairs; Derrick Chiang, Public Affairs Executive, all of Singapore Airlines; James Eng Jin Brasher and Kylie Taylor of the Baldwin Boyle Shand Limited, the promotion company for the Festival; and fellow reporters from Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Fringe Events
We were then introduced to two of the clubs that feature Jazz in Singapore, Harry's Bar and Aubreys. We had the opportunity to meet the proprietor of Harry's Bar, Margaret Woodward, who informed us that she often comes to the Bay Area to check out musicians whom she could bring to Singapore to perform at her bar. She has also recently purchased a club in the Castro district in San Francisco which is due to open soon. (We are just loaded with positve information.) Playing at Harry's that night (as well as two nights before) were some of the groups that were to perform at the jam sessions afterwards and at the Jazz Festival. It was unfortunate that we couldn't stay for the jam sessions because we couldn't keep our eyes open. But we heard a little bit of the group ChromaZone, which is the house band at Harry's. Christy Smith was on acoustic bass, Ed Layman on drums, Rick Smith on guitar, and Nicholas Lim on piano. Guest vocalist was Beebe Price from San Francisco. I was happy to know that both clubs host straight ahead Jazz, and possibly some blues, and according to the program book, they would do R&B as well. Beebe Price sang some blues that night. Her voice was strong but I couldn't understand her words, but maybe that was because I was at another end of the club and people were talking. The band was tight though.

When the Friends of Jazz showed up next, I shuffled up close to the band and managed to give a good listen. Bassist/vocalist Eldee Young was impressive. He supported and guided the group. He gave a strong and melodious bassline from which the rest of the group could work. When he sang, he reminded us a bit like James Moody. He made it fun for his group and his audience. The program book said he was the original bassist and founding member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, and he collaborated with Jeremy Monteiro, pianist, and artistic direct of this festival, and Redd Holt, drummer, to form the band, Monteiro, Young and Holt. I was also impressed with Judy Roberts, the pianist for the group. She was skillful, and she paid close attention to Young and whoever she was backing. She answered, she challenged, and she echoed with whoever was playing. Besides Roberts, Chris Varga was on vibes, Greg Fishman on tenor and flute, Terry Undag on trumpet and flügelhorn, and John Van Deursen on trombone. The group was on fire that night, trying to outdo each other with their trades. The audience soaked it in.

At Aubrey's we caught the tail end of Jeremy Monteiro Super Trio with Jeremy Monteiro on piano, Jay Anderson on bass and Michael Carvin on drums. Both clubs were packed. There was not a cover charge. In both cases, the band took up one-third of the venue. Tables were also available outdoors. However, for those who wanted to listen, they huddled around the band inside.

Audience by the Atrium Stage(photo at left) The audience at the Suntec Center by the Atrium Stage, enjoying the performances

Suntec City Festival Village

The First Annual Singapore International Festival was a three-day festival involving about one hundred and fifty musicians, regionally and internationally. There were a total of four stages, three were free to the audience and one ticketed main stage. The location of the main stage was at the Singapore Convention center, which is connected to one of the many huge shopping centers in Singapore, the Suntec City shopping mall, where the other stages were located, and of which two of them were outdoors.

When we walked through the area, it felt very much like any festival in the States. There was a booth for festival information where they sold programs, festival T-shirts, caps, mugs, et cetera. There were booths selling specialty foods, like fruits particularly from the area, satay - skewered meat barbecued, served with peanut sauce; Turkish ice cream; gyro; and many other things that I don't know either the names or ethnic origins. These food items had to be special, because there is no lack of restaurants inside the mall. And then, of course, Heineken, and American Express had their booths because they were the sponsoring companies beside Singapore International Airlines. There was a big screen at one end of the area where the food booths were, where people could sit down at tables and chairs and watch one of the performances.

Performers at these stages involved both regional and international musicians. And we were in the same dilemma as in any festival­who do you want to see first? The schedule started from 5
P.M. and lasted until 10:30 P.M. each night. The groups were, the Thomson Swing Band, O'D and Friends, Buhay, Otrie Barret, Jr. and his band, The Singapore Stompers, Paulinho Garcia, Groove Approve, k'Ass, the Eugene Pao Quartet, MUTU led by Ireng Maulana, NUS Big Band led by Rick Smith, Thomson Jazz Combo, FRoCK, Two for Brazil, ChromaZone, the Michael Veerapen Trio, Heartbeat Percussion, and Budak Pantai. These bands rotate between the stages, and played about three different times each. Of these groups, Eugene Pao is from Hong Kong, FRoCK from Melbourne, Australia, MUTU from Indonesia, Michael Veerapen from Malaysia, Buhay featuring Tots Tolentino is from the Philippines, and Paulinho Garcia from Brazil.

Groove ApproveLooking at the program, these groups look a little scary, in the sense that they play a mixture of rock, funk and R&B, rather than straight ahead Jazz. If that was to be presented at the free concerts, the passers-by might think that was Jazz, and they would not get true jazz samples. Of what I heard, Groove Approve is of the of rock, funk and R&B category (photo at left). The Otrie Barrette, Jr. Band mixed Jazz with calypso, and has a Caribbean sound. K'Ass is fusion, mostly electronics instruments. O'D and Friends was a mixture of rapp, rock, funk, and Jazz, even though we were impressed with Jimmy Lee's powerful drumming. The Thomson Swing Band sounded and looked like one of our high school bands. Heartbeat PercussionHeartbeat Percussion is a different kind of music. It is an all percussion group, mostly of young people. They stomp their feet, beat on their bodies, garbage cans, bamboo posts (photo below) that are used for hanging out clothes (you can see those in the residential areas), and drums, gongs and other percussion instruments from this south east Asian region as well as India, Africa, Brazil, and the south Pacific islands. They made interesting and wonderful polyrhythms that was both fun to watch and listen to. They did a piece called "Ethnic Singapore" which had Hindu sounds, tunes from Bali, and Chinese Lion Dance. Heartbeat Percussion Band with their bamboo posts.

Fortunately, there was the Singapore Stompers, a traditional Jazz group performing regularly at one of the clubs in Singapore. They were fun and kept strictly to the Dixieland style. ChromaZone played some straight-ahead Jazz and blues. And if Eugene Pao, Michael Veerapen, and Friends of Singapore performed at these stages the same as what they performed on the Main Stage, the Singapore people can get the taste of what we at Jazz Now called Jazz.

Well, maybe the idea is to let the multitude of people who walked through the Suntec Center get a grasp of the variety of music being performed under the broad title of Jazz.


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