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Making jazz accessible to the masses
YOU don't need to be a jazz fan to be familiar with the works of Jeremy Monteiro. The "King of Swing" is everywhere - composing national songs, releasing countless albums and even playing the keyboard for Simon & Garfunkel over an illustrious four-decade career that is still going strong.
It's all in a day's work for the tireless musician whose creative streak shows no sign of stopping as he gets ready to officially launch his latest album, Brazilian Dreams, with a concert of the same name next week. Released digitally first, it cracked the Top 10 on the iTunes Jazz Charts in just three days.
The work features traditional Brazilian tunes in the style of bossa nova - arguably the most accessible jazz sub-genre - which Monteiro loves for its universal appeal.
"Bossa nova is timeless," he says, citing examples of it being played in Starbucks and its common use in films. "(It is) part of the soundtrack of our lives."
Monteiro also believes that music transcends language so it does not matter that bossa nova standards are typically sung in Brazilian Portuguese.
"People don't care about the language barrier now," he notes, citing fans of Korean music who will learn the lyrics even if they do not understand it.
The album features well-worn standards and Antônio Carlos Jobim classics like The Girl from Ipanema, Desafinado and Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars, sung in Portuguese and English by Brazilian vocalist Juliana Da Silva and local singer Melissa Tham.
It is Monteiro's hope that his album will provide for a relaxing listening experience. "People can even use it as background music during parties," he hopes, because the cool notes of bossa nova are pervasive and familiar even to the uninitiated.
"It is music that forces you to relax," he quips. "Even before the word 'chillout' became popular, the (default) chill music was bossa nova."
The upcoming concert, however, will be a livelier affair compared to the album, Monteiro promises. There are plans to include samba music to create a carnival-like atmosphere as it was the precursor to bossa nova.
The way Monteiro delicately balances genres is one of the reasons for his widespread appeal. Whether on stage or in the studio, it is not unusual to hear him put his own spin on pop songs such as the Carpenters' hits and timeless classics like Danny Boy. "I love a beautiful melody - whether it is written in the jazz genre or a pop song," he explains.
His emphasis on the pure beauty of musical qualities and tones is seen from his favourite singers, that range from Karen Carpenter to Frank Sinatra ("He is able to sound the note at the exact moment that requires it," Monteiro enthuses.)
Monteiro is also delighted to see his fanbase extending to a younger audience. In the past 20 years, he has given over 100 talks and performances in schools to spread his love for jazz. These sessions are paying off as Monteiro has met young couples after his concerts who say that they heard his talks when they were 15 years old and have become life-long fans of jazz. "It is so gratifying to hear that," he says.
Monteiro is clearly happiest when he's performing and the size of the venue or crowd doesn't matter. "For me, it's the musical exhilaration that I feel - it can happen in a small club with just five people who are listening intently to my music," he adds.
- Jeremy Monteiro's concert, Brazilian Dreams, will take place at the Victoria Theatre at 8pm on June 17. Tickets range from S$35 to S$75 (with a CD of the album) at Sistic