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A meeting with giants
SOME might say you can't play jazz from the soul until you've lived life - which is why the genre is by and large dominated by old boys pouring their hearts out and squeezing every last emotion out of a sustained note.
But prepare to be surprised by some new faces this weekend at a concert that celebrates the inaugural Lion City Youth Jazz Festival, which aims to nurture young talent and develop the skills of aspiring musicians through the mentorship of international jazz legends like American saxophonist and composer Benny Golson, Swiss music director Fritz K Renold, as well as our own "King of Swing", Jeremy Monteiro.
The event is the first major activity for the Jazz Association (Singapore) Ltd (JASS), which was set up last September to enhance the appreciation, participation and excellence of the genre here.
It was accorded charity status this past March. JASS' patron is Singapore's ambassador-at-large, Professor Tommy Koh.
Its board of directors comprise chairman Albert Chiu (regional CEO of EFG Bank), vice-chairman Edmund Lam (CEO of COMPASS), directors Susan Peh (senior director at Yeo-Leong & Peh LLP), Karen LM Chan (chief control officer at Deutsche Bank) and Monteiro as executive director.
An audition process was held earlier this month to select talented youths to form the Jazz Association of Singapore Youth Orchestra (JassYO!) for the upcoming show and rehearsals commenced late last week as the international mentors arrived.
Monteiro promises "musical magic with catchy tunes and toe-tapping arrangements" for the show as JassYO! and the mentors take the audience on an eclectic musical journey with original compositions and arrangements by himself, Renold and established Singaporean jazz pianist Chok Kerong.
Local jazz divas Melissa Tham and Alemay Fernandez will also join them on stage by providing vocals.
"It's going to be a great concert of mostly local original compositions for the first half and the legendary Benny Golson's music for the second - both halves are sounding very strong in rehearsals," Monteiro enthuses.
To ensure that younger musicians receive an authentic learning experience, rehearsals and training were done in a bandstand learning style where the youths got the chance to work together with professional musicians, and rehearse both as a full ensemble and break-out section.
"Bandstand learning is a concept that has some traction across the world," Monteiro explains. "I have worked closely with the Jazzaar Festival in Switzerland which has a similar concept of immersing young musicians in a professional environment with well-known professional mentors, such as the legendary saxophonist/composer Benny Golson."
Intense daily rehearsals began this week in the lead-up to the show. As part of the festival, the mentors also conducted a workshop series at the end of each session where members of the public could sign up and participate to learn more about jazz.
"We intend to reach out to Singaporeans across the island, not just the city centre, and do jazz-appreciation talks, performance in community clubs, libraries and other public spaces to promote and help spread this happy music," adds Monteiro when asked what else JASS has lined up.
"We plan to do jazz arrangements of tunes by Asian legends such as P Ramlee and Teresa Teng to connect to more music fans and get them interested, and we will also perform more challenging repertoire and new commissions for other concert hall-styled performances."
Small but dedicated scene
He estimates there are about 150 musicians aged 15-35 years old ("the official definition of youth in Singapore") who are dabbling in jazz locally and describes the scene as "a small but dedicated (one)".
Events like the Lion City Youth Jazz Festival are opportunities for this newer generation to rub shoulders and learn from some of the jazz greats from many countries but Monteiro says the experience is just as enlightening for mentors like himself: "People can always learn from each other, no matter what their age; (and) on technical matters, it's mostly from us - the mentors - but we also learn to understand their dreams and passions, and this motivates us."
- The Lion City Youth Jazz Festival Concert Featuring Benny Golson & Eminent Mentors with the Jazz Association (Singapore) Youth Orchestra takes place at Victoria Theatre on May 27 at 8pm. Tickets from S$40 TO S$110 available from Sistic