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DiverseCity 2015 – ASEAN Jazz Festival 2015

First off, please pardon my lack of updates on my website, especially in the blog section. However, I do update my Twitter and Facebook a lot more, so do please check my FB page when you can, for more recent updates.

Secondly, I’d like to talk about the festival I just performed at with my band, WVC – the ASEAN Jazz & Percussion Festival. It was one of the the festivals under the month-long DiverseCity Arts Festival 2015 (www.diversecity.my), held at one of Desa Sri Hartamas’ longest running F&B outlets, SOULed OUT. Of course, the music portion for this festival was curated by one of Malaysia’s most respected musician/pianist/composer/arranger, and the head-of-state for jazz in this country, Michael Veerapen. Naturally, as a jazz musician at heart, the ASEAN Jazz and Percussion Festival (as well as the No Black Tie and Alexis Sessions) would be his pet projects for this festival.

I remember having this conversation with Michael over teh-tarik about him wanting to put up a city-wide, month-long festival that would encompass the entire arts community in KL – dance, music, comedy, theatre, etc. Goes without saying, it would have been a MAJOR undertaking. And guess what? He did it! Despite facing a major setback in sponsorship cut, he managed to save a big part of the Festival – the Pub Festival, Alexis & No Black Tie Sessions, and of course the Jazz & Percussion Festival. I would’ve loved to see the KL Pops Symphony concert though.

Having worked with Michael for quite a while now, I am very well aware of his style of doing things. With no exception, this festival stays true to Michael’s quality of work, and I’m quite sure the other bands would testify to that too. He managed to put together a really great show together – from the artiste line-up to the technical part of the team (sound, lights, backline, etc). You want to know how easy it was for us for WVC? We went up for soundcheck, and it only took us 20 minutes to finish it! Everything was so smooth, the sound mix, EQs and monitoring were all done so well in such a short period of time.  As far as WVC was concerned, the sound mixing was good enough that we could almost make full use of our dynamic range that we have in our tunes, comfortably.

The festival itself, was a blast, for both the audience and the performers, from what I have observed. Overall, there were all the necessary elements a festival of this kind needed – food, drinks, a relaxing open air ambience, great sound, and awesome emcee in the form of Malaysian’s jazz mamma, Junji Delfino, (who also managed to sing a few tunes, standing in for Dasha Logan) and of course, a really good programming of performances. Practically every detail was taken care of, down to the screen projectors that were placed so systematically so that people at different parts of the restaurant could watch the show. The programming of the performers were also done with great thought, and each band put up one hell of a show (including us, of course!). It was a real JAZZ festival, at least in my books! Even though the acts that were invited to play all had their own strong musical identities, we all had one thing in common – JAZZ. Enough said. All the bands that played were amazing – The Steve Nanda Group (with Patrick Terbrack on sax, WeiLi Cheah on keys and Daniel Foong on bass), Singaporean group The Steve McQueens (with my buddy Fabian Lim on sax, Joshua Wan on keys, Eugenia Yip on vocals, Aaron James Lee on drums, and Jase Sng on bass), and of course Koh Mr. Saxman and the Sounds of Siam (Uhh, I won’t even bother trying to list out their band members Thai names). I had such a great time watching and listening all of them play. I’m also glad to call them my friends, as well, as I do know all of them personally.

I’ve mentioned it on FB and all that, but I’ll say it right here again: The ASEAN Jazz Festival was one of the best jazz festivals I’ve played in KL, or in Malaysia, in a very long time. I’ve played in many festivals before whether with WVC or other bands, but this tops the list of one of the best, if not the best.

Congratulations, Michael Veerapen and his team, for putting up such a wonderful and successful event, and also inviting WVC to be part of it! I personally hope this will be able to continue and grow in the following years to come.

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The Thailand International Jazz Conference 2015 – some thoughts

Talk about another inspiring and educational weekend! This was most certainly a great follow up to the Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival the previous week.

(You can read more about my thoughts on the MJFP 2015 here.)

First and foremost, a big shout out to the organizers of the Thailand International Jazz Conference (TIJC) 2015 for a job well done. It is my first TIJC conference (they’ve done it for the 4th year now, I believe), and it had been nothing short of an awesome and inspiring experience. It was nice to feel like a student again, to say the least. Going there to witness the musical greatness that was the George Garzone Trio, Lage Lund Trio, and the Jeff “Tain” Watts Quartet, was something I will always look forward to. Not only that, seeing a whole bunch of Thai musicians (young and old) playing at a reasonably good-to-high-level, was also inspiring to me! The workshops were all conducted reasonably well, and all the artistes had enough good information for me to learn a few new things, and be inspired to work on some of them. More on that later.

The TIJC is an annual event organized by the Mahidol University Music College faculty. You can read more about it here. They bring in some very notable artistes in to conduct workshops and concert performances, and some of their previous artistes include Seamus Blake, Aaron Parks, Billy Hart, Ari Hoenig, Peter Bernstein and more. In addition, their local Thai established artistes and educators were also brought in to conduct these workshops and concert performances. This year, they brought in the George Garzone Trio (with Francisco Mela on drums, and Peter Slavov on bass), The Lage Lund Trio (with Matt Brewer on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums) and also the Jeff “Tain” Watts Quartet (along with Troy Roberts on sax, Manuel Valera on piano, and Hogyu Hwang on double bass). Their local acts also include my good friends Koh Mr. Saxman, Passakorn Mirasilpin (or better known to us as “Mint”), Hong Chanutr Techatananan, and MANY (and I mean *MANY*) others.

The workshops were definitely one of the main highlights for me, and although half of it were in Thai (with their Thai educators, and that the primary demographic of the attendees were Thai, except us, the Malaysian contingent and then some), but they demonstrated well enough for us to get a good gist of what’s happening. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the workshops, and especially more so for Mr. Garzone’s saxophone workshop and also the Clarence Penn drum workshop. Some of them were better at explaining their concepts and thoughts and others, but all of them explained it clear enough (at least for me, being a native English speaker) for me to understand. The jazz competition was also an interesting one, where the students competing were all really skilled and were technically proficient in their instruments!

The live performances were of course, the main highlight of the whole event. And boy, they didn’t disappoint! The Thai bands were really amazing, and playing at a seriously high level. Although some of them weren’t really my cup of tea, but there is no denying their reasonably high skill level in their performance. The headliners (George Garzone Trio on Day 1, Lage Lund Trio on Day 2, and Jeff “Tain” Watts Quartet on the last day) were, without doubt, just simply amazing. These are real Masters at work, and nothing beats the experience of seeing them live. And even though the festival ran from early in the day till almost midnight, it was extremely well attended. And it also helped that the venue was also beautiful and well-suited for the occasion (even the mosquitoes were having a field day!). If you have a chance to visit the Mahidol University campus, you will see how beautiful it is.

What was also beautiful about this event was how it brought together all the different music schools/universities/institutes to participate in this event. It was a joint collaboration with three of the top jazz music departments in Thailand – Mahidol University, Rangsit Conservatory, and also Silpakorn University. In addition, bands and ensembles from the various departments – student bands, army bands, etc – all were given a stage to perform! I really wonder when Malaysia will achieve this state of collaboration and communication in the music field. Hopefully I’ll get to see it within my lifetime? Other than meeting some old friends, I also got to make some new ones, and I’m plenty grateful for that.

I am seriously looking to next year’s conference, and I may try to make it an annual pilgrimage (unless I’m going there to perform, well, that’ll be a different story, then!). To all music students (and I’m not talking about only the ones STILL in school, if you get my drift) interested and SERIOUS about jazz, I think you should also make it a point to attend this conference. This is probably the closest thing you can get to, in terms of getting first hand information from the current masters of this music. Great job to Mahidol University College of Music and all its partners for a job well done!!

Special thanks to my traveling mates Toro Cheng and Chee Seng, and also Az Samad and Yin! It was a good hang, full with a-toro-ciously bad az jokes, and thoughtful conversations! Hope to do it again at some point.

The 2nd Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival… my personal thoughts!

I am truly and unequivocally inspired and humbled from last night.

The final night of the 2nd Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival at KLPac was truly an amazing night of music IN MALAYSIA I’ve had in a while, I must admit. And I’m doubly/triply more proud and happy that the people who have given me a huge dose of inspiration and humble pie are my personal friends (who are also my colleagues/mentors).

To see all of them perform and play in their trio settings, and every single one of them playing to their best (mistakes and all) and just simply KICKIN’ ASS, was something that I really miss having to see. EVERYONE had something interesting and unique to offer, there was no competition, no cutting contests, no politics, just a lot of inspiring music and soul from different personalities…and a real fellowship, in every sense of the word.

To see some of the younger cats who are putting their hearts and souls out to be part of this amazing event, was also no less inspiring. I may be OLDER now, but I still feel the same fire and passion that they have, like when I was still a young fat saxophonist trying to make it into the scene. Now I’m just older but still fat, saxophonist. I am inspired by every one of them to be a better musician, a teacher, and a person.

I must say, in all honesty and without hesitation, that this Festival is TRULY, *THE BIGGEST* highlight of the Malaysian jazz scene. PERIOD. It’s not just a one-off event just to sell tickets and just about having a party and having fun. It’s the making of a real and growing jazz scene in our country, and integrating it as part of our culture. It is a an important piece of history in our Malaysian Music scene.

A BIG shoutout to Michael Veerapen and all the amazing team of pianists that performed, conducted workshops, and contributed to make it an amazingly inspiring and successful event – David Gomes, Ee Jeng Hin, Cheah Wei Li, Wee Lern Ch’ng, Justin Lim Fang Yee, John Dip Silas, Toro Cheng Pin Xuan, Tay Cher Siang (who was there in spirit, although physically in India), and the rhythm section Daniel Foong, Steve Nanda, Charles Wong, John Ashley Thomas, Terrence Ling and Wan Azfarezal. Kudos to ALL you guys!!

Congratulations to Melvin Goh for being the FIRST person to make Malaysian jazz piano history for being a deserving winner of the FIRST ever jazz piano competition in our country. A big shoutout to the rest of the participants whom I know, kicked ass, in one way or the other – Jack Lim Hui Jie, Leroy Lee, Vester Liew, Shaun Chow, and others.

If you have missed any of the shows, you have truly missed out on A LOT. I am really looking forward to seeing next year’s Festival.

(PS: Now, I really LOVE/HATE you guys even more.. I really wish I could play piano like that!!! LOL!!!!!)

Happy New Year 2015…thoughts and quips.

Happy New Year 2015, everyone!

I know, I’m a little late and it has already been a few days good of the new year. But like they say – better late than never.  Well, I was also too knocked out cold in bed from falling sick right at the eve of the new year, so I just didn’t have the strength to think or write anything.

Anyway, it’s a good time to sit down and gather my thoughts about 2014. As I’ve read through many of my friends’ posts about their new year reflections, I’ve noticed that one thing remains unchanged – all of us have experienced highs and lows, and everything else in between. To say the least,  that also applies to me. But more than anything, I’m just grateful for the opportunities I’ve had last year – whether it is the blessings that stem out of the bad experiences, or the learning from the good ones (and everything else in between).

For many, 2014 has been a extremely terrible year. Too many tragic plane incidents, natural disasters, political unrest, unnecessary and terrible deaths. To think back of it causes such distress in my heart (and I’m sure it is the same for most of us, if not all of us), that nothing can really help to alleviate that. More so than ever, that I am more inspired to be a better person, to be a better musician, and I hope the music my friends and I make can be some form of light of hope and inspiration for many.

Nevertheless, I shall write out some of the highlights of last year, and plenty there are (in no particular order):

1) Did a shit load of projects with my band, WVC TRiO+1 – two live performance video livestream shows; recorded our new instrumental jazz album (with this line up) and also our post-tour album launch; numerous album recordings for Pop Pop Music, Yudi Yap, and Janet Lee’s upcoming album, among others; numerous live shows as a group and with vocalists at No Black Tie, recorded and released 12 episodes of our WVC podcast, and others.

2) Toured with my band to China, Macau, and Bangkok with my band for a whole month, having played 20+ shows across 17 cities.

3) Started having more and more interested and passionate saxophone students from universities and privately.

4) Played a lot of gigs that I thoroughly enjoyed with my band and others, whether it is in the clubs or in private events.

5) Played four symphonic band concerts, of which the last one was at the Chiayi Band Festival in Taiwan, right before the year ended.

6) Performed with Jeremy Monteiro for the Singapore Wind Symphony concert (and my debut show at Esplanade Concert Hall); the Asia-Europe Tour with the Asian Jazz All-Stars (along with Eugene Pao and Hong Chanutr Techatananan), including going to Paris and playing my debut show at the world famous jazz club Ronnie Scott’s in London!

7) Traveled to Europe for the FIRST TIME, albeit short, but it was a memorable one.

8) Did two musicals, one big and one small, both with people I truly enjoyed working with (SuperMokh Restage, Kopisusu Recham).

9) Finally became a Yanagisawa Saxophones Artiste (and got a new horn from their new line of WO Series altos).

As for the not-so-pleasant things, well, suffice to say they are meant to happen for a reason, and I really believe that. I’ve learned more than ever that bad experiences are lessons in itself, and one can stand to learn from them – and that is a real blessing in itself. More than ever, I’m just grateful to be alive, breathing, and being able to do what I do. I truly thank the Creator/Heavenly Mother/Universe, for which all these is possible.

It is now 2015, everything that I’ve written is now in the past. Time to work towards a new future. Let’s see what 2015 has in store for us…

Happy New Year 2015, everyone!

Much blessings,
– JC

WVC TRiO+1 China Tour 2014: the story so far…

Hi all,

This is Julian reporting live from Home Hostels, Beijing! As I’m writing this, we are bunking in a hostel dorm where the five of us – Cher Siang, AJ, KJ, Choo Harn and myself – are bunking in the same room, for once.

We are on our ninth day, from our one-month long tour of China. So far, we have been to four cities and have done four performances, and we’ve got another fourteen to go. It’s been very interesting so far, to say the least.

Over the last nine days, we have performed at the following clubs in their respective cities:

1. JZ Club (Hangzhou)
2. Blank Space (Changzhou)
3. Wuxi Xie Tu Lu Bar (Wuxi)
4. JZ Club (Shanghai)

The trip has been interesting, and also quite challenging. Unlike the more high profile tours I’ve been on, this one (and the ones I’ve been on) is a lot more closer to the ground, where we are quite literally “on-the-road” – we have taken local transportation (buses, taxis, high-speed trains, hired vans, domestic flights) and stayed in their budget hotels/motels (Jin Jiang Inn, Hostels International, Motel 268), ate their local food (both of the street variety and more luxurious ones, thanks to some really good friends who hosted us) and walked around on foot from one place to another, whether it’s getting food or going to our performance venue. All of this while lugging around really heavy backpacks and also instruments.

Of all the four places we’ve played so far, JZ Club Shanghai was probably the most satisfying one in more ways than one. The rest were generally alright, but always had something that was a bit of a compromise, whether it was sound, equipment, and also the crowd. In some places, the crowd was good, but the equipment and sound wasn’t, or the venue itself was somewhat not as suitable for our kind of music. On the other hand, some venues were nice, but the crowd was not so happening. But I think it was somewhat understandable, Shanghai is a much more developed city compared to the rest, and the people in the other cities are still somewhat “catching up”.

We’ve also had the pleasure of the company of really nice, gracious and interesting people over the past week. Our good friend and brother-in-arms and photographer extraordinaire, Wong Horngyih, also joined us for a week until the Shanghai show and took some amazing shots of the shows (not to mention a lot of humour and stories on the side). We also reconnected with our hosts from the previous tour, Gugu (Wuxi) and also Yang Chen aka Chester Yang (Shanghai). What’s also interesting personally was that I got to meet up with Singapore legends – pianist Jeremy Monteiro and drummer Tama Goh, of whom I have the pleasure to consider good friends and mentors – during their tour with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra here in China. Definitely was a good hangout session as well.

Anyhow, we have quite a few more cities and shows to do over the next three weeks. I will report a little more as we go along. If I have time and adequate internet connection, I may post some photos.

Meanwhile, if you would like to keep yourself updated with little blurbs on the tour, please follow us on Twitter (@wvctrio) and Facebook (wwww.facebook.com/wvctrioplusone).

WVC Trio +1 China Tour 2013: Log Entry #4

27 May (Mon):

Today was our day-off. We basically chilled out and walked around a bit, had Shanghainese lunch with Jasmine, and dinner with Chester.

Lunch with Jasmine, was basically typical Shanghai-nese food. We then went to a nice bohemian part of downtown, about 30 minutes walk from where we were staying. It was a very nice quaint area, where it consists of a lot of small shops selling quaint stuff, speciality restaurants and other non-typical things.

Dinner with Chester was at a porridge place in one of the big shopping malls in Pudong area, near where the World Financial Center is. After dinner, he took us up that new World Financial Center building, or as the band calls it the giant Bottle Opener. It does looks like a giant bottle opener with a square hole at the top of the building. Anyway, it was an interesting place as we could see the skyline and the entire city area from quite a few hundred meters from ground level.

28 May (Tues):

We didn’t do much today as well. Had Muslim food for lunch and Siang and I walked around checking out some bookstores. We had our soundcheck at La Vida around 4.30pm and headed back to our hotel right after. The La Vida club was about 20 minutes walk from our hotel. KJ was so excited because the drumset at the club was a really beautiful Gretsch set, and it was brand new and one of the top range sets. And yes, it did sound really good, until he didn’t want to get out of the drum stool.

Our gig at La Vida was also really nice, tight, and fun! We had Jasmine to guest sing a few songs as well. We also had one really talented guitarist who sat in on two songs with us, and we found out he was to go to New England Conservatory to continue his music studies in the Fall. The show also had several friends from Malaysia, but had stayed and worked in Shanghai for quite a few years, who came to check us out, among others. We even did several tunes as encores, which of course delighted KJ as he could spend an extra few more minutes with the Gretsch drum set.

It was a tiring night as well, but very musically satisfying.

29 May (Wed):

We left Shanghai in the morning to take the high speed train to Nanjing for our next show.

When we got to Nanjing, there were some slight delays in terms of getting accommodation. So we actually hung out at the nearby KFC for a little bit before getting our room. But even so, we could only get ONE room at that time. So we all hung out and chilled out at the room until getting to the gig, which was 5 minutes walk away. But at least the hotel had free working wifi. Haha.

We had a quick dinner before heading to Don Quixote for a quick soundcheck. There wasn’t much of a crowd that night at all, as compared to our last tour. We basically only played one normal set and a second really short set, because we had to stop playing before 12am. There were residential apartments next to the club, so I guess they must have had difficulty having late night music. Even so, the band still kicked ass! Didn’t matter if there were little people or a lot.

30 May (Thu):

It was our day off, and we had thought about doing a little sight-seeing. Unfortunately our plan was marred by the fact that it had started to rain. Even though it wasn’t heavy rain, but it was heavy enough to put a damper on our plans. So we ended up just chilling around the hotel, and AJ and myself went checking out the surrounding IT malls. When we got back, we also ended up watching a movie on the iPad. We had dinner with the Don Quixote owner, and visited the Confucius Examination Hall cum Temple a short drive away. As expected, it was extremely commercialized and made into a tourist trap. Nothing terribly special.

That’s it for now!

Next up: Wuxi.

Stay tuned and thanks for dropping by.