This afternoon’s jazz concert at the Asian Civilizations Museum is the last collaboration with Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) for this year. As is often in the case of Singapore’s jazz legend Dr Tony Makarome’s classes, the students had no idea that they have to play in public and that it is part of the course requirements. There are two sections of classes on different days and some of today’s performers are playing together for the first time. One more difference in today’s line-ups is that, for the first time, two of them (a pianist and a bass guitarist) are not students from YSTCM but a freelancer and a chemical engineering student who signed up for this elective.
The one-hour concert began with Things Ain’t What They Used To Be by Mercer Ellington & Ted Persons (Americans, 1919-1996; 1909-1988), the song that I’m least familiar with in today’s playlist.
Next comes L-O-V-E by Bert Kaempfert & Milt Gabler (German, 1923-1980; American, 1911-2001), a song made famous by Nat King Cole and one of my favourites. I was a tad disappointed by the vocalist who I felt lacked the vigour for such a dynamic and lusty song. However, the solo passages by the Bassoon and Viola made up for it.
For me, the concert became more enjoyable and animated from the third song. I was as pleased to see Gabriel Hoe taking his place at the piano as I was to see that Dr Makarome would be playing the double bass. I have been impressed by their performances before. It was only the second time I heard the song, Struttin’ With Some Barbecue by Lillian Hardin Armstron& Don Raye (Americans, 1878-1971; 1909-1985) but the first time I heard a Ruan (an instrument from the Chinese orchestra that looks like a banjo) playing it. Two violinists and a violist also took turns to showcase their prowess.
Another vocalist took the mic for the next song, Samba de Verao (Summer Samba) by Marcus Valle, Paulo Sergio Valle & Norman Gimbel (Brazilians, b. 1943; b. 1940; American, b. 1927). I could almost sense her nervousness as she started off in an almost hushed tone. Although I was seated right in front of her, I could barely make out what she was singing. Instead, I was more enthralled by the Ruan which is such a peaceful and meditative instrument.
A different piano major took over the ivories for Moanin’, a jazz standard by Bobby Timmons (American, 1935-1974). The flautist was almost as impressive as the pianist whose deft right hand reminds me of Lang Lang with an injured left arm.
Besides pianist Gabriel, who impressed me with his versatility (his music score had only three lines! & he could improvise while taking whispered instructions from Dr Makarome), I was most impressed with the Ruan player’s dexterity: his fingers just seemed to fly across the ‘frets’ and the clusters of double (&/ triple notes) were exemplary.
A surprise item (because it’s not in the programme) is the song Candy by Alex Kramer, Mack David & Joan Whitney (Canadian, Americans; 1903-1998, 1912-1993, 1914-1990), a song I’ve loved since I first heard it sung by The Manhanttan Transfer decades ago. The vocalist seemed less nervous but was still hardly audible, as though I was not wearing my hearing aids.
The Spiderman Theme by Paul Francis Webster & Robert Harris (Americans, 1907-1984; 1925-2000) must have appealed to the very young ones in the audience because the male vocalist appeared in a Spiderman sweater. The get-up was definitely more catchy than his karaoke singing! There was no help from the first vocalist who sang today as she was inaudible, her voice mostly drowned by the violin, viola, vibraphone, piano, guitar and drums.
My favourite pianist of the day, Gabriel Hoe, returned to play Moon River by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer (Americans, 1924-1994; 1909-1976) with Dr Makarome and the drummer. The vocalist, singing her third song today, is clearly more confident and her delivery was smooth, though it was the pianist who won me over with his utterly relaxed demeanor. His pristine notes and crystal clear running passages made me want to play my piano the moment I get home!
The finale was The Chicken by Pee Wee Ellis (American, b. 1949), a song I’m totally unfamiliar with. What was interesting for me was that this performance is supposedly unrehearsed, as Dr Makarome just called out the students to the stage impromptu and told them there and then what he expected (eg who was to play solo), and they had to decided on-the-spot who was to take which section. Again, I was awed by Gabriel Hoe, who played with absolute ease (and apprently enjoying himself).
It had been an enjoying concert. As Beethoven once said: Music soothes the savage beast; I was in a much lighter mood than when I first arrived, because of a slightly unpleasant incident earlier.