Jazz @ Lunchtime

Yesterday’s lunchtime concert at the Asian Civilisations Museum was put up by the students of Dr Tony Makarome from the Young Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) at the National University of Singapore.

The first thing that struck me was the Steinway concert grand was not in its usual place! Instead it was a green Bosendorfer baby grand.


Anyway, I thought to myself: it’s fine, because it was going to be a jazz performance and I could give more attention to the other instruments. Was I right! And it was by far the most enjoyable of such concerts that I’ve attended over the years.

For the first time in my memory, there was no female student in the ensemble. It was perhaps only the second time that YSTCM faculty member Dr Makarome lent his vocals to the performance. It was the third time I saw visually-impaired Steven Tanus perform but it was the first time I saw him on three other instruments (violin, drums and percussion) besides the piano (his major). There were two other pianists for this performance, one of whom is Gabriel Hoe (who also played the trumpet, and without music score for one piece), who is really good at  improvisation and has a really solid technique.

The pieces played range from

  • So Nice by Marcos Valle & Paulo Sergio Valle (Brazilians, b.1943; b.1940), a bossa nova number that featured the oboe and the guitar. I was puzzled by the accomplishment of the oboeist, a Malay, since I had been told by a Muslim friend that there aren’t any professional Muslim wind players because they cannot practise during the fasting month of Ramadan as they are not even allowed to swallow their saliva!
  • to Out of Nowhere by Johnny Green & Edward Heyman (Americans, 1908-1989; 1907-1981) featuring the French Horn (which is very unusual in a jazz band) and the piano
  • to Summertime by George Gershwin & Ira Gershwin (Americans, 1898-1937; 1896-1983) featuring the oboe and trumpet
  • to Beyond the Sea (La Mer) by Charles Trenet, Albert Lasry & Jack Lawrence (French, 1913-2001; French, 1903-1975; American, 1912-2009). This song, popularised by Bobby Darin and one of my all-time favourites, is when Dr Makarome (a stelwart of the Singapore jazz scene) sang!
  • to I’ll Remember April by Patricia Johnston, Don Raye & Gene De Paul (Americans, 1922-1953; 1919-1988, 1909-1985) in a special arrangement at a quick tempo with the French horn, guitar and piano taking centrestage. This is the piece in which Gabriel was most impressive.
  • to Moon River by Henry Mancini (American, 1924-1994). Dr Makarome joked that Steven was ‘forced to try out’ the violin for this piece because it is ‘the easiest instrument in the world’; what followed immediately after (even before the performance commenced) was that one of the violin strings just snapped and broke! Dr Makarome had to fix the broken string by’ tying it up’ and in the meantime, Gabriel improvised on the piano, where he impressed again. When the problem was ‘fixed’, a conversation ensued between the violin and the piano. I marveled at Steven’s skill: he has played the violin for less than a semester yet was much, much better than my one-year ‘affair’ with it.
  • to Night and Day by Cole Porter (American, 1891-1964) featuring the violin and trumpet
  • to Misty by Erroll Garner (American, 1923-1977); where the melody must have been like a child’s play to the very competent, classically-trained pianist and the trumpeter who played without score (the only person to do so other than Dr Makarome who of course played his Double Bass without score throughout)
  • to Sweet Georgia Brown by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard & Kenneth Casey (Americans, 1891-1943; 1897-1962; 1899-1965), the finale that had everyone playing.

There were supposed to be three more songs in the set list (which was a graded performance in the jazz module for the students), but then time ran out because of the earlier mishap with the violin. I hope to hear these in their next performance (Fly Me To The Moon by Bart Howard, Watermelon by Herbie Hancock and Speak Low by Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash).


Jazz Performance

Once a semester, students of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore, will present an exuberant jazz concert at the Asian Civilisations Museum with their lecturer, Dr Tony Makarome. These students are most comfortable with Classical music but all of them go through one module of Jazz as part of their professional development. Today’s performance was an interesting one, well-worth attending.

The very first song saw a Year 3 Violin Major lending her vocals to Samba de Verao by Brazilians Marco Valle, Serge Valle & American Norman Grimbal. The next one was George Shearing’s Lullaby of Birdland sung by an exchange student from France who also played the oboe.

It was a bonus to see Dr Makarome playing the piano in the next piece, Night in Tunisia by Gillespie, instead of the bass for which he is very well-known. Another wonderful bonus from Dr Makarome was his jazzy arrangement on Paganini’s (1782-1840, Italian violinist and composer) Moto perpetuo, allegro de concert for violin and orchestra.

My favourite song in this concert was Nichol & Lane’s Times OF Your Life, a personal choice of the Violin major. I couldn’t help but mouth the words along with her. Dr Makarome was on the piano again! And the oboe’s two solo passages were really impressive!

The second half of the concert showcased the many talents of this group of students;

  • Song for Abdullah by American Kenny Barron was arranged by a Year 3 Bass major for the whole band. (The original was for piano and flute.)
  • Year 4 Composition major, Tan Yuting wrote the piece called Wanna Build Snowman Not?  in a Bossa Nova style. It had a very soothing melody with solos by the oboe and cello.
  • A Year 3 Recording Arts major not only played the drums throughout this concert but also arranged a piece by American Sonny Rollins as a tribute to the prominent acoustician, simply called Sonny Lim For Two.
  • A Year 4 Cello major wrote the finale, called Dylan’s Song (this student’s name is Dylan), featuring solos by the trombone, bassoon, guitar and cello; and Dylan also sang one of the verses.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable lunchtime concert, well-worth sacrificing food for! I eagerly await the next one in November.

Jazz Performance

Dr Tony Makarome teaches an elective course called Materials of Jazz Music to students majoring in classical music, sound recording and composition at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore. Once a semester, he brings his students on a “field trip” – one jam session that is supervised – to perform at the Asian Civilization Museum. Last Friday’s performance was very exciting for Dr Makarome because he had his “first real drummer” and everything worked out fine because at such outings, the students do not know beforehand the actual line-up of the performance.

This lunchtime concert began with a piece by Dexter Gordon (American, 1923-1990) called “Number Four”, comprising the bassoon (in the lead parts), the piano (with lots of one-hand improvisations), double-bass and percussion. Unlike previous concerts, Dr Makarome did not play the double-bass (he is one of the most eminent double-bass players in Singapore).

The French Horn led in “Moon River” by Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer (Americans, 1924-1994; 1909-1976), supported by the piano, double-bass, drums and guitar. It was the first time I saw a French Horn player performing so close in front of me, and my admiration for all French Horn players increased manyfold).

The popular song “L-O-V-E” made famous by Nat King Cole and composed by Bert Kaempfert (German, 1923-1980) & Milt Gabler (American, 1911-2001) was next. The voice was the first to be featured, followed by the French Horn, then the piano, then the double-bass taking turns to showcase their solo parts, supported by the guitar and drums.

The great saxaphone player, Charlie Parker’s (American, 1920-1955) “Billie Bounce” was next. This time, to my delight (and the rest of the audience, I’m sure), Dr Makarome joined the group playing the double-bass. The French Horn took centrestage, with drums and another student on his double-bass.

Alex Kramer’s “Candy”, made famous by Manhattan Transfer in 1975, featured another student (a violin major) on vocals, with the bassoon and the piano taking turns to play the main melody, and supported by the double-bass and drums.

Erroll Garner’s ( American, 1923-1977) ubiquitous “Misty” was sung by a voice major. This time, the double-bass and the piano were featured at different stanzas, while the bassoon and drums lent their support.

The bee-bop“Cherokee” by Roy Noble (British, 1903-1978) was played at a “semi-ridiculous” tempo, with the drums stealing the centrestage. (Before the start of the piece, Dr Makarome revealed the drummer was a recording arts major who also played the mandolin and guitar in addition to a slew of percussion instruments.) The guitarist here provided a solid rock rhythm and harmony, like a “quiet warrior”. Dr Makarome also joined the other students on the piano and the bassoon which played the main melody at times.

A “surprise” item (not in the programme) was the Brazillian song, “A Day In The Life of a Fool” from a movie called Black Orphia. This was an interesting performance by the piano, guitar, drums, double-bass, bassoon, French Horn and other percusssion instruments like the woodblock and the shaker. Dr Makarome played on a fascinating mouthpiece that I’ve never seen before! All these on top of the very pleasant and competent vocalist.

Alas, the concert had come to almost an end. And as Dr Makarome reiterated, there would be no encore as “this was a jazz class and this song was not thought-through”. The finale was Billy Strayhorn’s (American, 1915-1967) “Take the A Train” . Dr Makarome opened the number with himself singing! (What a treat! I’ve seen his double-bass performance in many ticketed concerts but I’ve never heard him sing!) He sang for almost a stanza before he began to change the lyrics, including “It’s good that I’m not singing the rest of the song”, before two students took over the vocals (one of whom did good improvisations with da-deh-do-da-dee) while he went back to play the double-bass. The bassoon and French Horn also took turns to play solo passages, while other students played the guitar, drums, double-bass, shaker and woodblock. The four pianists took turns on the piano without any break in between.

All in all, it was a wonderful one hour of music. The students displayed ample enthusiasm,  especially the drummer. His body language and facial expressions showed he was immersed in pure joy and enjoyment of what he was doing. His energy and happiness was contagious. I look forward to more such lunchtime concerts.