Amazon.com Widgets

On The Road With The Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet

On The Road With The Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet
By Published: | 14,486 views
Though it was only a 12-hour flight from Singapore to London, for Singaporean organist/pianist Jeremy Monteiro, Philippine tenor saxophonist Tots Tolentino, Hong Kong guitarist Eugene Pao and Thai drummer Chanutr Techatana-nan—who together make up the Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet—the journey has, in some ways, been a much longer one; you could say it's a journey that began in 1977, when Monteiro began gigging professionally. London represented a significant milestone for all these musicians.
The four musicians grinned broadly as they posed for a photo outside Pizza Express on Dean Street, and little wonder. It may seem like a normal tourist thing for them to do, but Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho is a hallowed London jazz venue, with only Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club and the The Bull's Head serving up jazz—both since 1959—for longer. That the Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet was invited to perform at Pizza Express as part of the the London Jazz festival was significant on two levels; firstly, this was the band's first performance at a major international jazz festival, and secondly, because it may well represent the first ever pan-Asian ensemble in the 20 years of the London Jazz Festival.
All About Jazz traveled for two weeks with the AJASPQ on its Asian-European tour, from rehearsals, workshops and warm-up gigs in Singapore to the band's first major international jazz festival—the London Jazz Festival—and on to France for a concert in Segré. Along the way Monteiro, Pao, Tolentino and Techatana-nan—also known as Hong—shared their stories and experiences, and in the process threw some light on jazz in Asia and the challenges that Asian jazz musicians face, both at home and abroad.
Chapter Index




Perceptions of Asian Jazz/All-Stars Pedigree

When thinking of Asian jazz musicians it's usually Japanese and Korean names that spring to mind. Thai, Philippine, Hong Kong and Singaporean names aren't on most peoples' list at all. Most American and European jazz fans would struggle to name a single jazz musician from any of these four countries, something that's not entirely surprising given that there aren't many professional jazz musicians emanating from these four corners of Asia. However, when it comes to quality, the four members of the Asian Jazz All-Stars Power Quartet can cut it with the best.

If American and European jazz musicians complain of finding it tough to get gigs these days, then the challenge is even greater for Asian jazz musicians, especially for gigs abroad. Though Asia seems to be opening its doors to visiting jazz musicians from America and Europe the reverse doesn't seem to be true. At Borneo Jazz in May, Agus Setiawan of Indonesian jazz advocacy organization Wartajazz.com spoke of the challenges facing Asian jazz musicians, in light of his experience at Jazzahead! 2012 in Bremen: "There was a lot of interest from people wishing to bring bands to Indonesia and Asia in general," he told me, "but there wasn't very much interest shown in bringing Asian bands to Europe. It doesn't work both ways. Maybe they don't think the quality of jazz musicians is high enough here."

When I put this idea to Monteiro, he was more or less in line with Setiawan's observation about the imbalance in opportunities: "It's still as difficult as ever," he said. "From America to Asia there's a highway but from here to there there's a footpath." As for the suggestion that the "footpath" may be because American and European jazz promoters consider Asian jazz musicians to be inferior, Monteiro said: "I used to feel the draft, especially from American musicians," said Monteiro, "but that has changed a lot. These days there are great Israeli jazz musicians, great European and great Asian jazz musicians. This generation has grown up much more integrated than their parents or their grandparents. I think [saxophonist] Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
was the one who tore down a lot of the negativity surrounding non-black Americans playing jazz. When he came along it was impossible for anyone to say a white musician can't play jazz."

Monteiro has long had the chops to play with the very best. He used to be the leader and pianist in a trio with two of Chicago's finest, bassist Eldee Young
Eldee Young
b.1936
and drummer Redd Holt
Redd Holt
b.1932
, a trio he remembers with great fondness: "Redd and Eldee used to make me feel 50 and black," Monteiro said smiling broadly. However, he recalls how the question of so-called jazz ownership was the cause of some friction between himself and saxophonist John Stubblefield
John Stubblefield
1945 - 2005
saxophone
, who along with guitarist ODonel Levy was added to the trio for a gig in 1988: "It almost came to blows," explained Monteiro, "just as we were about to go on stage." This wasn't just another gig either; this was the Montreux Jazz Festival. "Our manager, Stephen Francis, stepped between us," Monteiro continued. "It was more to do with the tensions that rear up from time to time in any band."

Whatever the reasons behind the tension, the adrenaline pumping worked in a positive manner as the quintet gave a remarkable performance, captured on Monteiro, Young & Holt, Live at Montreux (WEA, 1989) and reissued on Jazznote in 2011 with a DVD. Montreux Jazz Festival director Claude Nobs described the concert at the time as "an unforgettable set which will remain a classic concert of the first twenty-two years of Montreux."

The spat between Monteiro and Stubbelfield paled into insignificance in the afterglow of their Montreux success, Monteiro recalled: "We cleared the air and became great friends. Sometimes you have to go through things like that to get to know someone." Stubbelfield died of prostate cancer in 2005. "Bill Clinton, who used to live in John's hometown [Little Rock, Arkansas] visited him in hospital about five weeks before he died and they were able to talk while watching the DVD of that Montreux gig," remembered Monteiro. "When I went to see him two weeks before he died he could only whisper; he just said 'thank you.'"

Stubblefield—who enjoyed a fifteen-year musical relationship with pianist Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
Kenny Barron
b.1943
piano
—also played and recorded with pianists McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
, Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
Mulgrew Miller
1955 - 2013
piano
, George Cables
George Cables
George Cables
b.1944
piano
, Geri Allen
Geri Allen
Geri Allen
b.1957
piano
and Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim
Abdullah Ibrahim
b.1934
piano
. In Monteiro, Stubblefield found another outstanding pianist. Asian guys, it seems, can also play jazz.

A quick glance at the AJASPQ's resume points to their collective pedigree. In addition to numerous collaborations with Asian jazz musicians, the members of the AJASPQ have performed and recorded with saxophonists Michael Brecker, Jackie McLean
Jackie McLean
Jackie McLean
1932 - 2006
sax, alto
, James Moody
James Moody
James Moody
1925 - 2010
reeds
, Ernie Watts
Ernie Watts
Ernie Watts
b.1945
reeds
, Sir John Dankworth
John Dankworth
John Dankworth
1927 - 2010
saxophone
, Don Weller
Don Weller
Don Weller
b.1940
, Tim Garland
Tim Garland
Tim Garland
b.1966
saxophone
and Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
b.1964
sax, tenor
; singers Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson
b.1955
vocalist
, Roberta Gambarini and Youn Sun Nah
Youn Sun Nah
Youn Sun Nah

vocalist
; bassists Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
1937 - 2014
bass, acoustic
, Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
b.1944
bass
, Jay Anderson
Jay Anderson
Jay Anderson
b.1955
bass, acoustic
, Christy Smith and Christian McBride
Christian McBride
Christian McBride
b.1972
bass
; drummers Al Foster
Al Foster
Al Foster
b.1944
drums
, Adam Nussbaum
Adam Nussbaum
Adam Nussbaum
b.1955
drums
, Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford
b.1949
drums
, Calvin Weston
Calvin Weston
Calvin Weston
b.1959
drums
and Shawn Kelley
Shawn Kelley
b.1958
drums
; guitarists Joe Pass
Joe Pass
Joe Pass
1929 - 1994
guitar
, Martin Taylor
Martin Taylor
Martin Taylor
b.1956
guitar
, Ernest Ranglin
Ernest Ranglin
Ernest Ranglin
b.1932
guitar
, Ulf Wakenius
Ulf Wakenius
Ulf Wakenius
b.1958
guitar
, Dan Phillips
Dan Phillips
Dan Phillips
b.1965
guitar
and Toninho Horta
Toninho Horta
Toninho Horta

guitar
; trumpeters Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
b.1945
trumpet
and Leroy Jones
Leroy Jones
Leroy Jones
b.1958
trumpet
; accordionist Richard Galliano
Richard Galliano
Richard Galliano
b.1950
accordion
; flutist Herbie Mann
Herbie Mann
Herbie Mann
1930 - 2003
flute
; percussionist Paulinho DaCosta, harmonica player Toots Thielemans
Toots Thielemans
Toots Thielemans
b.1922
harmonica
and pianists Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
, Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
and McCoy Tyner.

To this extensive but by no means exhaustive list of collaborations, you can add former Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones
Rolling Stones

band/orchestra
guitarist Mick Taylor and folk/pop icons Simon and Garfunkel. Individually, the members of the AJASPQ have toured all over the world, playing at some of the most prestigious jazz festivals in the world and in iconic venues such as the Budokan Hall in Japan and Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Monteiro for his part has had the honor of appearing on pianist Marian McPartland
Marian McPartland
Marian McPartland
1918 - 2013
piano
's Piano Jazz show. Yet, in spite of numerous collaborations with an A-list of jazz musicians, Tolentino, Pao, Techatana-nan, and to a lesser degree Monteiro, remain largely unknown outside of Asia.

comments powered by Disqus
Support All About Jazz Through Amazon

Weekly Giveaways

Steve Wilson/Lewis Nash

Steve Wilson/Lewis Nash

About | Enter

Tom Chang

Tom Chang

About | Enter

Cedar Walton

Cedar Walton

About | Enter

Sheryl Bailey

Sheryl Bailey

About | Enter

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW