Jeremy Monteiro: Jazznotable
AAJ: Duke Ellington was very special.
EY: There's a joke. The Pope has died and he gets to heaven, Gabriel was there and said, "Oh, we are so excited about having you here! Come on, I want to show you where you're going to live. He took him in and says, "Here's where you're going to live. And it was a beautiful mansion! And the Pope says, "Oh, that's gorgeous! And he was getting ready to walk in the door when he looked across and he saw a place that was twice as big, twice as beautiful, huge, with birds flying around it singing. So the Pope says, "I don't mean to be ungrateful, but I'm a Pope, who did you give that house to? And Gabriel said, "Oh, that mansion? That's Duke Ellington's. And the Pope says, "Wait a minute! I'm a Pope, Duke Ellington's a musician! And Gabriel said, "We have many Popes here, but there's only one Duke Ellington! [laughs]
AAJ: Jeremy, how did you take your first professional steps?
JM: It was really lucky. My mum is a nurse, and at that time she was a private nurse and she had gone to nurse a Jewish guy who had just had some serious surgery. They got to talking and she told him that I was a jazz pianist and he owned a jazz club. He said when he was better to send me down for an audition.
So I had the audition, I was seventeen years old, and he not only gave me the gig as a pianist but as the band leader as well which was not very easy for me because the guys in the band were in their thirties or forties and taking orders from a seventeen year old kid.
The music was fine and I was learning a lot from them, but I had a bassist who would always come late to work and I said, "You need to come to work on time. He got really angry with me and one time he went behind the club and he wanted to beat me up for telling him what to do. Thank goodness my guitarist saw it and came running and saved me from being beaten up.
Then one day there was a big fight at the club with the Maori soldiers from New Zealand who used to come to the club. So one of these guys picked up a stool and threw it at the guy he was fighting with. The guy ducked and the stool was coming straight at the stage and I ducked and the bassist was behind me and the stool went straight into him! [laughs]
Then I got to play with Rahim Hamid who sounded and looked a lot like Nat King Cole and it was amazing because he sang the whole Nat King Cole songbook. I also got to be in the background of an episode of Hawaii Five-O when they shot an episode in that club. We were just playing and they shot Jack Lord having a drink, talking to the bartender. It was interesting.
AAJ: You also worked as a session musician, didn't you?
JM: Yes, I played on over three hundred pop records until I stopped doing it in the mid-nineties.
AAJ: And you had a parallel career writing jingles.
JM: I started about '81 or '82 and that was what fed my jazz habit for many years. I did very well from jingles from '81 to '91. I paid my taxes so I'm not afraid to admit I grossed over $7 million. But that's over with now, because that was when we still used live musicians. Now everyone has a mini set-up in their bedroom so it'll never happen again. I think I was the last of its kind in Singapore. We became dinosaurs, you know, using real people! [laughs]
AAJ: Is it easier or harder for young jazz musicians in Singapore to get gigs and make a living compared to when you were starting out?
JM: Right now many corporate people like to have jazz at corporate functions and that's happening a lot. So as far as casuals go there's a lot of casual work for musicians to pick up on a regular basis. And there are more clubs so I don't think it's harder, if anything it's actually easier for Singapore musicians and there are some really good ones coming up, not just in Singapore but in the region. I would like to promote all these great musicians who don't have a platform.
AAJ: You've taken an active role in supporting musicians in Singapore through your involvement with the Composers and Authors' Society of Singapore.
JM: Well I was one of five people who founded COMPAS, as it's known by its acronym, in '87, '88. We now collect $10 million in royalties a year from broadcast and performing rights and distribute it to composers who are Singaporean as well as to people whose music is played in Singapore, whether they're from the UK, China, the US or Taiwan. We also use some of the money to promote music and sometimes supply scholarships or bursaries.
Our Chief Executive Officer is also the Chairman of the Asia Pacific Committee of the World Composers Body. We are leaders because of our transparency and competent governance. We have one of the lowest administration-to-distribution rates in the world. The world accepted ratio is twenty five per cent for administration and we only spend sixteen per cent.
AAJ: You organized the 2001 Singapore Jazz Festival; had there ever been a jazz festival before that in Singapore?
JM: There was from '85 to '87, organized by the Ministry of Culture, and it was very well done. I liked it a lot and in fact it's the concept I want to adopt for the Jazznote Festival I want to do. So then a good friend of mine who owns a jazz club in Singapore, a guy by the name of Eddie Chan, put me in touch with Singapore Airlines and they sponsored the bulk of the cost of the jazz festival.