Live!Singapore: June 8-11, 2010
Both Gillinson and Marsalis understand that the future health of classical music and jazz alike lies at grassroots level and through collaboration. "The key" is partnership;" Gillinson said at Live!Singapore, "alone we could never do half of what we do." He went on to stress the importance of "persuading our political masters that education in the arts is important" and sounded a battle cry to make the arts in general central to our lives. Although the Lincoln Center has in recent times given performance space to adventurers like John Zorn and Cecil Taylor, the program has a decidedly traditional, historical outlook and Marsalis, for all the great work he does propagating and preserving America's only indigenous art form, could perhaps learn from Gillinson who pronounced with regard to programming: "It is possible to be challenging and innovative and still appeal to the public."
Gillinson proclaimed in addition that: "so much of the future of classical music is being shaped in Asia." This is not only true from the point of view of the number of wonderful Asian classical musicians emerging on the international scene, but also in terms of Asia as a consumer market. Joyce Chiou, Executive Director of the Philharmonia Taiwan revealed that 65 percent of the classical music audience there is under 35 years of age. Jazz audiences may be a little longer in the tooth, but as day two's "Jazz: Glorious Past, Uncertain Future?" session highlighted, there is also reason for optimism for jazz in Asia.
In the last half dozen years new jazz festivals have sprung up in Thailand (2), Malaysia (3), Indonesia (4), Mongolia, Nepal, Azerbaijan, China, and Korea, where the three-day Jarasum Jazz Festival draws an impressive 150,000 people. There is also a new jazz festival due to start in India in '11. In addition, Australia, which is so closely linked to Asia, has a plethora of vibrant jazz festivals both young and long-established. It may be of interest to Wynton Marsalis that Australia is arguably the greatest preserver of traditional jazz in the world, with the Australian Jazz Convention now in its 65th consecutive year, and with traditional jazz societies dotted around the vast country. However, unlike the classical audience in Taiwan, the traditional jazz audience in Australia and the musicians themselves are all the wrong side of 65, and they too realize, better than most, the necessity to reach out to a younger audience.
Youn Sun Nah
The ability of jazz to transcend time, appeal to all ages and to all cultures was perfectly demonstrated during the showcase performance by Korean singer Youn Sun Nah, which preceded the panel discussion on jazz. Youn Sun Nah's Voyages (ACT, 2009) is one of the finest crossover albums in recent years, and she has collaborated with some of Europe's top jazz musicians including trumpeter Mathias Eick, bassist Lars Danielsson and guitarist Ulf Wakenius. Her fifteen minute slot held the audience totally rapt. Beginning with a bewitching solo version of "My Favorite Things" which sounded like a slightly ethereal lullaby, Nah then revealed the strength, passion and range in her vocals during an electric interpretation of Egberto Gismonti's "Frevo." For this number she was ably accompanied by Singaporean guitarist Munir Alsagoff.
The all-too-short set concluded with a hypnotic version of Nat "King" Cole's "Calypso Blues" with Nah, again solo, looping layer upon layer of vocals to create a totally original and highly impressionistic soundscape. Nah's memorable performance provided the clearest metaphor for the position of jazz in the world todayin front of a highly appreciative but less than packed audience, a Korean singer who didn't know what jazz was fifteen years ago, brought new life to a fifty-year-old song with the aid of the latest technology.
The panel sitting for the discussion on jazz was moderated by Paul Augustin, director of the Penang Island Jazz Festival. With all the panelists acknowledging in passing that jazz's past is indeed a glorious one, the emphasis during the discussion was very much on the present. In his excellent keynote speech, John Cumming, Director of the London Jazz Festival, reminded those present of the value of jazz as a tool for personal and collective growth, with its emphasis on resourcefulness, individual response, dialogue, communication and a collective effort. As Sir Clive Gillinson had mentioned on the first day, Cumming also emphasized the central role of education in fostering the growth of the music, and the music itself as an important educational tool.
Cumming and Sophie Brous, the programmer for the Melbourne Jazz Festival described the challenges of staging a large festival in a major urban environment with Cumming underlining that a successful festival should be above all a celebratory event. Both were in agreement that the festival should mold itself to the shape of the city: "A sprawling festival for a sprawling city" as Cumming put it. Smaller festivals like Augustin's Penang Island Jazz Festival have more basic issues to contend with, like survival for one, but Augustin and Sandra Lim Viray of The Philippine International Jazz and Arts Festival both spoke of the desire to create festivals with a local identity.