Thailand International Jazz Conference: Bangkok, Thailand, January 27-29, 2012
Mahidol University College of Music, Salaya,
January 27-29, 2012
The strong Jazz Studies Department at the College of Music, Mahidol University, makes it possible to host an impressive international annual jazz conference. Committee members literally plan the event throughout the year, and are already working hard on the 2013 schedule.
The successful, multifaceted, and well-organized Thailand International Jazz Conference (TIJC) 2012 brought in noted jazz musicians from the United States, expats, and well-known locals to come together for a long weekend of sharing music and ideas. The fourth annual conference, held in the green setting of the university's Salaya campus located just a short commute outside of busy Bangkok, was the largest yet
Invited musicians held clinics throughout the day, and performed to enthusiastic audiences during the evening in the warm, tropical open air. American headliners this year included the Benny Green Trio, with Green (piano), Rodney Green (drums), and Ben Wolfe (bass); Marcus Strickland Quartet, with Marcus Strickland (saxophone), David Bryant (piano), Ben Williams (bass), and his brother E.J. Strickland (drums); and Taylor Eigsti and David Hart Group, which included Eigsti (piano), Dr. Hart (trumpet), Zachary Ostroff (bass), and Ted Poor (drums).
"It's been amazing! We're absolutely thrilled to be here in beautiful Thailand," said Dr. Hart.
"I love you Thailand, thank you for inviting us here. It's a great honor," said Marcus Strickland to his concert audience, echoing the other American's sentiments.
Each of the headliners brought their expertise in jazz performance. They shared their academic views on various aspects of jazz at the conference, even bringing Thai jazz students on stage to share their knowledge and tips with them and answer questions. Held in the Nakhon Pathom section of Bangkok over the marvelously long, enriching weekend, the event aimed to further develop Thailand's prowess in jazz, with special guidance from the talented American jazz artists, Thai jazz experts and international performers.
The goal of Thailand's jazz community at TIJC is to head towards "the Society of Knowledgethe Society of Happiness," according to a motto of the jazz conference. This rare, special event is expected to continue annually, with its vibrant festival atmosphere. It certainly lived up to this aim this year. It was happiness through musicjazzthat anyone who loves real jazz would love.
The concert segment of the conference, always a highlight, "sees the coming together of world-renowned jazz artists from the genre's mother country, the United States," reported pre-conference coverage by Manote Tripathi in The Nation newspaper, one of Bangkok's dailies in the English language. The American jazz musicians from "the mother country" genuinely appreciated their invitation to the university for the unique music conference and sincerely thanked the event organizers, sponsors and the audience.
"This has been a very memorable time in Thailand. It's my first time performing here, and it's been great! It's off the chain fun," said Marcus Strickland.
"Thanks for treating us all so well; for showing us that people can get together from all over the world and be peacefuland happy. It's a good feeling!" said Benny Green after his musical set on the final night, blowing kisses to the audience and giving them a "wai," a traditional greeting of placing the two palms of your hands together above your heart. His set included songs such as "Golden Flamingo" and "La Portuguesa," ("for a very beautiful woman")that he wrote in a Mahidol practice room the day before, after his conference workshop.
Besides the United States and Thailand, some of the musical participants who live in Thailand originated from countries such as Japan, Malaysia, Denmark and Russia. Jacob Dinesen (Denmark), Koh Mr. Saxman (Thailand), and Dr. Robert Knop (USA), each presented separate approaches to jazz saxophone- playing. Bassists who gave workshops included Ben Wolf, who talked about the role of the bass in an ensemble, and Ostroff, who offered technical details on how to get a good bass sound. Jazz pianists who enlightened their audiences in hands-on, lively talks were Kom Wongsawat, Benny Green and Eigsti ("You can get cooler chords using your favorite hand positions.") Drummers E.J. Strickland, Rodney Green and Poor (finding an identity was his topic) brought their knowledge in well-attended sessions.
Dr. Hart, the beloved trumpeter from the U.S., has already been on the jazz faculty at Mahidol in the past, and the students enjoyed having him return to present his workshop and perform at the conference. "It's a pleasure. This is a beautiful school," said Hart, who taught improvisation skills, using commonly known tunes, as well as Kenny Dorham's tune "Lotus Blossom," using Dorham's soloing, which Hart transcribed and shared with the Thai jazz enthusiasts and international audience.
Three Russian musicians, Igor Suchkov (piano), Alexander Sergueenko (bass), and Vyacheslav Shumilov (drums), provided the rhythm section for the Thailand International Jazz Conference 2012 Solo Competition.
The King of Thailand (the Jazz King), His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand (the Jazz King), is the inspiration for the Thailand International Jazz Conference. His important remarks about music, excerpted from an interview that was broadcast on Voice of America and the National Broadcasting Station on June 21, 1960, were printed at the front of the 2012 schedule program in dedication to the jazz conference:
..."Whether jazz or otherwise, music is a part of me. It is a part of everyone, an essential part of us all. To me, music is something fine and beautiful.
"I think we should recognize the value of music in all its forms, since all types of music have their place and time, and respond to different kinds of emotions."
The conference organizers believe the remarks are equally relevant today. Jazz is a vital part of Thai society, and has been composed and performed HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. To celebrate his 84th birthday this past year, Silpakorn University Jazz Orchestra gave a performance of the King's latest arrangements. These superb, innovative arrangements, written especially for the band, highlighted solos by band members as well as the Silpakorn University a cappella choir.
All generations of Thai people love jazz, said the Dean of the College of Music, Mahidol University, Dr. Sugree Charoensook, whose stated wish was that participants "come away with a feast of experiences, develop skills and help further develop jazz in Thailand."
Anant Lerpradit, the editor of the Art-Cultural section of Bangkok Biznews daily, a newspaper of the Nation Multimedia Group, urged his listeners in his Media & Jazz workshop to write about jazz in new media formats and other publications to spread the good word of jazz. From his passion for promoting jazz music in Thailand through writing, broadcasting and concert organizing, he has put together more than 48 concerts in Bangkok and other provinces. "The media plays an important role to support the jazz industry," he said. "The mainstream media is still very necessary to promote jazz." He went on to question how jazz music can be more incorporated into the Thai culture, and the role of the media in this. "Maybe we can create more of an identity of jazz in the same genre of Thai traditional music through the media in Thailand."
A few American performers said they were impressed with the knowledge and skills of Thai professional musicians and jazz students, their enthusiasm, energy and love for the music. Some Thai musicians have been receiving acclaim for actually mixing Thai musical components and jazz elements. Renowned Thai performers at the recent jazz conference included Metawat (Thewan) Sapsanyakorn, one of the top saxophone players in Thailand, brought a unique style of Latin Thai with his saxophone, violin and khui, a traditional Thai flute, and performed with his seven-piece band on the night stage. Sapsanyakorn's band, called Tewan Novel Jazz, uses Thai instruments mixed with international sounds and has been a model to other contemporary Thai jazz bands during the past 20 years. Tewan Novel Jazz include Suwiwat Thitiwatthanarat (drums), Yod Wongsuwan (bass), Pruettinan Uengsamran, (guitar), Thitiwach Sakkraivichit (piano), Suebsak Choowong (Thai xylophone), and Phayap Lurksuwunnee (khui, Thai percussion).
Unit Asia and Koh Mr. Saxophone also headlined and included the famous Thai star saxophonist "Mr. Koh," along with three Japanese jazz musicians active in fusion music scenesIsao Miyoshi (guitar), Hiroyuki Noritake (drums), and Shigeki Ippon (bass) and a pianist from Malaysia, Cher Siang Tay. Their goal is the creation of "Asian jazz," which overflows in originality beyond the framework of nation, culture and music genre. "It's overwhelming to see the response we're getting from the audience," said Koh, when interviewed. "It's great. I've been with TIJC from 'day one' (four years ago)."
The Pomelo Town, a Thai quartet that never stops exploring and experimenting with new creative opportunities, is composed of Krit Buranavitayawut, alto saxophone; Darin Pantoomkomol, piano (TIJC Artistic Director); Noppandol Tirataradol, bass (TIJC Project Manager); and Kom Wongsawat, drums. All four are Mahidol jazz faculty and on the organizing committee of the annual jazz conference.
The latter, a remarkable Thai musician who lives some of the time in New York City, is a member of the 10-member organizing committee. Consenting to being interviewed in the Mercedes-Benz Lounge at the event, he explained how he aided in the selection of the American musicians, visiting venues and clubs in the U.S. He networked to pick musicians who "are generous, caring and kind with the audiencethe fansand enjoy sharing their talent and knowledge. I watch to see which musicians take time with their audience and with those fans who come up to speak with them after they perform. These musicians are the ones we want to come to Thailand."
Komjazz (drummer Kopm Wongsawat's nickname) chose Benny Green to present to the committee for selection, for example, because of "Benny's obsession with helping others with jazz knowledge, his good nature and talent. Benny's addicted. After his workshop, he asked me for a practice room to use for four hours to practice and work on his own music. He loves people and playing for them."
Not only did skilled Thai pianist/drummer Komjazz perform on the night stage with several groups (including with crowd-pleasing The Pomelo Town group (composed of Mahidol University jazz faculty members) on the final night and present a day-time workshop, he worked behind the scenes during the past year to meet with American musicians, particularly in New York during his jazz studies program at New York University, where he is working on a master's degree. In fact, he left Bangkok for the Big Apple the next day, after "wearing so many hats" at the big Thailand conference event to attend his second semester of his jazz studies at NYU. "I gave my workshop the first day at the conference to Thai jazz musicians on an important topic, how to prepare yourself to study abroad, and the Thai students were very receptive to learning what to know to do that," he said. His formal jazz education was at the College of Music, Mahidol University, where he studied jazz piano with noted Thai jazz musicians Denny Euprasert, Darin Pantoomkomol, Krit Buranavitayawut, and Noppadol Tirataradol, all of whom performed at the conference this year. At NYU, some of his teachers include Jean-Michel Pilc, Brad Shepik, Rich Perry and Gil Goldstein. "I think there will be more Thai jazz musicians studying and performing in the U.S. I am one of the few right now."
Thai instrumentalist groups performing also included the Silpakorn University Jazz Student Ensemble, the SU Jazz Big Band, Bemerkenswert Vier, OMAH (Silpakorn University faculty), KurtThere Project, Rangsit University Jazz Ensemble, Rangsit University Jazz Orchestra, Denny & Friends (Rungsit University faculty), Mahidol University Jazz Student Ensemble, Mahidol University Jazz Orchestra, and Rej Roar.
Jazz vocalist Cherryl J. Hayes, originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, also performed a well-received set on the final night, ("I'm melting up here!"), which included tunes such as "'Round Midnight," "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," and "Caravan." Hayes has been a member of the Mahidol University music faculty (composer for the entertainment department, Jazz Ensemble Choir Director, vocal teacher) for six years and drew big applause at TIJC for her classic jazz standards and commentary. She real success story in herself, having had the pleasure and privilege to sing for the King of Thailand on three separate occasions and for the Queen of Thailand on no less than 13 separate occasions. During her career, she has enjoyed singing in the U.S. (Tavern on the Green), Europe and Asia (Oriental Hotel's Bamboo Bar). "I love it when my jazz vocal students are in my audienceand singing is a joy for me," she said. Hayes' tour of Asia recently has included Istanbul, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Russia, Malaysia, Bahrain Middle East, in addition to Bangkok.
Thai jazz students already have many Thai jazz masters to look up to for inspiration. The TIJC Lifetime Achievement Award "for the Contribution on Jazz Music in Thailand" went this year to Mr. Vichy Eungamporn, a saxophonist born in Pranakorn Sri Ayutthaya, who received the important award in a special opening ceremony the first day, was honored for his "pioneering spirit and tireless enthusiasm in the area of jazz music," and said to be an ideal role model for today's generation of Thai jazz musicians. Seeing a stunning performance by the world famous clarinetist Benny Goodman during Thailand's Constitutional Celebration in 1956 inspired the 2012 winner as a youngster to want to go into the jazz field as a professional musician. Eungamporn joins the TIJC Hall of Fame of previous recipients: Manrat Srikaranonda (2009); Pratak Faisupagarn (2010); and Sarayout Supanyo (2011).
Professor Rajata Rajatanavin, M.D., President of Mahidol University, said the university "is honored to welcome many internationally renowned artists as part of TIJC 2012." He said that he is confident that their experiences in Thailand and in Salaya, which is becoming the "Culture Capital" of Thailand, were exciting and productive. "As a lover of great music, I relish the opportunity to spend time at the Thailand International Jazz Conference. I thank you all for helping to make TIJC a success," he said. He attributed the strong Jazz Studies Department at the College of Music, Mahidol University, Salaya, to the university's ability to host such an amazing, large international event of this scale. Earlier in the month, Dr. Rajatanavin said, he was also delighted to make remarks at the opening of the 7th Season of Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra and the opening of the Music Business Centre/Artist Residency, both at the university.
Elizabeth Jaxon, a harpist from Illinois, who is on the music faculty at Mahidol University, agrees that "it is paradise," particularly for her. Originally from Urbana-Champaign, she is pleased to pursue her music in Thailand and showed us her beautiful campus office where she teaches. She pointed out the expansive, modern, new facility being constructed for the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, in which she performs. "Where else could I do what I'm doing at my age, but in Thailand? I love it here. It's perfect. Just heavenly. The classical and the jazz faculty are fantastic." Attending the jazz conference gives Ms. Jaxon inspiration and motivation, she commented, to learn jazz on the concert harp. "I think it's such a great opportunity for me to be at the jazz conference. And we have these world-class musicians coming here for us. I want to try to incorporate some of the jazz techniques into my playing, possibly with a duo."
Saxophonist and California jazz educator Dr. Robert Knop also performed on the evening conference schedule with the CSUSB Jazz Combo and presented an informative morning clinic on how using the pentatonic scale can benefit the jazz musicians. Dr. Knop, Associate Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Cal State San Bernardino, brought along three of his jazz students to perform with him for audiences. Because his teaching schedule in California includes classes in jazz pedagogy, jazz improvisation, saxophone quartet and jazz history, Dr. Knop was able to bring some of his jazz knowledge to Thailand audiences. His academic music degrees are from Roosevelt University, Northern Illinois University and the University of Northern Colorado.
Thai music students, faculty, Asian and international professional musicians and audience members at TILC were able to interact with the invited American jazz musicians and celebrated Thai musicians throughout the conference. "It's pure jazz heaven here. I think it's a great quality conference. I love it. This is my first time to this jazz event and I hope to come back," said jazz enthusiast Walter Salmon, a retired pharmacist from Australia on vacation in Bangkok, who learned about the fourth annual event when reading about it in the newspaper.
The festival is distinguished for its entertainment and educational components. Held in a beautiful tropical setting on the campus, conference-goers are greeted by vegetation and extraordinary landscaping, art and sculptures, a canal and moat flanked by large photographs of jazz musicians, a fountain, lush trees, grass, flowers, all making a beautiful and relaxing location.
Ample opportunity for mingling of jazz lovers was provided at such places at music shops, the lovely, open-air Music Square restaurant, other food venues and at the Mercedes-Benz Lounge, wonderfully-hosted by Prof. Dr. Alexander Paufler, President & CEO, Mercedes-Benz (Thailand), a main sponsor of the jazz conference. The American jazz artists and many concert-goers praised the Music Square atmosphere. "What a great venue to sit and relax to the warm, yet cool sounds of jazz!" said a jovial couple in Bangkok, David and Lek Greason, who also are from Dayton, Ohio, sharing their thin-crust pizza.
Happiness in society with the jazz music is a goal for the conference, said Saxophone Instructor Krit Buranavitayawut, a saxophonist in the jazz group The Pomelo Town and Associate Dean for Construction Development, Mahidol University. "The area around the university is famous for its abundance of pomelos, a delicious fruit [that tastes a bit like an American grapefruit]. We named our group after the pomelo."
Another componentbesides jazz classrooms in a large indoor auditorium and outdoor concerts in several locationsincluded jazz solo competitions in several divisions, Junior (20 and under years of age) and Open (all ages). Six performers reached in and pulled out their random tune in each division in the final round.
For the Open Division, the tunes were "Black Nile," "Cheesecake," "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "Just One of Those Things," and "Voyage." For the Junior Division, the tunes were "I've Never Been in Love Before," "Line for Lyons," "Our Love is Here to Stay," "S' Wonderful," and "Shiny Stockings."
Besides the recognition, the winners in each division received money, a large certificate, and a recording of their performance. The performers were Puttipong Lerswanuswong, Pamai Chirdhiatisak (winner, guitar, Junior Division), Siriwat Pliansathia, Sopon Suwannakit, Chratsayam Kiripat, Jutichoke Assarasakorn, Ratthakhet Chuaisombun, Pongstorn Chirawatpongsa, Kengchakaj Kengkarnka, Podchara Kumchaiskul (winner, guitar, Open Division), Jutichoke Assarasakorn, and Panai Imjai.
All of the participants who performed or presented workshops at the conference received gifts and copies of three of the CDs ("Highway Bebop," "Passage to the Origin," and "A Tale from Pomelo Town") recorded by The Pomelo Town artists, Mahidol University jazz faculty and professional Thai musicians. Judges Taylor Eigsti, Dr. Dave Hart, Zach Ostroff, and Ted Poor critiqued the performers. Eigsti said, "It's important to know how to end a solo. Also, leave some space. Just give us good, simple ideas in your playing." Dr. Hart said, "We heard a lot of great things. It was a pleasure listening to everyone. Pick one or two ideas and give your solo direction, acknowledging other artists and thinking of one peak."
For further information about the Thailand International Jazz Conference, go to www.tijc.net, www.facebook.com/thailandinternationaljazzconference and www.music.mahidol.ac.th/tijc.
Jazz/music journalist and travel writer Jason Rupp also assisted in this article.