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Paul Augustin: Putting Penang On The Jazz Map

By Published: November 23, 2013
Thanks to Choo Yeun's insistence PIJF made it to the second year. Augustin remembers clearly at the end of the second edition of PIJF sitting in the lobby chatting with fellow jazz festival director JJ Inn, of South Korea's now world-renowned Jarasum International Jazz Festival: "JJ looked at me and said, "Now you've done the second one you know what's going to happen now, don't you?" I said "Yeah, I've got two feet in the water now and I can't stop." We had to do the third one," he relates.

For the third PIJF the cavalry arrived in the form of a major sponsor, Mercedes: "The third year was much easier," acknowledges Augustin. "Our main objective of the festival that year was to make them [Mercedes] happy, which they were. With everybody all-smiles, Augustin proposed that Mercedes commit to the PIJF for three years, which the auto giant was pleased to do: "So, we had no choice but to go on to number six," says Augustin laughing.

Solid sponsorship meant that the PIJF could stretch its programming ambition and the middle years of PIJF attracted groups from Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore and increasingly from Europe and North America. Artists featured included South Korean singer Youn Sun Nah
Youn Sun Nah
Youn Sun Nah

, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, bassist Janek Gwizdala and drummer Jojo Mayer, Norwegian trio In The Country
In The Country
In The Country

and pianist/organist Jeremy Monteiro
Jeremy Monteiro
Jeremy Monteiro
's Organamix.

Importantly too, in terms of raising its profile, the PIJF was also able to invite international media and 2011 saw a Malaysian government-sponsored media pack hailing from New Zealand, Italy, Indonesia, Norway, Canada, Japan, Slovenia, Singapore and Laos. Music magazines, travel and lifestyle magazines all gave important exposure to the PIJF and to Penang itself as a world class holiday destination; even Reader's Digest got in on the act.

Mercedes also sponsored the PIJF for its seventh edition but a worldwide policy restricting event sponsorship to a maximum of five years meant that Augustin and Choo Yeun were scrambling around once again to secure sponsorship for the following year.

By this time the PIJF's name had grown internationally and increasing numbers of bands from all over the world wanted to play the main stage. Without a major sponsor, however, there wasn't the money to attract big names to the PIJF.

Penang, though can offer something else, and that is a potential gateway to other festivals in the region and beyond: "We worked on getting people of good standing in the industry, festival directors, promoters and agents to come here," Augustin points out. "Once bands play here they get recognized by other festivals. They might go on to play Jarasum, Hong Kong, and Singapore; they make the contacts here."

Over the past decade Agustin and PIJF have striven to foster relationships with other jazz festivals throughout Asia and Europe: "Relationships are very important," Augustin emphasizes. "They are the most important thing. When I travel to other festivals or conferences I'm not thinking about bringing bands here or selling bands. I'm trying to build relationships with people. If you can build a good relationship with someone then, with patience, everything else will come."

To this end, the PIJF has developed a close working relationship with JJ In, Director of the Jarasum International Jazz Festival in South Korea: "We have a kind of Memorandum of Understanding with Jarasum to help promote each other's festivals and to exchange bands between the two countries," explains Augustin. "It has helped both of us, but especially Penang because a lot of people want to play Jarasum and one of the ways for them to do it is through Penang. Almost every year, exciting South Korean jazz bands have played PIJF, with the outstanding pianist Francesca Han giving a most memorable performance at PIJF 2012.

Malaysian bands too have played Jarasum; the Aseana Percussion Unit, Andy Peterson Inc, Paul Ponnudarai, James Boyle & Ragged Tigers, Ocean of Fire & Dasha and The Roger Wang Trio have all gained important international exposure and large festival experience at Jarasum. The JIJF, like PIJF celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2013 and it may give small jazz festivals everywhere hope to learn that Jarasum, which almost went bankrupt after three editions, attracted over 230,000 people at its 10th anniversary bash. The PIJF also looks to the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival for similar mutually beneficial exchanges: "We have a good relationship with [HKIJF Director] Peter Lee," says Augustin, "who's also involved with a couple of jazz festivals in China."

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