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Paul Augustin: Putting Penang On The Jazz Map

By Published: November 23, 2013
In the past 2 editions since Creative Malaysia got up and running dozens of young Malaysian bands have been given a platform by the PIJF, playing on the fringe stages. The initiative has thrown a little spotlight on some very promising musicians/groups. Augustin offers food for thought for aspiring groups: "A lot of bands are into making the audience happy and giving them what they want. When you do that you compromise your creativity. I keep telling them, Malaysia has got something that nobody else has; we have different rhythms like joget, ronggeng, asli, or krongjong so why don't you use them? Put them in jazz; that will immediately make you stand out from the rest of the world."

Another side of the PIJF that has grown over the years has been the Island Jazz Forum, which brings together important players from the international jazz world to share their knowledge and opinions on contemporary jazz-related issues: "The first forum we had was basically a local forum," says Augustin. "We got somebody from the television station, somebody from the newspaper and somebody from radio and it was jazz from the perspective of the media. We realized that we had people like Peter Lee and JJ Inn coming here so we decided to do something on a regional level. We had jazz in the education system, and then we had the creative economy of jazz. It's about an exchange of ideas and the people who come learn something. This year it has escalated to four topics. I don't know if anybody will come," jokes Augustin "so I told Ben Mandolsen to bring his ukulele just in case."

Mandolsen, a fine musician in his own right is founding Director of WOMEX (World Music Expo), the world's largest and most important networking conference and showcase for World Music. Augustin was invited to WOMEX in October 2013 where he gave a paper entitled "Crossing Borders: Programming World Music Artists in Asian Jazz Festivals." Naturally, it raises the questions as to the status of the relationship between jazz and World Music and the programming considerations of the PIJF.

"I think the boundaries are slowly being erased," Augustin says. "I submitted the paper because I could see that WOMEX was getting more into jazz. They have a small jazz program now in WOMEX. Mandolsen has also been invited to give a talk at EJN [European Jazz network]," adds Augustin. "WOMEX is accepting jazz as part of its program and jazz is also looking at World Music, though I think it's easier for a World Music musician to be programmed in a jazz festival than it is for a jazz musician to play a World Music festival."

The PIJF has staged a number of bands that are much more World Music than jazz but there have been very few complaints from anybody: "In the past nine years we've just had one guy who walked in and said "you call this a jazz festival?" and then walked out," says Augustin. "If we program just straight ahead jazz like [trumpeter] Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
, with all the bands playing the same stuff then after two bands the crowd are just listening to one long song. We try to strike a balance and offer discovery. We hope our audience will grow to learn that the term jazz is actually bigger than just swing music, fusion or funk. The music has evolved so much."

One constant in an ever-evolving festival has been the location of the PIJF. Situated right by the beach, the Bayview Beach Resort is a delightful environment to stage a jazz festival and the continuity has been an important factor in the smooth running of the festival: "In terms of logistics it's very, very important," emphasizes Augustin. "Even before we go in we already know what we want and what we need.

"Some hotels might change the manager every few years but the policy of the Bayview Beach Resort is to keep the same manager and the same staff as long as possible. That stability is very important," acknowledges Augustin. "The GM of the Bayview Beach Resort, Edwin Young liked the idea of a jazz festival and supported us. He felt that the PIJF could grow to be big. So every year we go there it's the same people and the system is well set. The hotel loves us because when we go in we basically know what we're doing. Let's not fix what's not broken."

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