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Jeremy Monteiro: Jazznotable

Ian Patterson By

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AAJ: That was a big festival with over fifty bands but it only ran for one edition. Why so?

JM: Well 9/11 happened. Singapore Airlines, who sponsored seventy to eighty per cent of the festival, could not be seen to be sponsoring such a large festival when they were laying people off right, left and center and cutting down routes.

I think it would have continued if I'd signed a three-year contract rather than a one-year one. The reason I did that was because they were paying my company too little money so I thought, "Let me do this for one year and I'll show them what it's about and we'll slowly move up to what we need to be making. Unfortunately it was a double-edged sword because they signed five years with the Singapore Horse Racing Cup or whatever, so then they couldn't pull out. They had to honor the contract. My mistake. Oops! [laughs]

AAJ: However, you have plans for another jazz festival, right?

JM: Yes, we did a launch party for the Jazznote Festival recently. I call it Jazznote rather than the Singapore Jazz Festival for two reasons; firstly, I've already got Jazznote Records and secondly, if I call it the Jazznote Festival then I can do it anywhere in Asia, or anywhere in the world.

So now I'm talking to corporate sponsors who want to put up the Jazznote festival in places like Bangkok, Bombay, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Seoul. I want to do a nice medium-sized festival, a $300,000 to $500,000 production rather than the $3 million which we did for the first one in 2001.

I want to keep it going, have one or two big names but to find groups who are really, really great, who are not famous and who never get to play at these festivals. And in jazz, fame sometimes equates with quality but quality doesn't always equate with fame. So these are the kind of musicians I want to put up at my festival.

AAJ: Do you have dates for the first festival?

JM: In Singapore it's going to be from the 12th to the 17th June [2007] and it will be under the umbrella of the Singapore Arts Festival which is organized by the Arts Council which allows us to plug into the infrastructure, the ticketing, and the international marketing.

AAJ: In May, 2006 you were appointed Professor and Visiting Chair of Jazz at La Salle-SIA [College of Arts, Singapore]. Is this not going to pinch your time a lot, what with organizing a jazz festival and your own day-to-day business?

JM: Because I live in Singapore I have the luxury of being able to teach classes when I'm in town, so I'll be that kind of Visiting Chair and Professor, although I'll work on specific projects and help them with strategic direction.

I will be hiring people in the next couple of months to help me execute a lot of my plans, ideas and concepts and also to help me with scheduling, you know, to do this and do that and perform all my roles well.

AAJ: You don't want to burn out.

JM: No, no. I have done that before. I actually collapsed and went to hospital for four days. That was in the days when I ran a jingles company. Being in the office doing admin until two, record a jingle until six, go home and have a quick dinner and pat the son on the head, run to my jazz gig and play until one in the morning and then run back to the studio and mix the jingle I recorded in the afternoon!

One day I just collapsed on a gig and went to hospital. I had zero immunity. I could have died. That was how sick I was. And then I went with my wife for a vacation on the gold Coast, Australia, and we walked past a jazz club where they had great jazz music and Josephine said, "Do you want to go in and listen? And I said, "I can't stand the sound of music. Let's get out of here. That's how burnt out I was. I swore I would never let myself get that burnedt out again.

AAJ: You've won an impressive number of awards but one which strikes me is, and I have to read this, the "Lifting up the World with a Oneness Heart, which is such a Sri Chinmoy title! But you are in stellar company there, alongside the last Pope, Nelson Mandela, Mohammad Ali and people like that. What was that award for?

JM: I have no idea. Sometimes I know an award is coming because I'm nominated and someone will tell me and I'll forget about it until I get a phone call telling me I've won an award. But sometimes I have no idea. There'll be a phone call out of the blue—Sri Chinmoy is coming to Singapore and you've been picked along with a few people, a guy who's climbed Mount Everest and so on.

I said to a friend in Chicago one time, "I don't deserve to tie Mother Teresa's shoelaces or Nelson Mandela's, and he said to me, "Yeah, but they don't know how to play a thirteen sharp eleven chord the way you do! [laughs] So, okay. I'll take it.

AAJ: Did Sri Chinmoy simply give the award to you?

JM: He's famous for this weight-lifting thing...

AAJ: Is he? I had no idea.

JM: Yeah, the metaphor is to lift you like a champion so he actually puts you on this mechanism that he has. You stand on this contraption, about seven or eight feet in the air and he lifts you two or three inches and then you come down and he puts a medal on you and blesses you. It's a bit of a show.

It's an interesting contraption. It's something he's built to make it easy, but he's still doing the lifting. He's got different contraptions by the way. And so when he lifted Nelson Mandela there was a different looking contraption. The whole thing was a mystery.


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