Miri International Jazz Festival Sarawak, Malaysia, Borneo May 14-15, 2010
The Miri International Jazz Festival in Sarawak province Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, can lay claim to being the only jazz festival on the South China Sea. A long line of tankers and cargo ships stretches across the horizon like buttons sewn on a vast blue cloth and attests to Miri's century-old history as an oil town. Located in the lush grounds of the ParkCity Everly Hotel, the stage facing the sea was the scene for two days of music, drawing artists from Thailand, Indonesia, the USA, Brazil, Holland and Switzerland. Now in its fifth year, the MIJF is the cultural jewel in the crown of the Sarawak Tourism Board, whose stated aim is to use the festival as a magnet to draw tourists to the province.
Viewed from this point of view the festival has proven to be a success, with the attendance growing from two thousand in 2006, its inaugural year, to six and a half thousand in 2009. Over forty percent of last year's festival-goers came from abroad, with many expats making the relatively short trip from neighboring Brunei.
Although many attending MIJF came to Sarawak to explore the dense tropical rain forest that covers two thirds of this part of Borneo, or to venture into some of the most spectacular caves in the world, for increasing numbers of peninsular Malaysians, locals and visitors from neighboring Brunei and Indonesia, the music itself is the main attraction. This year, visitors also came from as far as the UK, Australia and Japan. As festival programmer Randy Raine-Reuche put it: "Jazz fans are nuts; they are very devout." The faithful, nuts or not, were certainly satisfied with the offering served up by the musicians over two days, and it is fair to say that from humble beginnings the festival has grown and gained a deserved reputation for throwing up good bands.
The quality of the program, which was musically quite diverse, is down to Raine-Reuche, co-founder as well of the highly successful Rainforest Music Festival, also staged in Malaysian Borneo. Getting the balance of bands right is no easy task but what was immediately striking about this year's program was the complete absence of Malaysian bands, something which was equally baffling to Raine-Reuche: "There are four hundred applications for eight spots. There's a spot here for a Malaysian band every year, but if they don't apply like everyone else, I'm not going to chase them. It's the same process at every other festival in the world." The general consensus however, among both organizers and journalists alike, was that, with the exception of a few top names, Malaysian jazz artists are not quite of the caliber to play in an international jazz festival. Greater exposure to quality jazz, it is hoped, will have a knock-on effect in the future.
The opening act at MIJF '10 was Mellow Motif from Thailand. Mellow Motif is not quite the smooth brand of jazz that Thailand generally favors, taking more risks and stretching out a little. Although the set consisted entirely of non- originals the band played an upbeat set which swung from first note to last. Led by charter members Natasha Patamapongs on vocals and Eugene Ang on piano, the band kicked off with "Lemon Tree" and then glided through a samba-tinged "The Lady is a Tramp," the Rodgers and Hart tune receiving a tasteful solo from Sarit Tanpensuk on flugelhorn. The Gershwins' rarely heard "Little Jazz Bird" and a fast and breezy "Happy Talk," from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, saw the rhythm section of drummer Chantur Techatana-Nan, double bassist Ponchart Viriyapark and Ang inject real verve into the music.
Patamapongs introduced Joao Gilberto's "O Pato" explaining how a duck invites his friends to dance with him, highlighting the beauty of the message contained in the lyrics. The Bruneian in the disha dasha dancing animatedly may have been dancing alone but the music had got to him. A faithful but impressive rendition of the jazz standard associated with Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton, "Airmail Special," featured the notable scatting abilities of Patamapongs; an undeniably talented singer, her delivery brimmed with confidence, and she transmitted her bubbly personality into the music. An encore of "Night and Day" included the most extended solo of the set from the flugelhorn of Tanpensuk, sealing an enjoyable performance emphaticallya perfect festival-opening act.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.