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Penang Island Jazz Festival 2014

Ian Patterson By

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Penang Island Jazz Festival
Bayview Beach Resort
Malaysia
December 4-7, 2014

It was business as usual at the Penang Island Jazz Festival 2014, following the tenth anniversary celebrations of the previous year. That milestone was no small feat for Festival Director Paul Augustin, business partner Chin Choo Yeun and their loyal team, in a region where jazz of all stripes—with the notable exception of smooth jazz—occupies the bottom rung of the popular music ladder. Along the way, the PIJF has not only established itself as the longest-running jazz festival in Malaysia but as one of the most internationally renowned jazz festivals in Asia. Now the PIJF embarks on the second decade of its great musical adventure.

Other Asian jazz festivals, sadly, have not proved nearly as durable. There were almost as many ushers as audience members at the one-off Niu's On Silom 1st International Bangkok Jazz Festival in 2009, notwithstanding a program that boasted Chris Potter's Underground, the James Carter Organ Trio, the Gwilym Simcock Trio and Richard Bona. The Bangkok Jazz Festival has lain fallow for four years despite repeated rumors of resuscitation. More recently, the North Sea Hong Kong Jazz Festival folded its hand before the game had even started, due to poor ticket sales. The PIJF may be small-scale, but it has found the formula to succeed where bigger and better bank-rolled festivals have fallen by the wayside.

There's no single element that has positioned the PIJF as a significant event in the Malaysian cultural calendar. Though few are the marquee names that have played the main stage over the years the PIJF is synonymous with good music. Many bands that make it on the Jazz By The Beach main stage have gone on to play at bigger festivals throughout the region and beyond. The PIJF's location in the lush gardens of the Bayview Beach Resort, flanked by sandy beach and the Straits of Malacca on one side and tropical, forest-clad mountain on the other is hard to beat.

The festival has consistently nurtured local talent, establishing exchange programs with other countries that have helped raise the international profile of Malaysian musicians. The Malaysian jazz scene may not have the depth of those in Thailand, Indonesia, China or South Korea but through the PIJF's Creative Malaysia Programme the festival has done its level best to encourage aspiring musicians by providing a performance platform, with several acts gravitating from the small, showcase stages to the main stage over the years. PIJF 2014 was no exception, with fourteen young Malaysian bands playing and former fringe performer Ray Rozells strutting his stuff on the main stage.

In recent editions the PIJF has played host to international jazz festival directors and programmers, resulting in return invitations to festivals, industry forums, trade fares and showcases around the world that have cemented international working relationships. The regional networking of previous years has expanded to Europe, ensuring that the PIJF is abreast of current international trends. Serious, the UK's largest international producer of jazz, world and classical music, the Salford Music Research Centre, the Brisbane International Jazz Festival, the moers festival and the North Sea Jazz Festival were all represented at PIJF 2014.

As Augustin said in an interview with AAJ in 2013, the PIJF is built on a foundation of friendship—the very pillar of both the festival's appeal and of its success. Familiar faces turn up year after year in the audience and in the media folk that come from far and wide. Importantly, it's friends and family that make up the team of volunteers that's such a vital component of the festival's smooth running. All are supporters of the PIJF and together they bring something of a big-family feel to the event.

As the PIJF embarks on its second decade it faces new challenges. Augustin harbors ambitions to grow the festival, which is in line with the Ministry for Tourism's efforts to position Penang as a city of arts and culture. The ball is rolling: a World Music Festival and a Literary Festival have added muscle to the calendar of cultural events in recent years; England's The Guardian newspaper voted Penang as one of the Top Ten Must Visit Destinations in 2014 while Lonely Planet voted Penang the World's Number One Destination for Food. Penang, it seems, is fashionable.

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