Thailand International Jazz Conference, January 28-30, 2011

Thailand International Jazz Conference, January 28-30, 2011
Ian Patterson By

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Thailand International Jazz Conference
Mahidol University School of Music
Bangkok, Thailand
January 28-30, 2011

It's almost impossible to go anywhere in Thailand without hearing music at all hours: people sing for their own enjoyment as they go about their daily business, displaying a lack of inhibition generally absent in the West; at every turn youth strum guitars, and more often than not, bars, restaurants and clubs offer live music. Jazz admittedly, accounts for a very small proportion of this music, though the growing number of jazz festivals in locations such as Kanchanaburi, Changmai, Hua Hin and Koh Samui is bringing jazz to a wider general public.

Now in its third year, the three-day Thailand International Jazz Conference stands out from other jazz events in Thailand for a number of reasons. First, it is organized, run by and features students and teachers from the jazz department of Mahidol University, on whose handsome campus grounds it is staged; second, the program is almost exclusively jazz, unlike other festivals, where jazz tends to get buried under an avalanche of pop, generic funk and easy listening grooves; third, it has a strong educational elements; and, finally, it is notable for the quality of international artists on show. The TIJC provides a much-needed platform for the talented young jazz students to perform in a live setting, as well as a rare opportunity to observe and learn from top international jazz artists in a series of workshops, which account for almost half the TIJC program.

Another point which sets the TIJC apart is that it is a non-profit event, as Associate Professor of the College of Music at Mahidol University, Dr. Sugree Charoensook [left] explains: "Profit is not measured in cash. It is measured in humankind; the benefits that we bring to people by letting them access this music. We don't just import big names for profit; we're not a promotional company. We import big names to benefit our own musicians. We're a university; we're about the quality of education."

Certainly, the hundreds of young music students who attended workshops by trumpeter Tiger Okoshi, the Danilo Perez Trio, and guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Andreas Oberg, in particular, will have come away wiser for the experience. Even the less technical, less hands-on workshops which were really Q&A sessions, provided plenty of valuable insight and, perhaps more importantly, inspiration, for the students.

Inspiring the student body is key for the TIJC's organizing committee, as Project Manager Noppadol Tirataradol and Darin Pantoomkomol, both teachers in the jazz department, explained: "We saw how other jazz festivals were all about entertainment," explains Khun Tirataradol, "and of course we want to entertain, but the focus is on education and inspiration. We want the young generation to learn from the great artists, to develop and be inspired by them." Khun Noppadol nods in agreement and adds: "We're very serious about the music at Mahidol University. We teach jazz students Duke Ellington and so on and we emphasize swing and the blues, but we encourage the students to play whatever music they want."

There is an even deeper aim of the TIJC, reflected in its motto: "Through jazz, a society of happiness." However ambitious or idealistic the aim, there is no doubting the sincerity of the event's organizers: "We want to introduce jazz to the public," says Khun Noppadol, "we believe that jazz is love and we want to spread this music throughout society." Although it is unlikely that jazz will bring the country's politically fractured society together in loving embrace any time soon the TIJC is going in the right direction at least. At its first edition in '09, according to Khun Tirataradol, there were sometimes only about 30 students in attendance at the workshops held in the auditorium, but this year several hundred students, as well as a small but visible number of expatriate foreigners, meant that the workshops took place in front of a near-full house. The audiences attending the main stage performances in the afternoon have also grown, and although a few more chairs could be squeezed in, the TIJC is already running at almost full audience capacity. Clearly, the general public in Bangkok is catching on that the best jazz in Thailand is heard at the TIJC, some twenty kilometers outside the city center.

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