We Love Jazz Singapore’s very first SPEAKLOW! Speakeasy Music Sessions (SLSE) Vol. #7 is finally complete!
This is Dawn Ho, one of WLJ SG directors reporting.
What is SLSE, and how it all started.
SLSE is a series of musical events that was created by our founding director, Aya Sekine with her company Bon Goût Music (BGM). As of 2017 BGM generously handed the running of this series to WLJ SG – the idea behind the series is to brainstorm and curate performances that would be challenging, inspiring, refreshing to both the artists and the audience. We also hope to use the sessions to create bonding between artists and audiences by facilitating a dialogue and sharing session as part of the program. In this way, more people will better understand the art form as well as the artists in Singapore who work tirelessly to keep it real and alive.
Brainstorming for Vol.7
1st January 2017, post New Year’s Eve gig and over a very informal and frequent wine and brainstorming session (yes, we love to mix work with pleasure), our founding director, Aya suggested that I curate, facilitate and manage our very first session of SLSE Vol. #7. This being the very 1st SLSE music session WLJ would host, it had to be strong, something grassroots and significant to the history of jazz in Singapore and jazz as an art form itself.
Like ancient tribal rituals, where tradition and history is handed down verbally from one generation to the next, I wanted to feature someone who has lived through the history of jazz in Singapore and also in the United States where this music came from, someone whose life has always been dedicated to the art form and all it embodies. So I thought it would be perfect to have bassist Christy Smith as our guest for SLSE Vol. #7.
Christy Smith and Singapore
Christy Smith first arrived in Singapore in 1993 to play at the Somerset’s Bar at the Westin Hotel. Smith is an accomplished bassist, composer, arranger and lecturer whose artistry, passion and knowledge of jazz had touched countless of people here and around the world. Having chosen to make Singapore his home for 24 years, Smith has long been considered one of the cornerstones of jazz in Singapore.
He has watched the jazz scene here grow from its roots, all its trials and tribulations, the rise and fall of popularity of jazz, opening and closing of jazz clubs, the coming and going of artists in our community, generations of hopeful and young Singaporean jazz musicians grow up become the artists that they are today. He also grew up with jazz in the United States, where this art form was born. Listening to Satchmo and Duke Ellington when he was just 4 years old. Around the same age, he fell in love with the bass, even tried to steal his neighbours bass when he was 6! He finally started playing the bass when he was 15.
With such a deep well of musical experience in him, I knew he would be the perfect guest to open our new series. And so it was, the 7th instalment The Time Is Now feat. Christy Smith, was incepted.
The idea for ‘The Time Is Now’
It was simple. I wanted Christy in a setting which I have never seen him in, but which I knew he would be able to do so well – Solo Act: Bass & Voice.
I also wanted him to share the things he had shared with me when I first started out as an aspiring jazz singer, under his mentorship (truth is, I pretty much just stalked him every week at Harry’s Bar at the jam sessions on Sundays for advice and feedback).
For the musical part, I wanted him to select a repertoire of music that inspired him most through his musical journey.
And for the dialogue part of the evening, I had several burning questions that I wanted Christy to discuss; who are his musical heroes? What was his musical journey like? How did he start? Why does he continue? Does he ever get tired and when he does, what keeps him going? What is it like to be an African American jazz musician in Singapore and in the U.S.A? What is his perception of this art form in relation to African history and his roots? How do we overcome the idea that Jazz is a cultural art form borrowed from another country and not our own? How do we as Singaporeans identify with jazz?
What was the jazz scene like when he came to Singapore, how has it evolved and changed over the years and what can we do to keep it alive and make it better for all of us as a community?
The event day
After a good 2 months of preparation, planning and promotion from my awesome and tireless team at WLJ SG + Christy, we were ready for the show!! By the way, all of us are a full time “something else” – student, teacher, office professional, musician, plus a huge passion for grassroots development and promotion of the jazz and improvised music community in Singapore! The best team we could have ever wished for!
Our venue partner is the cosy and incredibly charming The Music Parlour. Normally a jamming studio that occasionally also hosts events like ours.
Here’s us doing pre-show set up and sound check. Huge thank you to The Naked Grouse Whisky for being our beverage sponsor for the event!!
Guests starting to arrive and mingle over their whiskies, courtesy of The Naked Grouse. ☺
Our Karen working very hard at the bar making welcome drinks.
To kick off the show we began with a quick introduction about the works of WLJ SG & Christy and then off we went to the music!
‘Close your eyes’, Christy said
Christy asked everyone to close their eyes and go back to a place when they first heard the music. Then he started to bow on his bass…. this sparked off a free improvisational bass solo piece, which stirred everyone in the room. Smith later explained that free playing is music that wants and needs to come out of us all.
He said that it would take him probably 2 hours of free playing to get to the “space” where he needs to be to truly be free playing like this. And went on to explain the relevance between freedom of improvisation through the exemplary works of John Coltrane.
Later on he invited our founding director, Aya to come to the stage to play a couple of tunes with him. One of which was “Lament” by the great jazz trombonist, JJ Johnson. After the tune, Christy went to explain how he came to love jazz as a child, he also talked about his musical heroes. Amongst them was Ray Charles. He highlighted the importance of the blues. Because this is where jazz comes from. It was born of slaves from Africa who had they drums and rituals taken from them. He explained how this music is “black classical music”, its roots.
Jazz as a ‘life style’
Having said that he emphasised that the symbol of the blues is a universal cry for comfort, love and peace. It is in all of us. And he went on to share his experience of being a jazz artist in Singapore, how he felt the universe is a melting pot of cultures, just like Singapore, New Orleans where jazz was born was mixed of several cultures that created jazz… Jazz is a lifestyle Christy says and it is a lifestyle that is lies beyond the boundaries of races and cultural diversities – doesn’t matter where you are in the world.
During intermission we all mingled and discussed our thoughts on the performance as well as dialogue topics regarding jazz and improvisation.
Yes we had merchandise for sale too!!
Besides the great and rare musical experience that Christy Rendered to us that night at SLSE, he also brought music insight on the current jazz climate compared to the past during the dialogue session.
‘We need to be the one to keep it alive’
When he 1st came to Singapore, there were many jazz bars and the scene was thriving, he has personally witnessed 2 cycles of rising and falling of the jazz scene in Singapore so far. Mentioning several now defunct jazz venues like Jazz at Southbridge, Harry’s Bar, Swings, Aubrey’s, Saxophone bar and Somerset’s Bar. He agrees that jazz bars are dropping like flies now. But he also remembers a time when jazz was thriving and Wynton Marsalis and his band were in town for week to play at a music festival here, and apart from their own concert, every night they were at Harry’s jamming with the house band – “And nobody came!!!” exclaimed Christy. Nobody cared enough – “these guys are the best in the world!! And yet no one came. It’s a shame.”… He warned us ”if we want this art form to thrive, then we as practitioners and as audiences need to be hungry and curious. Find out what’s out there and show up to support the arts. We need to be the one to keep it alive. We need to want it enough.”
Christy sharing on the ecosystem of our jazz scene in Singapore.
Some intense listening going on…..
The night left all of us who came inspired, invigorated. Christy’s words made us understand where this art for we love called jazz comes from, and how it became a part of the world. How it actually has always been a part of all of us. He highlighted that being closer to artistry and being closer to humanity is not much different. It’s all about love and compassion. And that it is important that we acknowledge this on an individual level as well as a community.
Huge thank you for all of you who came to the event! Your support and participation is invaluable to us.
We at WLJ SG really hope you had a wonderful time at our very first SLSE Vol. #7: The Time Is Now feat. Christy Smith.
We need YOU!
We would love to hear your feedback regarding our events and how we can improve them. So please do feel free to write to us : firstname.lastname@example.org
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We Love Jazz Jam coming up end March! We will keep you posted via Facebook or here at our WLJ blog 🙂
Credits: Photography by Dylan Boudville