In lieu of the upcoming WLJIJD, our team member Cui Yihao conducted an interview with Jazz singer, Dawn Ho, who is also one of the 3 directors of We Love Jazz. Keep reading to learn more about the journey of a Singaporean who pursued Jazz as an art form and what she has to say about WLJIJD! She’ll be emceeing for the event as well.
1. Who are you and what was your journey like growing up in Singapore?
I am a singer and song-writer from Singapore who is now based in Melbourne. My genre of performance currently mainly stems from the lineage of Jazz and Brazilian Bossa Nova.
I come from a very loving and supportive and quite open-minded family (for Asia) and grew up pretty much like most local kids, going through the local schooling system and weekly Sunday school and church. I was told I had a nice alto voice when I joined the church choir at age 6.
Before the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) came about, I had at least 10 ECAs (extra-curricular activities), most of them either arts, music or sports related. It finally dwindled down to painting, singing and rollerblading in my teens. I had an amazing and super fun childhood and always knew I wanted to be an artist since I was a child.
After school, I joined TCS Channel 8 as an actress for a year, decided it wasn’t for me and went on to travel the world by working as a flight attendant with Singapore Airlines, until I finally fell in love with live-music and eventually Jazz. I finally left the airline to pursue music full-time, and it’s been 16 of years of music making for me since. So I suppose dreams do come true? 🙂
2. What was it like to pursue Jazz in Singapore?
It was certainly an interesting journey to pursue Jazz in Singapore. There is a generation of people here who grew up with this music on the radio and understand it intimately, and a growing number of young musicians, singers and audience who are embracing the music.
But I have to admit even with all that love, Jazz is still very much a niche genre and art form here, it can be a struggle sometimes to feel appreciated for what you do and even to simply make a living.
I feel I have been very lucky in my musical journey. I was accepted into a small but very loving jazz community here when I first started out. Through the support and help shown to me by my senior peers and other arts managers in the industry, I managed to learn and develop my craft and get gigs.
There were definitely more live music venues that featured Jazz back then, so there was a lot of work to go around (even for a noob like me) and I learned most of what I knew about the music (pre-Google/YouTube), as they say, ‘on the road’. Then one gig led to another, to festivals locally and abroad, to albums and collaborations with some truly special musicians and people.
Many years later, I decided to go back to school to keep on learning more, and enrolled myself into the Jazz BA program at LaSalle College of the Arts. I graduated in May 2017. It was one of the best experiences of my life! The course really pushed me beyond my limits and I am so grateful for that. Now, more than ever, I believe in the importance of mentorship and practice!
3. What is your role in WLJ, and how do you wish it can impact the local jazz scene?
I am one of 3 Directors in WLJ. When we started WLJ, the aim is to further develop and strengthen our existing Jazz community from ground up.
We strongly believe in growing organically together with our community, so we came up with the idea to create a variety of pop-up features, platforms, mini-community jazz festivals and other jazz related events to create more opportunities for our jazz community — to foster relationships between:
- Audience and Practitioners
- Senior musicians and Young musicians
- Jazz/Music Organisations and We Love Jazz.
The hope is that our efforts would
- Garner a greater interest and passion for Jazz in Singapore
- Get audiences to be more enthusiastic about coming out for jazz related events
- Inspire practitioners to play more, practice more, write more, collaborate more… etc.
4. What are some common criticisms in regards to our local jazz scene and what are your thoughts on them?
Some common ones I hear is that the Jazz scene in Singapore is too small and not high level enough. That the audience curation is poor, people here don’t understand Jazz and that there isn’t enough money. That there isn’t enough government support for Jazz education and arts projects. That Jazz clubs keep closing and no one cares about Jazz anymore.
It’s important to note that Singapore is a young country in South East Asia without a long history and culture. Considering that Jazz is a borrowed art form from halfway across the world, plus the fact that Jazz IS a niche art form here (although that’s true for everywhere in the world really), I think it’s really a glass half-full rather than half-empty situation.
From when I started learning about Jazz 16 years ago, I have observed that there are more youths picking up this craft, more local jazz programmes and also various scales of jazz festivals and events happening in the city throughout the year. More international jazz acts have graced our shores than ever before. And with technology and resources, more local artists are coming up with their own projects and albums. Jazz clubs may be scarce at moment, but clubs open and close all the time. Some will shut down and before you know it others will open.
However, I do believe more support and funding can be afforded to this art form and its practitioner’s projects. More media support would certainly help with the public opinion or taste for Jazz. It wouldn’t hurt to have a small radio show just for jazz and jazz inspired music. The other day, I heard Jazz playing over the speakers whilst shopping for groceries in NTUC and I felt such a thrill! Every small win counts right? 🙂
5. Why do you choose to perform jazz?
Growing up in Singapore, I was exposed to many different genres of music, such as grunge, classic rock, reggae, RnB, soul, pop, neo-soul, blues and Mando-pop, you name it!
I can tell you that the reason why I believe Jazz spoke to me the most as a genre of performance when I started singing is because of the element of improvisation which to me feels so empowering, or the intricate sounds of lush chord tones and extensions that underlie the melody in jazz, and the beautiful lyrics that never cease to pull at my heart strings.
But ultimately, Jazz just gives me this warm fuzzy feeling when it’s in the room, when I hear it, when I sing it – it does wondrous things to me and for me.
6. What is WLJIJD to you, and what do you have to say to the people who are coming for WLJIJD?
WLJIJD is a part of UNESCO’s International Jazz Day, planned and produced by the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz.
To me, it signifies a common bond between jazz lovers – both audiences and practitioners of all backgrounds from all over the world unanimously paying tribute to the art form that they love, Jazz. To celebrate its origins and evolution. To keep the torch of freedom and beauty of self-expression through music as a community. To bond with one another within our jazz communities.
To those coming for WLJ IJD, I hope y’all will come and just HAVE FUN! It’s all about love, connection and simply having a great time!
And that concludes this interview, courtesy to Dawn Ho and Cui Yihao. You can also find more information regarding Dawn at https://www.dawn-ho.com/