Jazz in July: Interview with curator Xiang Hui

It’s the time of the year again! The Esplanade holds its annual Jazz in July programme, featuring performances from local and international jazz musicians. This programme is one of the most long-running jazz initiatives in Singapore and is an important platform for the jazz community.

WLJ’s editorial team interviews Xiang Hui, the curator of this year’s performances.

What can we expect from this year’s Jazz in July?

We have many highlights this year, one of them is the Jazz in July+ series which caters to different tastes in jazz. We have Shai Maestro from Israel who has a very ambient and lyrical sound. We also have Tierney Sutton who comes from a vocal jazz tradition. And for those who love Latin jazz we have two forerunners of the Latin jazz scene – Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez.

There is also a jazz marathon happening from 26th to 30th July which features various musicians performing from afternoon to evening.

A few live jazz venues have stopped this year. Blu Jaz Cafe, who had been hosting jazz jams for many years, lost its live entertainment licence in Feburary. Has this year’s Jazz in July come at an important moment?

Unfortunately every year seems to be an important moment. In the past few years, experienced jazz bars have come and gone because it is really hard to run a live jazz venue in Singapore. It is not something new, but the end of live music in Blu Jaz Cafe certainly hit us hard.

We are trying to help by starting jam sessions every Wednesday at Harry’s (at Esplanade) as part of Jazz in July, giving the organizers a taste of what it is like holding jazz jam sessions. Hopefully Harry’s will carry on the jams after July. In the meantime, we can promise that there will be jazz jams every Wednesday till the end of July.

Jam session at Harry’s, Esplanade

What do you look for when curating performances for Jazz in July?

We tried to involve as many members from the local community as possible. When jazz musicians play wedding gigs or corporate gigs they often have to play other genres, that’s why we want to give them a platform to do something more artistic. We are looking for something true to the idea of what jazz is.

But we also need to consider that few Singaporeans listen to jazz, so we want to have public performances that people can enjoy even on a very superficial level. Hopefully they will become interested in jazz.

For our ticketed shows, we want to showcase the latest music in the jazz world. Singaporeans don’t have to travel to jazz hubs around the world to experience live jazz; they can catch it in Jazz in July. And they don’t just have to watch it on YouTube either.

Dawn Ho & Magical Jazz Trio performed on 1st July kicking of Jazz In July at the Esplanade Concourse. From left to right: Dawn Ho, Aya Sekine, Shawn Letts

The Esplanade has more resources than many other local organizations when it comes to organizing large-scale jazz events. What advice would you give to a nonprofit or any organization trying to promote jazz?

I think getting the support of musicians in the community comes first. Without everyone’s support, it is very difficult to make things happen with limited resources. 

I also believe it is important to just keep going on. Jazz in July started out as an Esplanade Concourse performance theme, but we believed in it and kept things going. We’re on our 12th edition this year and are very glad that we have grown the programme over the years.

Photos Courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay

Photos of Dawn Ho & Magical Jazz Trio courtesy of Michelle Vong

Written by Kenny Khoo

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