Jazz in Singapore
American jazz pianist Billy Taylor’s once remarked in The Black Perspective in Music (1966) that “Jazz is America’s classical music”. This statement has become a primary answer to the “persistent question of what jazz is”. Deemed by the United States Congress as “National Treasure”, jazz’s generous and open nature has touched many people, reaching out far from its indigenous roots.
Jazz has also arrived in Singapore, far away from its birthplace. On this topic, Singaporean historian Yuepeng Zheng (he is one of our board of directors and known to us as YP) has contributed an essay titled Jazz from the 1920s to the Present: the Musicians, the Spaces and the Music to the book Singapore Soundscape: Musical Renaissance of A Global City (National Library Board Singapore, 2014).
Singapore’s jazz history was said to have begun almost 100 years ago in 1920 with what he calls the “Asia-Pacific Jazz Network” that comprised “a series of port-cities that stretched from Mumbai at its westernmost end to San Francisco at its easternmost”. This route brought scores of traveling jazz musicians (from a wide range of nationalities who traveled on the Network and performed in its port-cities) to play in hotels in Singapore.
The essay, however, is a condensed version of YP’s 2009 university honours thesis entitled Swingin ’round the World: Musical Circuits, Traveling Musicians and Jazz in Singapore, where he provided deeper insights on the research he conducted on active performers and the descendants of the original “Filipino émigré-musicians”, tracing the jazz history of Singapore from the 1920s to 2010. These facts are clear evidence that Singapore’s jazz history is not too short, even compared to the original US jazz history that is said to have begun in the late 19th century.
This birthed a network and community of jazz music in Singapore to be passed down through the generations, eventually culminating in the formation and growth of Singapore’s jazz scene today. Through the years, the jazz ecosystem has grown through the nation’s political transitions, growing economy and dramatic life changes.
Insufficient Support and Emphasis on “Practices and Processes for Jazz”
Despite the exciting growth of business, culture and commerce, the arts industry still suffers from a general lack of depth in awareness and knowledge within the local population. Similarly in the jazz scene, the recurring failure of jazz-related ventures and frustrations of members within the jazz community have been persistent.
Based on our observations and ongoing research, which includes online community surveys previously conducted by our director Aya Sekine during her Master’s research in 2017, there is presently insufficient support within Singapore to cultivate and support the learning and practice of jazz. In addition, there are also insufficient tangible opportunities and venues to perform and showcase related works as well.
Through conversations with the younger members of the jazz community (which include current members of jazz co-curricular activities (CCAs) in local public schools), some feel threatened by the possibility of schools cutting off support for their jazz CCAs due to difficulty in proving the importance of the practising/honing process. It has also come to light that recruiting new members has been increasingly challenging, with many abandoning the learning processes very early on, and some even before graduation from their respective schools or before enlisting into National Service.
Last but not least is another concern we hear way too often from jazz musicians across all demographics – “After graduating from the jazz program, what happens? What are our options?”
Identifying the Gaps, and Turning Them Into Opportunities
WLJ SG – being made up of jazz lovers which includes musicians, practitioners, students, educators and arts managers from a wide variety of backgrounds – we know what it takes, and are able to value and appreciate an organic approach towards growth. With the belief that mindful practices geared towards achieving a higher level of jazz artistry and a passion fuelled by one’s love for their craft would lead to works that are able to ‘speak’ to a wider pool of audiences, and therefore promote an even greater appreciation for this artistic community. Yet due to a lack of interactive and engaging dialogue, constructive criticism and critical analysis of persisting issues, faith in this ‘process’ has become under-rated and not fully supported.
& Here We Are.
WLJ SG was founded on the belief that as members of the jazz community, we have the potential to be the go-to organization when it comes to creating the ideal environment. We know what is missing, and we know what we want!
We feel that jazz is a special music that connects people. It is widely known for its improvisational nature, but it is also a unique genre that has the ability to transcend language and time. Jazz has always been appreciated globally and we would like to think that in every part of the world, there exists a jazz community that consists of professional musicians, researchers, musicologists, students, hobbyists and a whole list of jazz-loving individuals who are, in their own way, sharing their love for the liberal and artistic nature of this music.
WLJ SG endeavours to create a new infrastructure where we, the community members, work towards improving our own community through the production of community projects such as We Love Jazz Party (WLJB) and our upcoming highlight event, Singapore International Jazz Battle & The Forum 2018 (SIJB) formerly known as We Love Jazz Battle in 2017). These were all created to firstly connect with the wider jazz community on a common platform, and secondly to enable them to further develop their craft and showcase themselves on a larger platform. These events also create more opportunities for practitioners to engage in active dialogue and empower the younger generation to strive towards excellence and challenge the status quo.
Having said all the above, as redundant as it can be, let us just say:
WE community members can change the future of jazz community.