Jazz in Singapore
American jazz pianist Billy Taylor’s statement in The Black Perspective in Music 1966 “Jazz is America’s classical music” has become a primary answer to “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.
It has also arrived in Singapore, far away from its birthplace. According to Singaporean historian Yuepeng Zheng (who is one of our board of directors) has contributed an essay Jazz from the 1920s to the Present: the Musicians, the Spaces and the Music to a 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 where what he calls ‘Asia-Pacific Jazz Network’ that is ‘a series of port-cities that stretched from Mumbai at its westernmost end to San Francisco at its easternmost, brought scores of traveling jazz musicians – musicians from a wide range of nationalities who traveled on the Network and performed in its port-cities – to play in hotels in Singapore.’.
This essay however, is a condensed version of his 2009 university honors thesis entitled Swingin ’round the World: Musical Circuits, Traveling Musicians and Jazz in Singapore where he had deeper insights over the facts he has collected from active performers, the descendents of the original what he calls “Filipino émigré-musicians” has traced the jazz history of Singapore from 1920s to 2010. These facts clearly show that Singapore’s jazz history is not too short, even comparing to the original US jazz history that is said to have begun in the late 19th century.
Thus starting 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 include online community surveys previously conducted in 2017; there is presently insufficient support within Singapore to provide for inclusive support to learn and practice the jazz culture. In addition, there are also insufficient tangible opportunities and venues to perform and showcase 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 eventually cutting off the support for the jazz CCAs due to difficulty in proving the importance of the practicing/honing process. It has also come to light that recruiting new members grows increasingly challenging – with many stopping the learning processes very early on – some even before graduation from their respective schools or before enlisting into National Service.
Last but not least, another concern that we hear way too often from jazz musicians across all demography – ‘After graduating from jazz program, what happens? What’s our options?’
Identifying the Gaps, and Turning Them Into Opportunities
WLJ SG – being made up of jazz practitioners, educators and arts managers from a wide variety of backgrounds – we 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 feel that jazz is a special music that keeps connecting 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 jazz music.
WLJ SG endeavours to create a new infrastructure where we the community members work towards improving our own community through the production of our community projects such as WLJP and our upcoming highlight event, Singapore International Jazz Battle & The Forum 2018 (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 on and challenge the status quo.
Having said all the things above, as redundant as it can be, but let us just say it –
We can change the future of jazz community.