[Reflection] Jazz at the Red Dot by James Gunawan

James Gunawan is the recipient of Dan Cerf Scholarship for the Jazz @ the Red Dot workshop. He was carefully selected by the generous scholarship sponsor Mr. Dan Cerf, a passionate supporter of music and We Love Jazz SG. In this blog post, James Gunawan has specially written a personal reflection about his Jazz @ the Red Dot experience. Continue below to read. – WLJSG

A Reflection By James Gunawan


“The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.”

 

Seeing world class, top-of-the-game musicians up close is another experience altogether; it makes your jaw drop, yet exhilarated, because of the things they do that you’ve never imagined possible. I’m so thankful for the scholarship generously provided by Mr. Dan Cerf, without which I wouldn’t even think of going for this workshop. The image of Gregory Hutchinson playing his swing with such a grounded feel and bounce at the same time will be forever burned in my mind as a drummer.

Just for the benefit of those who don’t know what the workshop is about, this is a brief overview.

Jazz at the Red Dot is a 5-day workshop that was held in Singapore, which brought in world class musicians as its faculty members; and among those cats were Gregory Hutchinson, an amazing jazz drummer who has played with so many other great musicians.

Each day of the first 4 days consists of series of classes (music theory, ear training, masterclasses, etc), and ends with a group ensemble session that’s being mentored by one of the faculty members. On day 5, we were all given a chance to perform with our ensemble at botanic garden, in front of hundreds of people.

There are so much things that I have learned from the workshop, but to keep things organised, I shall share my 3 main takeaways, followed by a brief conclusion.

The groove, the swing, the pop

Jazz originated from dance music, and thus, at the heart of jazz is its swing: that feeling that makes people wants to move and dance. This then begs the question, if we were to strip away all the complicated rhythm and harmony in our playing, does it, really, swing? And on all the solo breaks that we do, in which we have practiced countless hours for, does it still have that groove in it?

When I put things in this aspect, it becomes something that is intimidating, yet liberating at the same time. It is intimidating, because, it tells me that I cannot just learn a technique and play in it time – I’ve got to also strive to make it feel good, which surely multiplies the amount of practice required (as if jazz is not already hard enough). Yet, it’s liberating because, well, you may not need such complicated stuff to sound good – just do whatever you know so well that it’s swinging, and you’re great to go.

Serving the music

The first point above does lead into this one: does what we do still serve the music in the aspect of groove – which is one of the foundation of great music?

On a broader aspect, Gregory Hutchinson (drum instructor) and Ben Williams (bass instructor) emphasized in one masterclass that we have to be a team player in band, who’s always doing things to serve the music in the moment, rather than blowing up our ego by showing every single chops that we’ve learned in the practice room.

In our first ensemble session, Greg wants to us to try learning a song we’ve never heard before (Water Babies, by Miles Davis second quintet), which has a rather different feel than most jazz standards – mainly because of the fact that, as he puts it, the horns are the ones keeping the time while the rhythm section is a little more free to give colours and textures. He mentioned to us that the song doesn’t always have to be done that way; we have to listen to what’s happening in the moment, and play appropriately. In the original recordings, Tony Williams (dr) was doing mostly colourings with the cymbals, and doesn’t really define the time; but yet, as we are playing the song, if somehow the horns are having difficulty keeping the time, the drummer has to come in and help establish the time, so that the song doesn’t evolve into a messy blob of sound. In another instance, if the singer has difficulty finding the pitch, the pianist / keyboardist has to assist by giving a chord that helps them find the right pitch.

These are just a few examples on how we can help serve the music, and be a team player in a band. We can only start growing in this area when we start listening to what’s happening around us, and trying to understand how we can makes things sound better. And when we learn to do this, it will bring us one step further in maturing as an artist.

Performance at Singapore Botanic Gardens with Greg Hutchinson’s ensemble group. Photo by BH Photography.

Playing with honesty and integrity

This is something that’s rather new to me, and probably the most abstract of them all – but yet, I believe it will give so much meaning to what we play. I’ve heard it throughout the years, that we’ve got to mean what we play, but have never really understood it until Aaron Goldberg (p) shared his wisdom in his ear training class. Simply put, this aspect can be encapsulated in one question: can we sing accurately what we are playing?

Singing the things that we play essentially requires a few undeniable components:

  1. A clear idea how it sounds rhythmically.
  2. A clear idea how it sounds melodically.
  3. A clear idea on how the phrase starts AND ends.
  4. An ability to translate exactly the idea that we have with full integrity to the instrument.

which, if you think about it, is really not an easy thing to do, and as my friend puts it, is a rather inefficient way to do it. Why would we need to “know” the melodic phrase if I can just run up and down the scale? Why would we need to be able to sing the drum solos if we can just play a rudiments and play it around the toms?

To me, this kinda goes back to music being an artistic expression of ourselves as human beings. Each of us, through our own unique life-experiences, is gifted with our own unique voice. And as we learn to translate them into our instrument, we began to express what we really want to communicate to the world, and not just a collection of bizarre ideas.

To just draw an analogy, let’s imagine having a conversation instead of playing music. For example, say you want to communicate “That sunset is beautiful”; but instead, what comes out of your mouth is something along “Sun yellow yellow marries I wishes” (gosh, this is the most incoherent sentence I can come up with. Yes, I cringed.). What then? Yes it’s English (like, well, playing in the correct scale), and yes it’s pronounced correctly (perhaps like, playing in time in perfect triplet), but does it really have meaning? Does it really convey what you are trying to communicate, even the slightest? And furthermore, will it invite a completely different response than you originally intended? These are just some questions I had in mind, and it hopefully will always be in my mind for the rest of my musical journey.

As such, should learn how to express ourselves in the most honest way possible. Yes, it is not the easiest thing to do (in fact, I still don’t have a good idea how to really do it), but as we learn to communicate what we mean in our instruments with full honesty, we will learn to be an artist that’s true to ourselves, which surely brings so much satisfaction. Speaking what we don’t mean is essentially profanity, and we don’t want to be profane in doing the things that we love most.

A photo with Greg Hutchinson

Conclusion

All in all, Jazz music is an art form, done collectively with other musician. While we learn to express what we really wish to, we should not forget that it has to all be done in the spirit of serving the music, and more importantly, serving individual artistic expression of each musician in the bandstand. It’s easy to say that someone in our band hasn’t practice enough, but the question is, have we learned enough to make those less experienced than us sound better than they could’ve done themselves?

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[Reflection] Jazz at the Red Dot by James Gunawan

[Event] International Jazz Day 2017!

We have SO many things to update and tell you, but let us first do this.

WLJ SG Celebrates

INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY 2017

If you want to hang out in a casual setting but to have surround yourself with good people, food, drinks and jazz & improvised music – come to Kult Kafe next Sunday!

Open calling participants (cut-off extended)!

Please sign up if you want to share your feelings for jazz & improvised music, you get 3-5min slot (we already have 11 acts)! Our cut-off is today, but we will wait for couple more days. In any case, we will be announcing the first 10 on Monday!

After party at Montreux Jazz Cafe (MJC)

Sunday night Jam with Mario Serio :

For this special event, MJC is partnering with us to extend 20% discount for the after party (it’s a Sunday night jam hosted by Mario Serio) for the participants and ticket holders of our event! Let’s all go and jam!

Tickets : WLJSGIJD2017.peatix.com

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Thanking all our sponsors :

Pendulumic Headphones

The Naked Grouse

Partners :

Palm Avenue Float Club

Venue :

Kult Kafe

[Event] International Jazz Day 2017!

[Report] AYASCHOOL: Jungle Jam (WLJ Participatory Series #1)

For the month of March, we conducted our first We Love Jazz Participatory Series featuring Ayaschool: Jungle Jam.

Find out what one of our participant has to say about the experience. He is a BA student of Jazz at LASALLE College Of the Arts. Very driven and interested to learn everything about jazz and improvised music! Continue reading to learn more about the series.

Words by: Xavier Lim

After WLJ’s well-received SPEAKLOW! SpeakEasy Music Session Vol. 7 (feat. Christy Smith), the next event promised to be equally ambitious and even more engaging. Ayaschool: Jungle Jam, the brainchild of We Love Jazz founding director Aya Sekine, occurred as a result. Promising to be a quarterly event of pure improvisation, Jungle Jam was free-of-charge for registrants (both performers or listeners) and open to absolutely anyone!

Held at LASALLE College of The Arts (G302 studio) from 4 to 7 pm on Sunday, 26th March 2017, the event was open and all- inclusive, demanding no pre-requisites in musical experience from the participants.

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Ashlee signing in the participants.

The only rule of Jungle Jam, repeatedly emphasised by Aya, was for everyone to LISTEN to one another and respond (or don’t) with their instruments. She advises: “When you feel things are stagnant, don’t be afraid to NOT play. Not playing is a very interesting way to hear other people.”

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Aya explaining the rules of the game.
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Moulding the dynamic and conducting hits for the first group.

The first group of registered played 3 pieces in total. The shinobue (Japanese bamboo flute) and shamisen (Japanese 3-stringed banjo) provided an interesting contrasting texture/colour. Aya started the piece with a little conducting but notably controlled it minimally so as to allow the improvisation to develop organically. She even got in on the fun with the melodica!

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Improvisers from left to right: Andrew (Drums), Alvin (Shamisen), Jon (Bass), Zhan Seng (Xylophone), Yayoi (Tambourine), Javan (Keys), Hiroki (Guitar), Yuka (Flute) and Zacharie (Guitar).

“When I used to do this at BluJaz, we would do like one hour straight. The only thing that I always don’t know how to do is… end the song. For this particular ensemble, it was so funny because it ends… then somebody starts playing and another thing starts!”

“A certain story climaxes a few times, and both you and the audience know ‘yeah, we’ve talked about this already, so let’s not talk about that again.’ Improvisation is not random. There’s quite a lot of thinking and negotiation, and I think it’s beautiful.”

There was a short break at around 5.30 pm and Aya resumed the session with a brief explanation on how blues was borne of suffering by the enslaved and represented a lament of hard times as well as a vehicle for call-and-response improvisation. The second group featured additional performers and Aya kickstarted the new group by asking the participants to play a musical idea (motif) one after another.

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Second group (from left to right): Namie (voice), Zhizhong (Keys), Adam (Bass), Eric (Guitar), Yayoi (Xylophone), Ashlee (Melodica) and Daniel (Drums).
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Zhizhong really feeling it!
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Aya getting in on the fun!

Among both groups, it was truly amazing how everyone paid attention to the preceding and succeeding lines, which ranged from anything like one note to more complex melodic/harmonic sequences. It was immensely interesting how there was a tendency for the pieces to explore and take on different rhythmic grooves, after starting off as sporadic noodling on individual instruments one after another.

Here is a video shot by Dylan Boudville

Though everyone had different musical sensibilities, there was an unspoken universal understanding of give and take, as well as the mature crafting of space and texture that seemed incongruent with the nascent nature of the instantly formed groups.

Towards the end of the second group’s performance, even the listeners alike chimed in with their voices to form a massive group of around 30 improvisers. What a spectacle to behold!

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Group photo of those who stayed till the end.

As a participant, I initially wondered if the sheer size of the group would hamper our attempts to produce good music that had direction and dynamic/structural integrity. Jungle Jam showed us that if everyone was an immensely attentive and considerate listener, it was rather hard to NOT make good, spontaneous music and have a great time!

We Love Jazz SG has more awesome and engaging events in the works, so stay tuned for the next instalment of We Love Jazz Participatory Series and more!

 

-Xavier 

[Report] AYASCHOOL: Jungle Jam (WLJ Participatory Series #1)

A small festival of jazz at The Arts House

Hi everyone,
This is Aya Sekine the founding director of WLJ SG. I have programmed a mini festival of jazz together with The Arts House at The Old Parliament which is coming up next Saturday 25th March.

Part of it is already fully booked before I’ve even publicised it (thanks to the enthusiasts!) but the outdoor program is free for all and you can lie down on the lawn – picnic time!

This is not an official part of We Love Jazz SG’s activity, but the way I programmed reflects our vision of the organisation.  Here is a small article I’ve written on it including the schedule of the events :

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/mini-festival-jazz-collaboration-arts-house-ltd-aya-sekine

One of our director Dawn Ho is the official emcee, so the team will be hanging out there. Join us. See you next Saturday!

 

P.S.

The next day on Sunday 26th is Ayaschool:Jungle Jam!  Register to experience collective improvisations : http://junglejam.peatix.com/

 

A small festival of jazz at The Arts House

[Event] AYASCHOOL: JUNGLE JAM (WLJ SG Participatory Series #1)

WE LOVE JAZZ SG presents our first quarterly event happening on 26 March (SUN), featuring our founding director, Aya Sekine’s own initiative – Ayaschool.

Join Aya for an afternoon of pure improvisation as she brings us on a journey through the jungle with music and lots of fun.

Space is limited so reserve your slot with us here now! More information on the event can be found in the peatix link.

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[Event] AYASCHOOL: JUNGLE JAM (WLJ SG Participatory Series #1)

[Report] SPEAKLOW! Speakeasy Music Sessions Vol. #7: The Time Is Now feat. Christy Smith

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.

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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).

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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!!
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Guests starting to arrive and mingle over their whiskies, courtesy of The Naked Grouse. ☺

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Our Karen working very hard at the bar making welcome drinks.

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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.

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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.

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During intermission we all mingled and discussed our thoughts on the performance as well as dialogue topics regarding jazz and improvisation.

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Yes we had merchandise for sale too!!

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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.

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Some intense listening going on…..

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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 : info@welovejazz.org

Please subscribe to our mailing list from here for more of these  [ from  here ]

What’s next

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

[Report] SPEAKLOW! Speakeasy Music Sessions Vol. #7: The Time Is Now feat. Christy Smith

SPEAKUP! Speaklouder Talking Sessions Vol. 1

 

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Speakup! Speaklouder Talking Sessions, Artwork by Weng Pixin

We Love Jazz SG proudly hosted our first sharing platform. Speakup! Speaklouder Talking Sessions (SUSL) is an every-3months-series of safe and open platform for sharing and discussing about our discipline, community or anything around jazz and improvised arts in Singapore. For the first instalment, we raised a topic that is generic maybe but most important; Sustainability of jazz & improvised music in Singapore.

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Aya introduces We Love Jazz SG

This is the first event organized by We Love Jazz SG. Our Co-Director, Aya Sekine, gave a brief introduction about our organization to the participants of this talking session.

 

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Dawn explains about Speakup! Speaklouder Talking Session

Why do we have Speakup! Speaklouder Talking Sessions? During the introduction, our Co-Director Dawn Ho explained, “As there are lot of people in the industry, doing it this way would create collective consciousness and hopefully make change. We can all play a part in the industry whether as practitioners, venue owners, etc.”

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Rie (Dancer) shares her opinions
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Our fellow musicians

Indeed, we are truly glad to hear different opinions and perspective from everyone who participated in this session. Details for the next Speakup! Speak Louder Talking Sessions will be released soon. For now, do let us know if you have a burning topic to discuss. We hope for more fruitful sessions that connects everyone in the Arts.

 

 

WANTED! 

Do you have any topic you want to discuss? Please write to us : info@welovejazz.org

 

 WHAT’S NEXT? 

SPEAKLOW! Speakeasy Music Sessions Vol 7

The Time Is Now Feat. Christy Smith

17th Feb, 7pm @ The Music Parlour

Tickets: http://thetimeisnow.peatix.com

 

Illustrations :  Pixin

 

-Namie

SPEAKUP! Speaklouder Talking Sessions Vol. 1