Category Archives: Music and Arts

imageJazz beyond Borders

I remember a particular line in Billy Strayhorn’s composition ‘Lushlife’, found  in the first eight bars of the verse. It goes like this, ‘I used to visit all the very gay places, those come what may places, where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life, to get the feel of life, from jazz and cocktails’. Many people stereotype jazz as the genre of the elite. People who were born with a silver spoon. Who are the elitists? According to my sources,  Elite, is a small group of powerful people in political and sociological theory, such as an oligarchy, that controls a disproportionate amount of wealth or political power in society. This group is given more privileges than ordinary people  in a society. They can be big time politicians,  big earners in fields of  business, law and  medical professions to cite examples. They are the people who have the currency to pay for anything they want. Branded clothings, limousine services, fine dining, private jets, go to an opera, a Broadway show, and once in a while, a jazz gig.

In a jazz venue, be it in the US where jazz found its grassroots or other countries that have a wide audience in jazz like Japan, Canada, or the Philippines, is it fair that only a person belonging to an elite class can have the opportunity to appreciate jazz?  Herbie Hancock, a renowned jazz pianist is one among others who spearheaded ‘International Jazz Day’. This special celebration was conceived in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe. International Jazz Day brings together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics, and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about jazz and its roots, future and impact. To raise awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding, to reinforce international cooperation and communication. Every  year on April 30, this international art form is recognized for promoting peace, dialogue among cultures, diversity, and respect for human rights and human dignity, eradicating racism, promoting freedom of expression, fostering gender equality, and reinforcing the role of youth in enacting social change.

The Philippines in one way or another joins this special event each year on the 30th of April. Small, cozy jazz venues hold their own events as a way of recognizing this art form and help find the country’s  own niche in the field of International Jazz. The question is, is it well funded? IJD organizers hands over a special plaque of appreciation to anybody who wants to join this event. By using social media like Livestream, Ustream, Facebook Live , et al,  jazz musicians of diverse culture and race can play, be heard and seen over the world.

I am a jazz artist based all over. Jazz musicians are like gypsies who never stop moving, and improving. The creativity process never stops in a particular gig or recorded performances. Who are the jazz artists? Moreover, what is Jazz music? Jazz spans a period of over a hundred years, encompassing a very wide range of music, making it difficult to define. Jazz makes heavy use of improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swing note. Although the foundation of jazz is deeply rooted within the black experience of the United States, different cultures have contributed their own experience and styles to the art form as well. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as “one of America’s original art forms.

I recall my mother saying that Filipinos are eternally singing. Music runs in our DNAs for many special reasons. The Philippines was already in the groove way back before World War 1st. My grandfather for one was a member of a big band in Los Angeles while picking oranges in the morning. Is this what you call elite?  This country is gifted with very talented musicians but not given enough avenues and chances to learn music. Taking up Music courses in college is a fortune to begin with. There are foundations who give scholarships to talented and deserving students, unfortunately, these organizations are a handful. We have no access to buy better instruments unless we go to the US or online shopping like Amazon. Music students in the Philippines are not motivated enough to create more as parents would time and again remind their children that there is no money in music. That is not true. I will agree to the fact that the glory days where our leaders would concentrate on the art and the artists as well, has  gone to oblivion. Whatever happened to our love for music, for jazz, for freedom of expression?

The prestigious Kobe Jazz Vocal Queen held in Japan annually, had just concluded and I was fortunate enough to be one of the judges. I take pride to be chosen as part of the jury during the competition. This competition stems from the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association (SKSCA), a volunteer-based non-profit association that helps promote and facilitate friendly relations between Seattle as sister city of Kobe, Japan. Founded in 1957, the Seattle-Kobe relationship was the first such partnership for both cities. The exchanges between these two cities are varied, ranging from cultural, educational, business and governmental. In addition to the official sister city relationship, there is also an official port relationship, as well as strong economic ties between many companies of these two regions. This is where the Kobe Jazz Vocal Queen comes in. I was there sitting as one of the judges and I said to myself, our country can do this. Our nation has an overload of talented vocalists who can focus on this genre given the right education, knowledge, skill, and right mentoring.

I have a dream that soon, the greatness of our country will again be known through Jazz music. As  Susan Rice  (U.S. National Security Advisor) would say , and I quote “Like democracy itself, jazz has structure, but within it you can say almost anything.” Join me in realizing this endeavor.

 

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Racism in Jazz

Jazz trio and the writer.. In a jazz gig.
Jazz trio and the writer.. In a jazz gig.

Music is and always be my life. After finishing my Communication Arts degree in a prestigious university, I had my practicum or as others would say apprenticeship on television stations and radio stations doing jobs as director’s assistant or scriptwriter’s assistant, everybody’s assistant, doing voice over jobs, forever the assistant, forever the voice over and never the real deal. I could have been a director, a scriptwriter, a television or a radio announcer. I could have had a career in Journalism. Much as I love to sing, writing is also my passion. In other words, I have a degree in Communication Arts and I can’t use it. I guess I really never wanted to be behind the camera. I remember telling my mom after six months of training on television, and I quote myself “mom, I don’t think I want to be behind the camera forever, I want to be in front. During the training, I had an encounter with a very good singer who later became the Kim of the Musical Ms. Saigon , she was amazing but I thought to myself, I can do that too, and perhaps become even better. I was in a hurry to be in her position, in front of the camera. So there I go. After several day jobs, I got bored and impatient, I quit! There were a lot of auditions being held then as hotel vocalists, band vocalist or wedding singer. With a lot of practice and guts, I auditioned. The rest is history.
From my country, I went hopping from one country to another as a singer, armed with a degree in Communication Arts In English, a lot of piano and guitar lessons, vocal lessons, and jazz workshop sessions. To date, I still attend jazz cliniques much as I give my own jazz clinics too. But that’s already water under the bridge.
This is the first time that I am going to express myself in writing as far as being ‘Asian’ is concerned, specially in the world of jazz. I have long been wanted to be heard and after I read an article in Cosmopolitan magazine regarding Asians being stereotyped as the following : chinky eyes, almond shaped eyes, noodles, chopsticks, yellow or brown skin, straight black hair and most of all non English speakers, I said to myself, enough of those craps! I’ve had it and let it be known that some people are either uneducated or plainly idiots or racists. Why?
In my travels as a jazzer, being in the business for almost 2 decades, having recorded 5 CDs , having to perform in front of an audience almost everyday of my life, dealing with bosses from different parts of the globe, I can absolutely conclude that I am pretty much doing a good job if not great.
I am not writing this to bad-mouth people who do not have any knowledge in world history or world geography or human behavior. I’ve just had enough.
These are the phrases I would hear or expected to hear? And I quote ‘oh, you’re Asian, and you speak good English.’ Or as how the immigration officers of the US Consular Office interrogated me when I was applying for my 01 visa or legally defined as an alien of extraordinary ability, and I quote again, ‘what’s with the English?’ Either he wants to intimidate me or he’s being sarcastic because he’s a racist. I may sound too sensitive on this subject but no. I’ve just been trying so hard to bear these unbearable assumptions.
I remember my friend telling me, and he’s a very good speaker of English as well, somebody irrationally told him, ‘so you’re Filipino, why do you speak very good english?’ He wanted to give that guy a right hook as strong as Manny Pacquiao’s  to shut him up, I’m glad he didn’t. And yes, my friend is an American law-abiding citizen, with a decent job , pays taxes and has a car registration most Americans wouldn’t have.
This kind of story doesn’t happen only in the US. It happens everywhere, Japan for one. It’s a beautiful country with very polite citizenry and has a wide audience in jazz. Even a non English speaker country like Japan stereotypes other Asians as people who have a native tongue and that’s not english. To the japanese; americans, canadians, australians, and all the other countries colonized by the Queen , are the only ones acceptable to be a jazz vocalist. Why can’t people just accept that a talent is a talent regardless of race, beliefs and gender? Is it hard to appreciate real talent? Does one have to be white or black to be validated? Who are they to judge? I’m blessed to have intelligent and level- headed parents, who are tirelessly telling me that I shouldn’t let anybody bully me or deprive me of my freedom to showcase what I can do, and still maintain humility. I can only take so much. I have no excuse for being Asian, educated, talented, speaks 3 languages fluently including English for that matter. People can either accept it or not, it doesn’t matter anymore.
My advice to aspiring jazz vocalists, pursue your goal! Go for your dream. It doesn’t matter if you’re not black or white. What matters is that you can deliver and you deliver well! Sorry racists, it’s time for a shoutout!
I’m not sour-graping, i’m just saying. No more racism in jazz , after all, music is a universal language.

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (why i chose JAZZ)

Needs to be reblogged!

lornacifra

imageI couldn’t sleep, and wouldn’t sleep, when love came and told me I shouldn’t sleep…..But it is not love that’s keeping me awake at this snowy moment this part of my world. Yes it’s 2 degrees celsius outside and everything is covered with snow. I can not find my way into deep slumber because  I have been thinking. What is next after music? Music is my life and has been keeping me alive for the past 20 years. I even tell my musicians that nobody retires from singing. Until death do us part. On the bandstand, we drop dead. Us meaning me and my microphone. Times like this when I am alone, I ask myself, how  did I get in here? In this so-called music industry?

One thing I am sure of is that growing up was very musical for me. From my family, to school, to the church where…

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