Category Archives: Racism

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 ┬áto 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.