Singapore has a lot of talented jazz musicians

Singapore has a lot of talented jazz musicians
Melissa Tham says there are a lot of talented jazz musicians here - they just need more platforms to showcase their music.
All they need, says singer Melissa Tham, are more platforms for performances so they can showcase their music
Published: 4:11 AM, March 2, 2015
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SINGAPORE – Late last year, organisers of the Singapore International Jazz Festival (SingJazz) said they hoped this festival would build “an ecosystem for jazz music and jazz-inspired music in Singapore”. To that end, SingJazz put together a diverse list of artistes for the festival, which begins on Thursday.

What’s interesting is that while the international performers – Jessie J, Bobby McFerrin, Yuna, Chaka Khan et al - make up the bulk of artistes on the main stage (only Charlie Lim, Jeremy Monteiro and The Steve McQueens are flying the Republic’s flag there), the reverse is true on the secondary Singha Stage, with overwhelmingly more jazz musicians from Singapore than their international counterparts. These include Qilin, TAJ, the Singapore Latin Explosion, the Felix Phang Project, Fungkimunkees, The Christy Smith Quartet, Melissa Tham and Wei Xiang, among many others - all of them class acts with a wealth of experience.

“There are more people playing jazz than ever before,” said jazz pianist Wei Xiang. “The diversity of music has increased tremendously. There are a lot people actively composing their own music, as opposed to before, when (the scene) was filled with meat-and-potatoes type of cover bands.”

For Tham, a jazz singer who has been performing in Singapore and overseas for a decade, it’s not just about the number of musicians, but also the number of platforms for these artistes. “There are a lot of musicians here, but they don’t get enough exposure. There aren’t that many jazz venues here so people don’t know about them,” she explained.

“It’s a good thing that there are festivals such as SingJazz – and the jazz academy - which can highlight jazz talent in Singapore,” she added. “Because even though schools have music programmes; they teach mostly music that’s popular, like what’s on the radio - and the students are not so exposed to other forms of music.”

Tham, who teaches music, got into jazz when she was a student doing a course in classical music. “I was turned on to jazz music by a school mate and I found that I really liked it. Then I was offered a chance to stand-in as a singer, and it all began from there,” she said, adding that she would like to see more people give jazz a chance.

However, the path of music never does run smooth. Firstly, there’s the inevitable parental objection. “My dad was quite encouraging, like, ‘She’s still young, she can always change her mind,’ but my mother was the typical Singapore mum, you know, must a lawyer and all that,” Tham recalled. “But these days, she is the one telling all her friends, ‘my daughter is performing at this place’, and my dad is the one that goes, ‘why does your show end so late?’”

You also have to perform at places you sometime would rather not. Tham recalled how, early on, she was almost reduced to tears by hecklers. “It was at a club that usually plays Top 40, but they had a jazz night,” she explained. “There was a guy there who wasn’t happy because I didn’t sing Aaliyah!

“There really is a lot of hard work that goes into (having a music career),” she added. “Young people watch those TV shows and they think that if they just take part in contests they can get results instantly. It doesn’t work like that. You have to do a lot of work.

“Sometimes, you have to take these cari makan gigs, because that pays the bills. It’s Singapore, right? And we still have to eat. But doing those gigs are just a means for you do the gigs that you really want to do.”

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