All jazzed up!

Brochure and ticket
for the JB Jazz Fest 2015
From royalty to the most ardent of jazz fans from JB and Singapore, they were gathered under-one-roof in the Grand Ballroom of the DoubleTree by Hilton Johor Baru last night for the second show of the JB Jazz Fest 2015.  It was the night one of Japan’s greatest jazz musicians, Sadao Watanabe, was going to perform “live” here. 
The moment I step into the lift lobby, I overhear snippets of conversation which I can distinguish as the Japanese language.  It occurs to me that almost the whole Japanese community in JB may turn up to welcome, support and enjoy their own jazz legend who is in our city for his very first show here.  And I’m not wrong.

The ballroom foyer is flooded with clusters of people, many holding onto their precious tickets while others are talking animatedly, mostly in Japanese language.  I recognise some friends from the Japan Club of Johor and several ladies from the JB chapter of Ikebana International, with their families and friends. 

Then I hear my name called out and I turn to see Mihoko Yui making her way towards me in excitement.  We last met in the Japanese Consular office when I was doing a visa application for a travel assignment to Osaka.  She updated me with info that their consular office is now closed and gives me her card to tell me that she is now attached to the Johor Japanese School and also the executive secretary to the Japan Club of Johor. 

I commented to Mihoko that I guess almost the entire Japanese community in JB may be at the show and she nodded with a wide smile.  She did in fact, share the show info with club members and many have turned up.  Mihoko, married to a Malaysian and living in JB for the last 20 years, tells me that she reads my blog regularly and laughs politely as she asks me not to call her a “stalker!”

Event emcee, Allan Fernandez
The evening’s show started promptly as the emcee, Allan Fernandez, announced that the artistes explicitly requested the audience not to do any unofficial photography or video-taping.  He said if members of the media needed any shots, they are to approach the organizers.  So here I am, with my camera safely packed away.  But my eyes and ears are wide open while my pen is poised to jot down any thoughts for reference to write my feature. 

The Italian acapella group, Mezzotono Show, come on stage each holding a cordless microphone to perform with their versatile vocal talents.  Each of the five voices skillfully reproduces the sounds of various instruments to blend in beautiful harmony.  Their repertoire starts with a number of Italian songs and I happily groove along as I recognise a couple of classic pieces like, Hey Mambo and Quando Quando

As the audience gets warmed up, they readily respond to the artistes’ antics in a comical and interactive approach to draw them out to participate in the performance.  The classic, Smile, performed by David Gomes at the media preview last night so inspired Mezzotono that they decided to put their acapella twist to it for a rendition in their unique 5-part harmony. 

The five voice talents in Mezzotono Show
The lyrics of Smile, a classic written by Charlie Chaplin and made popular by Nat King Cole, reminded me to smile (though your heart is aching…) because at this point, I can feel my blood beginning to boil.  That’s because a couple who arrived late and did not hear the announcement about no photography or video taking – was pointing their mobile phone at the stage!  No prizes for the right guess about what they are doing!

I’m already peeved by two young couples seated in the row in front of me, who also have their phones out and are shifting about, taking selfies and we-fies, which adds to my annoyance about the kind of audience who just needs to be more considerate.  I guess some of the event crew also observed such recalcitrant behaviour and later positioned themselves at strategic points in the ballroom to check on any non-compliance.

Mezzotono ended their show neatly with the audience participating in a little ditty, Mahna Mahna, a tune that first appeared in a 1968 Italian film but was made popular by muppet characters in the Sesame Street series.  The audience is having fun with the melody and its nonsense syllables that resemble scat singing and eagerly participating by calling out, Mahna Mahna, on cue.  As the song draws to a close, the loud applause is proof of how Mezzotono Show has clearly won over the audience in JB!

Sadao Watanabe with his alto saxaphone

After a short break, the show continued with Sadao Watanabe and his band.  The audience warmly welcomed 82-year old Sadao with a sense of reverence as he is a much revered cultural personality in Japan.  He was also the first jazz musician to win his government’s Grand Prix Award in 1976, the first of many national and regional Japanese honours. 

Playing the alto saxophone with his top-notch band comprising the versatile Akira Onozuka on piano and keyboards, Takashi Yofu on electric guitar, Kiichiro Komobuchi on electric bass guitar, Masaharu Ishikawa on drums, N’diasse Niang on percussion with Steve Thornton as guest percussionist, they keep the audience bopping with fingers snapping and feet tapping.  For the next 80 minutes, the audience is enthralled by a non-stop show with many of Sadao’s own compositions that range from bop and swing to bossa nova and jazz-rock tunes. 

It’s a reunion of sorts for Sadao and Steve who first performed together in Malaysia back in 1989.  At that time Steve, who hails from Brooklyn, New York, did not even know where Malaysia was situated.  It’s very rare to see three percussionists performing together in one band but in this show, the audience thrilled to the treat of enjoying the combined talents of drummer Masaharu Ishikawa, Senegalese percussionist, N’diasse Niang, and Steve Thornton!

JSPA royal patron, Tunku Aminah [2nd from
Left] with JSPA founder, Yap Siong Cheng
[Far Right] and Suzie Yap [2nd from Right]
Sadao closed the show by introducing his band again and as each member takes a bow, the audience is on their feet and the applause simply thunderous.  With due respect to the presence of the JSPA royal patron, I hesitate to yell, “Encore” but a few others shouts something, probably in Japanese.  In response, Sadao and his pianist, Akira, stand together at the microphone to belt out a short Japanese tune that sounds like a traditional folk song.  This draws more applause and after the band leaves the stage, the audience slowly trickles out, deeply touched by the music and magic of Sadao Watanabe.

In the final show of the inaugural JB Jazz Fest on Feb 28, Steve Thornton and his band, Afro Asia, will be joined by local saxophonist, Razak Rahman.  Singapore musician, Jeremy Monteiro and Italian, Alberto Marsico with the Jazz-Blues Brothers and the Xiong Quartet will also perform.  For more info and tickets, please contact Tel: 6019 – 713 9900 or email:


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3/10/2015

    A wonderful jazzy piece,Peggy! Good to know you had a fab time! Cheers, Mark