"Appreciating Musical Talent" from Prosy DeLaCruz with Asian Journal Midweek Magazine

The appreciation for music is intimately related to our ability to learn the underlying music we like -- the equivalent to grammar in spoken or signed languages- and to be able to make predictions about what will come next. Composers imbue music with emotion by knowing what our expectations are and then very deliberately controlling when those expectations will be met, and when they wonÆt. The thrills, chills and tears we experience from music are the result of having our expectations artfully manipulated by a skilled composer and the musicians who interpret that music." - Daniel J. Levitin, 2007

WHEN Fil-Am Jazz Festival was born with Charmaine Clamor and her jazz colleagues, we were impressed, not just with her music, but with her choice of songs which made visible her cultural heritage and her identity. My Funny Brown Pinay, a take on My Funny Valentine became one of our favorites. She had a sultry, sexy style that we knew in time would put her in the mainstream.

In her second concert, she donned a blonde wig while singing this song, and took it off to illustrate her self-awakening that she is now a valuable brown Pinay -- with no need to bleach her skin nor aspire to be blond!

"Even today, in the 21st century, my beautiful little brown nieces wear heavy long-sleeved shirts under the broiling sun for fear that they might become even darker -- which they equate with "uglier." Visiting them recently reminded me of my childhood, when I was called a negrita and teased for my flat nose. I recall desperate (and fruitless) attempts at bleaching my skin with papaya soap. I tried pinching my nose every night, hoping I would awake the next day to find it nice and pointy. (Take a look at my face: It didnÆt work!). As a lifelong fan of American jazz standards -- and as a tribute to America, where, for the first time in my life I learned to appreciate my unique attributes-- IÆve rewritten the lyrics to the classic Rodgers & Hart tune, My Funny Valentine, while preserving its essential sentiments. IÆm trying to communicate to all my dear Pinay sisters a sincere appreciation of their Indio beauty. I say with the utmost pride, "Stay, donÆt change your hair" -- or anything else. Because you are Filipina, and you are beautiful, " Charmaine said.

4 years later, she launched CDs in the US: Flippin Out, Searching for the Soul, My Harana, through Freeham Records, and Jazzipino through VIVA records in the Philippines. By the way, Jazzipino was a coined term, a creative fusion of Philippine music with jazz tunes from Ted Benito, who sought new forms of bringing Filipino music into the mainstream. TedÆs original idea of fusing them enabled CharmaineÆs songs to be enjoyed by her many fans in the Philippines and her Pilipino songs to be recognized by American mainstream jazz enthusiasts. CharmaineÆs collaborations include Mon DavidÆs Coming True and a guest rendition with David Byrne/Fat SlimÆs Here Lies Love.

Her website says "With two consecutive albums in the JazzWeek World Music Top-10, including the rare feat of simultaneously making Top-5 on both the World (#2 ranking) and Traditional Jazz (#4) radio charts, Charmaine has earned unprecedented praise for introducing American audiences to Filipino languages, melodies, and instruments û and for sharing a once-in-a-generation, astonishingly expressive voice." When the USAmbassador to the Philippines, Harvey Thomas Jr. told Philippine Star that he is a fan of Charmaine Clamor, he had this to say: "My Brown Pinay is a tribute to Filipino women to love and embrace themselves."

But, her awards nor her success do not seem to taint CharmaineÆs inner loob. She is gracious and accessible to her fans. "Opo," she will say, a form of polite salutation to elders. We have always loved that about Charmaine, that fame has not altered her personality, she remains a kababayan na maganda ang loob! Charmaine is one of those artists whom we love not just for her songs, but for her serene and soulful personality.

Where did our love for music start? We were barely six years old when our piano teacher, Mrs D. rigorously taught us how to play white keys and black keys. While we dutifully knew the musical notes, we could not pick up the rhythm and Mrs D. would hit our hands in frustration. It jarred our spirits, making us decide -- no more piano lessons for us! Luckily, our mother, Asuncion Abarquez understood. Yet our soulÆ s yearnings remained alive.

Anyone who loves good music has the capacity to be stirred by it. As Daniel J. Levitin describes: "The thrills, chills and tears we experience from music are the result of having our expectations artfully manipulated by a skilled composer and the musicians who interpret that music."

We first experienced these tears and chills when saxophonist Michael Paulo played with his father Ray Paulo, My Heart and Soul at the FANHSconference in Hawaii in 2006. It was a four-minute rendition of soulful sax playing and all 70 participants at the workshop, shamelessly cried. To this day, MichaelÆs biggest hit record is My Heart and Soul, which he recorded in 1989. Michael headlines mainstream events such as the Temecula Wine Festival and Smooth Jazz Nights. Though he has been playing for mainstream crowds for over two decades now, Los Angeles would see him again when he headlines Jazzmopolitan: Filipino Men of Jazz, produced by Ted Benito on September 11, 2010 at the Ford Amphitheater. The last time Michael played for Filipino American LibraryÆs Jazzmopolitan, several community members erupted into dancing. It did not matter that there was no dancing floor, they simply stood up and spontaneously swayed their booties.

Scott Yanow narrated that Michael Paulo took up saxophone at age 15. "He developed quickly and before he left high school, he was playing gigs around Hawaii. After graduation, Paulo became a member of the Hawaiian pop/rock band Kalapana (1975-79), recording four albums with the group. àand Herbie Hancock during this period. Paulo was a busy studio musician in Hawaii when he moved to Los Angeles in 1981. He played with Ray Armando, with a local R&B band and in 1983 became a member of Al JarreauÆs touring band -- for a decade. He has worked with Patti Austin, David Benoit, Johnny Mathis and many others, concentrating on his solo career in recent years."

Just as we long aspire to become a musician, we continue to wish for a concert that bring these soulful, talented jazz artists: Charmaine Clamor and Michael Paulo, and who knows, perhaps the boss of USAmbassador Harvey Thomas, Jr., President Barack Obama, an avowed jazz fan might find the time to join them in Los Angeles! How about it, music producers out there, would you consider actualizing our dream?

by Prosy DeLaCruz, for Asian Journal Midweek Magazine, JULY 21, 2010