"From One Generation to Another, Filipino Jazz Torch is Passed" from Dennis Clemente with Philippines Inquirer LifeStyle

NEW YORKùIN THE incredible Filipino-American Jazz concert at the Triad on Dec. 11, one talented Filipino jazz artist after another strode onstage saying it was the first time the group held its jazz festival in the city.

Without explaining their long nonappearance on the New York jazz scene, the audienceÆs curiosity was piqued, especially since the parade of performers showcased that night (on some festivals, there are other or more performers) had every right to be on that stage. The festival has had a successful five-year run in Los Angeles, two years in San Francisco.

The challenge before, said Michael Konik, owner of FreeHam Records, was logistics. Konik, also the North American manager of Filipino jazz sensation Charmaine Clamor, did not elaborate. However, he made it very clear that ClamorÆs recent success on the New York jazz scene is one of the reasons the festival was now in the Big Apple, finally.

New York got a rare treat, because Filipino artists are consummate entertainers, and the show, despite the lineup of performers, remained tight and organized. Even one artist who flew in just for the jazzfest, ManilaÆs Sandra Viray, eased herself into the Filipino band smoothly.

Viray confessed it was her first trip to the United States (the rest of the artists were from the US), and it showed in her choice of songs, ôI Left My Heart in San Franciscoö fused with ôNew York, New York.ö But as the opening vocalist, Viray acquitted herself well by grooving to ôCheek to Cheekö in a light Latin beat, which warmed up the audience.

New York embraces originality and distinct styles, which she brought to ôThatÆs All,ö but the fast, ill-advised arrangement slightly hampered her interpretation.

Viray was at a disadvantage to begin with, coming from an 18-hour flight, a huge time difference, and probably less time for rehearsals. However, she does have lung power, something she can put to good use in adapting her own style, even Filipino style, in American jazz standards when she performs here again.

Legendary singer

Despite her emphysema, Annie Brazil looked radiant and cheerful. She told the audience of her near brush with the illness that she blamed to ôcigarettes.ö She assured us she was okay now.

In accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award (yes, it even had that part in the show), she giggled and proudly pointed out its unique value: ôI am receiving this in New York!ö

She then perched herself on a high stool, crooning to standards such as ôSatin Doll, ôNearness of Youö and later, with surprise guest jazz vocalist, son Richard Merk, on ôIt Had to Be You.ö

The mother-son duet provided the theme of the night: generations of jazz artists sharing a common passion for jazz and showing respect to the ones who came before them. The audience knew they were not just watching a jazz concert, they were also watching a reunion.

After the show, Merk would be overheard telling some of the audience he wished the show lasted longer. The two-hour show was simply not enough to showcase the great Pinoy talents there.

Even the stunning Rachel Anne Wolfe, BrazilÆs daughter and also a singer in her own right, could have joined the rousing finale with her mother and brother.

ôNext time,ö she said demurely.

New crossroads

Clearly, the festival points to a new crossroadsùits own intersection between old and new Pinoy talents; the old leaving behind a challenge for the newcomers to keep Filipino jazz alive.

There is no doubt the different generations of Filipino jazz luminaries at the Triad are determined to do just that, especially Mon David and Clamor, the current darling of the jazz world here. The two would take care of jazzing up American jazz standards with a distinctly Filipino wit and sensibility for the entire evening.

The multitalented David, champion of the 2006 London International Jazz Vocal competition, emerged onstage with the flair of a seasoned performer, opening his act with a breathless minute-long scat before launching into ôFootprintsö in a cappella.

One could hear a pin drop while listening to the baritoneÆs mesmerizing interpretation. David is like a musical instrument. Would it be fair to say he scats the way Manny Pacquiao punches, with precise high and low hooks that hit the mark? Thus, he got minor musical accompaniment here, as well as in his other songs ôSome Other Timeö and ôNo More Blues.ö

For someone who hears David for the first time, one may be prompted to ask: ôWhere did he come from, and why is he getting attention only now?ö

David has had several incarnations in the Philippines after graduating with a Classical Voice degree. He was the drummer and vocal coach of the legendary folk-pop trio Apo Hiking Society for seven years, before he embarked on a singing career, first with Fourplay, a jazz group much like Manhattan Transfer, and then as a solo artist.

He moved to the States two years ago and just released his well-received first US music album, ôComing True.ö

New generation

Clamor, the most anticipated performer of the night, strutted onstage with the fanfare accorded a hometown girl. Although based in Los Angeles, she has performed in New York, most notably at Iridium, a top jazz haunt that was second home to the late original guitar hero Les Paul. And unlike her other singing compatriots, Clamor started her career in the States.

Clamor represents a new generation of the Pinoy jazz artist. She marries both new and old Filipino song traditions and musical instruments with her own expressive style, which she inflects with some mild social commentary to keep things interesting and on edge. She exudes great showmanship. Her exposure to the ôVagina Monologuesö Filipino adaptation in August 2008 has certainly been put to good use.

The showmanship shines through. As a jazz vocalist, she can swagger one minute and be sublime the next. A favorite in her sets was her interpolation of ôMy Funny Valentine.ö In Filipino, she changed the lyrics and sang it as ôMy Funny Brown Pinayö with patriotic gusto. The song is in her most recent album ôFlippinÆ Out.ö

Switching mood, she gave a soulful interpretation of ôDahil Sa ÆYoö (ôBecause of Youö) that even the non-Filipino audience, not understanding the lyrics, was moved.

Clamor is strongly attached to her Filipino musical roots, even if she has been in the US since she was 16. This conviction was evident in her tribute to kundiman, a traditional serenade that became an art form in late 19th-century Philippines. She pays tribute to this Filipino art form in her album ôMy Haranaö (My Serenade).

Founding member

Clamor might as well be the Kuh Ledesma of her generation in the manner she chooses material, honors musical traditions and supports other artists. As one of the founding members of the Fil-Am Jazz Festival, Clamor is serious about her support of other Filipino jazz artists whom she thinks deserve just as much fame and recognition.

Her success in the jazz world has also opened other opportunities for her outside of it. She has one song, ôWalk Like a Woman,ö in the album ôHere Lies Loveö of former Talking Heads front man David Byrne. This album will have other artists such as Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos, Natalie Merchant and Martha Wainwright, to name a few, performing songs that fit the interesting life ofùsurprise!ùImelda Marcos, former First Lady of the Philippines. It is almost unbelievable, but the album already has a release date worldwide: Feb. 23.

Clamor also has a solo show on Jan. 10 at Iridium. The day before, the Fil-Am Jazz Fest would have another performance in Montclair, New Jersey. In February, she will be performing in the Philippines.

by Dennis Clemente, for Philippines Inquirer LifeStyle, DECEMBER 20, 2009