FAQ

You're known as the leading jazz singer of the Philippines, but you always mention how proud you are to be an American. What's your nationality?

I'm an American citizen who was born and raised in the Philippines. I didn't move to the United States until I was 16, so I grew up speaking Tagalog, singing karaoke, and eating lumpia. The Philippines is my native homeland; the USA is my home. That's why the cover of "Flippin' Out" features both flags. Even though I'm based in southern California, I still have strong family connections in Luzon Province, where I visit every year, and I still maintain a powerful connection to the music I heard as a child -- the kundiman and harana. And I still speak English with a Filipino accent!


Why is your new album called "Flippin' Out"?

It's a play on the word Filipino. Sometimes we Filipinos call ourselves "Flips" or "Flippers." Even though I've been singing traditional Filipino songs in concerts for years, this is the first time I've actually recorded any of them for an album. And I sing them in Tagalog, my native tongue. My previous recordings were all in English. I thought it was time to honor my heritage.


Is the whole album in Tagalog?

No. We have a "Filipino Suite" in the middle of the record, sandwiched between songs in English. On a couple of songs I sing in both languages.


What exactly is Jazzipino?

Jazzipino is the new musical genre that results from melding traditional Filipino folk songs and instruments with American jazz and blues. I'm trying to bring a sense of soul and swing to some of the most beautiful melodies and lyrics in the world, the songs of the Philippines.


Do non-Filipinos dig Jazzipino?

One of my most gratifying rewards as a performing artist has been the response from English-speakers. They seem to be deeply moved by the music of my homeland, and they tell me that even though they don't know what the words mean they still know what I'm trying to say. It's like listening to Brazilian bossa nova. Most of us don't speak Portuguese, but we still love that groovy sound.


Who are your musical influences?

Every sincere artist that has come before me. Even though I don't sound anything like them, fearless, committed singers who are willing to take risks, like Rhiannon, Mark Murphy, Kellye Gray, and Bobby McFerrin inspire me. I admire Kurt Elling and Tierney Sutton for their technical excellence, even though, again, I don't sing anything like them. Of course, the immortal masters, like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McCrea, Shirley Horn, Nancy Wilson -- they've all influenced me, as they have any singer with working ears.


Do you try to sound like any of your musical heroes?

For the sake of easy description, people sometimes compare my voice to certain well-known artists. When I was much younger, singing in karaoke joints, I was an imitator, trying to sound like Whitney Houston or Toni Braxton. But these days I'm trying my best to sound like me.


Some writers have referred to you as "the Asian Sarah Vaughan." How do you feel about that?

Humbled. I hear some similarities in the lower range of my voice. But singing remotely like Sarah is something you spend your whole life failing to do successfully.


Have you always been a singer?

My mom says I sang in my crib before I talked. When I was 3 or 4, I "entertained" passengers on the bus going to Manila -- whether they liked it or not! My childhood home, in Subic-Zambales, was always filled with music: Ella Fitzgerald, Mario Lanza, and the traditional kundiman of the Philippines.


Where did that deep, dark voice of yours come from? Are you 100% Filipino?

When my first record, "Searching for the Soul," came out, many of the jazz DJs who played it assumed that my voice was the product of a "mixed" marriage, that I had a Filipina mom and an African-American father. Let me set the record straight: I am one-hundred-percent Filipino, both my mom and dad. They're the ones who gave me the voice I have. My dad's really tall, and he has a pretty deep voice. My mom is more like an operatic soprano.


How did a nice Asian girl learn to sing the blues as raunchily as you?

The legendary Linda Hopkins lives nearby me in Los Angeles, and we're on the same record label. She's the sweetest, kindest, most loving woman in the world. But when she gets ready to belt it out, she becomes a very naughty 84-year-old. Linda Hopkins taught me that even nice girls can sing "dirty" every now and then.


Rumor has it that you were once Ms. Philippines, and before becoming a singer you worked a fashion model. True?

Not true! In fact, I have a master's degree in Physical Therapy, and before I jumped off the cliff into music, I worked full-time as a physical therapist in hospitals and clinics. I still have a passion for healing, and I still try to treat patients at least once a week. My dream is to be able to open a free clinic in my hometown in the Philippines.


Singing, physical therapy -- what else do you do?

I'm one of the founders of a nonprofit organization called JazzPhil-USA. We put on an annual Filipino-American Jazz Festival, and our goal is to promote Filipino and Filipino-American jazz artists to the "mainstream" community. I've tried to feature some of these talented Filipinos on "Flippin' Out." I'm also the longtime alto voice in the five-part vocal harmony ensemble CRESCENDO.


Do you compose your own songs?

I play piano, and I hope to soon be accomplished enough that I could accompany myself on one or two tunes at my concerts. Eventually, I would like to sing my original compositions. I enjoy collaborating with talented songwriters, and I hope on future albums to do more of my originals. My current record features lyrics I wrote, including new Tagalog lyrics to "Be My Love," and the notorious reworking of "My Funny Valentine," which came out as "My Funny Brown Pinay."


Do you have any advice for aspiring singers?

Keep your ears wide open. Listen, observe, and consider all the art you encounter. Study the masters. Study what others are doing in the here and now. And then find out what it is you have to add to the conversation. Be yourself!


What is "harana," and why have you recorded an entire album of these songs?

In the days of my ancestors, when a man fancied a woman, he would go to her house at night with a guitar and serenade her beneath her window, singing songs of romance and passion that sometimes bordered on desperation. If she liked what she heard, the windows would open and he would be invited in to meet the family -- and a couple was born. I love these classic harana songs. They're unashamedly sentimental, and gorgeous! By recording an album of harana, I'm hoping to revive this beautiful tradition of the Philippines, and to inspire women -- not just men -- to initiate the romantic connection.