Finding great jazz in Southeast Asia

A man walks into a bar on a Friday night.

And I don’t mean just any man, bar, or Friday night.

It’s Friday, September 5, 2008, and I’m going into Harry’s Bar on Boat Quay in Singapore to meet a former colleague for happy hour. It’s an after-work ritual I probably went through a hundred times in the eight years I lived on this island nation, roughly evenly split with visits to the aptly named Ice Cold Beer on Emerald Hill.

I settle onto a bar stool at a small table inside. I’m an “insider” today, forgoing the constant parade of people going by on the path outside for the air-conditioned smoke-free environment in the pub. My friend shows up almost immediately, and we order a pint of Kilkenny (me) and an Archipelago Samui (him) to start off the evening.

I glance around at the familiar surroundings a few times before it gradually dawns on me that there must be SOMETHING GOING ON. A few balloons scattered among the rafters, blue posters up on the walls, a standing sign kind of blocking the entrance way, and the waitress warning us that tonight we have to leave the bar by 8:00pm if we don’t have tickets to the jazz festival.


NOW it’s important that I take a closer look at the posters and signs…

THIS is what I’m talking about. Enlightened Planet was founded on the premise that it is too hard for musicians to fly all the way out from the States or Europe to do ONE gig in ONE city in Southeast Asia, and that it would be better for EVERYONE involved if we could make it possible to get multiple gigs organized… better for the artist, better for the promoter, better for the sponsors, and better for the AUDIENCE. So I make it my life’s work to stay in touch with the music scene, particularly the jazz scene, in Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Shanghai, Taipei, Seoul… you get the picture.

So why is it that I am walking into one of my FAVORITE bars in the world and being SURPRISED by a JAZZ EVENT?

Well, let me tell you, it was a great evening. Christy Smith, Eddie Layman and Nicholas Lim, three-quarters of Harry’s house band ChromaZone, were joined by 2007 Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch, tenor sax player Keith Loftis, and trombonist Vince Gardner. The “theme” for Harry’s “first international jazz festival” was a tribute to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, of which Brian is an alumnus, though of course they strayed from that for a few original tunes as well. Toward the end of the evening Mandy Gaines added her considerable vocal talents to just go right ahead and push things completely over the edge.

Wish I would have known about it sooner… maybe I could have caught Saturday or Sunday night, or the workshop they organized to go along with the shows. Or maybe we could have arranged something for the guys in Thailand as well.

But my hat’s off to Mohan Mulani, CEO of Harry’s Holdings, who not only made this event possible, but was right there in the thick of it. Thanks also to Andrew Koh, General Manager of Harry’s Bar Boat Quay, and of course to Christy Smith who was driving the bass all evening and who was, as I understand it, responsible for getting all these great musicians together.

Now let’s go make some more music…

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