A great jazz artist stirs and grips the audience’s emotions

Evelyn Hii hails from sarawak and classically trained in the US. She is the proprietor of No Black Tie. It's stage has seen the Malaysia's top singers ans musicians and the region's best, not including an impressive lineup of international acts over the years and most importantly, The watering hole of choices for KL's intellectual, cultural, social and corporate elite. She speaks to Abhijit Ganguly about the jazz scene in South East Asia, during the official launch of Rooh Music's website.

What’s your opinion on the jazz scene in South East Asia? What’s it like to make a living as a musician there?

The jazz scene is South East Asia is definitely thriving judging by the number of jazz festivals that are being held in the region. Hopefully the jazz festivals can spark more ongoing interest in its appreciation from the community, as well as inspire aspiring jazz musicians in the region to take their art further. We also need the media to play their role – a jazz radio station or more dedicated to playing a solid jazz programme, from the great recordings of the past to the country’s budding jazz artists, as well as South East Asian jazz pioneers. Only then can we start to define what South East Asian jazz is there’s European Jazz, Scandinavian or Nordic Jazz, what about South East Asian Jazz? A festival in the region that showcases uniquely South East Asian jazz  artists?
I think that our jazz artists ought to approach their  art  with  more  attitudes, and a sense of adventure. Dig deep. We have such a rich ethnic musical heritage, our jazz artists should find inspiration from that and put some of their spice into jazz – to reflect the pulse and heartbeat of their urban environment. Listen and study the great masters, then start to deconstruct, reconstruct, improvise and create, be original, write original material, be brave, be free! Hopefully, our audience will then become more interested in what the jazz artists are saying, not just playing standards.
Making a living as a jazz artist in South East Asia is not hard, because the perception is that jazz attracts a well- heeled crowd, so there are always gigs available. The number of foreign jazz artists that have adopted Asia as their second home is also testimony to this.

However, for our jazz musicians to command a level of appreciation from the community, not as mere entertainers but as artists, we would need more dedicated performance venues for jazz, proper jazz clubs where it’s a conducive environment for playing and listening to jazz live, the rawness of jazz being played right there and then, the creativity, the spontaneity, fire and a sense of abandonment.
Music is above all a celebration of life, despite all that’s happening in the world today, there are still amongst us a brave new generation who are committed to a lifelong pursuit of a musical art that is jazz! Every city in South East Asia should have more than a few good jazz clubs!

What do you feel are the most important things for an aspiring jazz musician to spend their time practicing?

Practice the language of jazz, the scales, the modes, the harmonies, the chord progressions, the rhythms, practice and breathe the language until it becomes second nature. Be adventurous. Be curious. Be original. Learn a second instrument. Add to the imagination the tone colour of another instrument.

From your viewpoint what separates a good jazz musician from a great jazz musician?

A good jazz musician plays safe, every note is in the right place, very polished, thoughtful. A great jazz artist stirs and grips the audience’s emotions, is extremely spontaneous and free, and often encouraging and generous toward younger jazz artists.

Do you think that platforms like YouTube and MySpace are necessary for putting new bands’ music out there?

We are living in an age where platforms like YouTube and MySpace are necessary tools for any musicians to expose their brand of music- however, care should be taken to ensure that the videos are of high audio and visual quality before they are posted. Music is first and foremost an audio experience.

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