Tonyboy Cojuangco takes to the guitar–and even gets gigs for it
Baby boomers are defying convention and their age as they indulge the passions of their youth.
Upon “retirement,” billionaire art patron Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco picked up his guitar again. When former government official and classically-trained pianist Lenny de Jesus left Malacañang, she learned to play the flute and the rhythm guitar. Cojuangco and De Jesus are the new members of the Glass Onion band.
This is Cojuangco’s latest support for the arts, aside from his patronage of Cinemalaya, Ballet Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino, Manila Symphony Orchestra, Arts in the City, the guitar and jazz festivals, and others.
Pushing 61, Cojuangco plays the rhythm guitar and gets gigs for them. He recalls that he used to play the guitar in the Ateneo high school band. He admits he wasn’t diligent enough as a student. “When I was a kid, I practiced only when the teacher was there.”
In the past two years, he has been taking up classical guitar lessons and note reading under Armando Derecho. “I’d rather play contemporary music. I play songs that I like from the ’70s and ’80s. I learned to read notes last year,” he says.
Note reading can be either tedious or intimidating. But to sustain his pleasure, Cojuangco sticks to his favorite music such as songs by Chicago. “I’d like to play Latin songs, but I don’t have time. We still have to come up with a repertoire.”
Cojuangco says that as the pieces get technically difficult for him, he lets the Glass Onion shine. “The progressions of some notes are too quick. Sila na lang ang patugtugin mo. Listen to them. They’re very good. I tell Lenny we shouldn’t interfere with their capabilities,” he says.
Likewise, despite encouragement from friends about holding a guitar recital, the intensely private and elusive Cojuangco demurs. “It’s too nerve-wracking,” he explains.
Still, Cojuangco enjoys having a creative outlet when he’s not playing art patron. “When we were young, we didn’t perform for an audience. In parties, the lights were turned off. Nobody sees you. Here, the spotlight is on you. The band consists of professionals. You have to be in unison with them.”
Friends say Cojuangco has the technique and the instincts. “When he’s playing, he can figure out the complicated chord patterns. That’s because he has learned to count the scales,” says De Jesus. “He reads scores very well and he’s got an ear for music.”
Impressive track record
De Jesus has been playing classical piano since childhood, until she joined government. Her track record is impressive. She joined government in 1976 as division head for labor relations at the Institute of Labor and Manpower Studies under Blas Ople. Under Frank Drilon, she held top posts in the Departments of Justice and Labor.
During the Cory Aquino administration, she worked as undersecretary for policy and programs. She also became undersecretary for local government under Cesar Sarino. During the Ramos and Estrada administrations, she headed the Presidential Management Staff. She also served as director of the Development Bank of the Philippines.
During Arroyo’s term, De Jesus quit the government. “I was tired. I hibernated. I went to get a life and play the piano,” she says.
Still, De Jesus keeps a day job as consultant, and is board director of BDO Leasing and Finance Corp. and SM Development Corp.
One day, broadcaster Angelo Castro invited De Jesus to play the keyboard for his fraternity band, which subsequently formed the group Walking Shadows. Then, she tried the rhythm guitar when drummer Lito Toribio invited her to revive the Electromaniacs, a popular ’60s band which played original compositions.
When the group introduced vocals, De Jesus returned to the keyboard. The repertoire included songs by Billy Joel and Elton John sung by Boy Camara, a famous singer in the ’70s, and Dondi Ong, now the only Filipino cast member in the touring production of “The Phantom of the Opera” currently running at CCP. Through this band, De Jesus met Cojuangco, who played the rhythm guitar.
Foreign trips disrupted the playing of De Jesus and Cojuangco. Upon returning from America, she joined the Glass Onion, whose name was derived from one of the Beatles’ lesser-known songs. The band is backed up Matt Monro Jr. and John Ford Coley.
It is composed of Boy Mendez, lead male vocalist and percussion; Roy Marinduque, lead guitar; Rolly Roldan, bassist; Butch Sabater, keyboard; and Benjie Santos, drums.
Baby boomer music
It was Cojuangco’s idea to have a female vocalist to widen the repertoire. The newest addition, Cathy Melendrez, is the daughter of tenor Jimmy Melendrez.
The repertoire consists of music the baby boomer group grew up with—the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Eagles, Chicago, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates, Basia and Sergio Mendes.
“I’ve never had so much fun as I am having now,” says De Jesus, a woman of a certain allure or, as she puts it, “a privilege cardholder.”
“I don’t look forward to performing for others. I just like to play music. Whether it’s practice or performance, the feeling is the same—pure joy,” she says.
A former official once asked her if she was embarrassed about leaving a prestigious job in the Cabinet and becoming a member of a band. She said, “If I had the talent as those of the band members, I would have been one all my life.”
The Glass Onion will perform at Strumm’s every Monday starting Sept. 24 and at Lolo Dad’s at 6750 Ayala on Sept. 29.