“Collaboration” was the catchphrase at the main show of the 2014 Tokyo-Manila Jazz and Arts Festival, held recently at the Rockwell Tent in Makati. The team-up of talented Japanese and Filipino musicians certainly didn’t disappoint, because it captured the very essence of jazz.
The event served as another creative bridge between two countries—transcending language, culture and history with the universal syntax of a love for music. It also aimed to foster this affection to as many people as possible, through workshops and a Young Artists Jam, both of which took place the next day.
The concert was hosted by actress Cherie Gil, whose somewhat dubious attachment to the event was overshadowed by her heartfelt enthusiasm, as well as her ties to the various performers. Why someone as effervescent as Gil was made to read from cue cards for her spiels remained a baffling choice; there was a clear disconnect between her natural hosting skills and the times she had to go back to the unstapled stack of papers on hand.
Opening the show was the event’s beneficiary, the Philippine Youth Symphonic Band (PYSB), which was also the night’s biggest surprise though smallest in stature. Amazing musicianship, in spite of the members’ relative youth, characterized its performance; a blindfolded enthusiast would have perceived it as a much older, more experienced big band.
Special mention went to the dedication of its maestro, Romy San José, who had accidentally fallen down the stairs and had to walk with crutches, yet managed to conduct his players though seated.
Topnotch vocal group The CompanY chose to sing a tribute to the Apo Hiking Society, as well as Tony Bennett’s “The Good Life.” The CompanY credited The Manhattan Transfer as among its musical inspirations, while expressing condolences on the passing of that group’s founder, Tim Hauser.
Local bossa nova singer Sitti came next, accompanied by veteran jazz pianist Henry Katindig. Her performance sounded like a weak link in the chain of artists, somewhat lacking authenticity even as she demonstrated verve in a scat number.
The Japanese contingent, introduced as the Modern Masters of Jazz, was composed of saxophonist Hitsatsugu Suzuki, pianist Yuki Arimasa, drummer Juasa Kanoh, and bassist Benisuke Sakai. The group played with virtuosity, the members’ individual skills and collective passion so palpable they could be felt in the vibrations on the floor.
The show’s highlight came when Japan-based Filipino chanteuse Charito Suyama took the stage. Her voice brimmed with an old-school talent that would have been at home in the smoky jazz lounges of a bygone era. Her infectious movements and overwhelming stage presence only contributed to the highs of her performances in Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” among others.
She was more than competently accompanied by the Japanese group.
Boy Katindig, playing with a bassist and a drummer, offered a change of pace with a short set of jazz fusion numbers.
The Asosasyon ng Musikong Pilipino (AMP) Big Band showcased the mastery of some of the country’s sought-after veteran session musicians.
Trumpeter Nestor Gonzaga played the flugelhorn on “Tribute”—originally composed for him by his cohort, trombonist Ronnie Marqueses. It was a somber piece that transitioned dramatically to a sensational swing—perhaps an appropriate musical metaphor for his suffering (from a recent heart attack) and glorious recovery.
Charito and the Japanese musicians then joined AMP for a special number.
The ensemble’s version of the jazz standard “How High the Moon” was the night’s most exhilarating performance, giving everyone a hell of a good time.
In the true spirit of collaboration, the Tokyo-Manila Jazz Fest was not about competing against each other or deferring to seniority, but about coming together and reaching for the stars—for the love of music.