This post is brought to you by fellow writers Carla Marie Rupp and Jason Rupp. Carla and Jason are freelance travel writers and music journalists.
“Always held at the end of January (the 25th -27th, in 2019), the Thailand International Jazz Conference not only attracts hundreds of Jazz-loving Thais, but also expats and out-of-town visitors seeking a pleasant, warm climate for a variety of high-quality world-class jazz. We are all Jazz Cats.” —”Long Live jazz in Thailand and blessings to the the memory of the late Jazz King and his inspiration!”
What is the Thailand International Jazz Conference?
You might easily think of Newport, New York City, or New Orleans when you think about great jazz festivals. Why not add Thailand — it’s the land of the revered late Jazz King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who met many of the greats and played the saxophone. He would even invite jazz musicians from around the world to come to jam with him, their whole trip to Thailand paid for. His spirit continues to inspire the best and top quality of jazz performances in this fabled, exotic region.
Who performs at the Jazz Conference?
Performing in Thailand has become a coveted and honoured gig for performers from the United States and other countries who are brought in each year to give indoor workshops, critique solo competitions and headline on the night-time big stage, to eager, appreciative audiences watching with excitement under the awesome open sky.
The love the people in the international jazz community feel for His Majesty the Late Jazz King of Thailand is particularly evident at one extra special premiere jazz festival. Those who bring this festival to life each year put their whole heart into it and do a superb job.
The perfect long weekend for jazz lovers—and that includes the performers—who are up for travelling abroad for a new cultural experience, is to attend the annual Thailand International Jazz Conference (TIJC). The lush green Salaya campus of beautiful Mahidol University in the College of Music, Bangkok, provides the setting for “learning” and “happiness,” both mission themes of TIJC. Always held at the end of January (the 25th -27th, this year), TIJC not only attracts hundreds of Jazz-loving Thais, but also expats and out-of-town visitors seeking a pleasant, warm climate for a variety of high-quality world-class jazz, in all configurations: big bands, combos, solos, small groups. A bonus is surely the yummy Thai food along with the beautiful sights and sounds. And we are all Jazz Cats together!
January 25-27 (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) are the dates this month when TIJC 2019 gets underway for the upcoming official program schedule, following the TIJC Jazz Camp, running Jan. 21-23, 2019.
The Alex Sipiagin Quintet headlines this year’s event on the final Sunday evening, the 27th. He is thrilled to be able to bring his quintet: the Russian-born trumpeter who lives in New York City had been eagerly getting ready for his first trip in 2019 as a leader. He calls the band a “stellar cast,” made up of Scott Colley, bassist; Ari Hoenig, on drums; guitarist David Gilmore, and pianist John Escreet. They all were chosen to teach at the Jazz Camp before the festival.
They go on the last night at 10 pm, the 27th after a full evening lineup starting at 6:30 pm with the Mahidol University Jazz Orchestra, Polycat, and the Jazz Energetic Particles. All About Jazz critic Andrew Luhn has said that Mr. Sipiagin “proves to be a powerful presence in today’s jazz scene, both as a prodigious player and a distinctive, innovative composer.” He further calls him “highly unique.”
A highlight also this year will be Mr. Sipiagin, a trumpet virtuoso, featured on a special program of Jazz with Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 26, from 4 to 6:30 pm in the spectacular Prince Mahidol Hall. Jazz faculty from Mahidol University will add to the jazz touch with TPO.
The Omer Avital Quintet will headline the Jan. 26, Saturday evening show after the acts of Silpakorn University Jazz Orchestra, Asia 7, featuring Rasmee, and Bangkok Swing X Dixieology. A bassist and composer, Mr. Avital is Israeli-born and Brooklyn-based. He left the Tel Aviv jazz scene for New York City in 1992.
His band includes saxophonists Asaf Yuria and Alexander Levin; Eden Ladin, piano; and Ofri Nehemya, drums. Each of the quintet will also do workshops for their instruments. Members will also critique a Solo Competition, a fun aspect of the conference. The Friday night headliners are the Abdon Alcaraz Trio with M.A. Orengo and Veronica Sobrinos, and the European jazz group, the Trionauts (Emmanuel Hauptmann, Tino Derado, Bjorn Werra).
DC Jazz Scene Described
Top musicians forming The DC Jazz Collective, from the Washington, D.C, area will perform and also enlighten their audience in a workshop talking about the jazz scenes in various cities in the United States, focusing on their own D.C. scene and the tenth celebration of being the house band for the popular “DC Jazz Jam.” The combo includes Lionel Lyles (saxophone); Will Stephens (jazz drums); Oren Levine (keys); Evan Samuels (guitar); and Percy White (bass). Their free performance is on the Oval Stage (running all three days with multiple acts), at 10:40 am Saturday. Their workshop is at 2:30 pm Sunday in the Auditorium.
The always excellent Mahidol University Jazz Big Band traditionally again opens the Thailand International Jazz Conference on the first morning, Friday at 9:30 am. They are followed by the Opening Ceremony with the official welcome and introductions. Then there is the fanfare and important announcement and awarding of the Lifetime Achievement Award. All of the past TIJC Hall of Fame winners are displayed outside of the auditorium where the master classes and workshops are held. This is quite a huge honor for a career Thai musician. Many honorees attribute their love of jazz to the inspiration of the late Jazz King.
The TIJC Lifetime Achievement Award for 2019 goes to to Wannayos (Todd) Mitranont, a renowned Thai drummer. He joins the distinguished Thai musicians recognized for their diverse achievements. He grew up in a family of musicians in Thailand. Mr. Mitranont is known for his work in “Infinity” and jazz fusion. He has performed in all styles of bands and as a freelance drummer, with many accomplishments. Starting to perform professionally age age 14, he tells the story how he eventually played in a pub in Ubon Ratchathani with a band in the style of “The Shadows” or “The Drifters.” He met up with some United States G.I. drummer who exchanged information with him on the drum rudiments. Apparently, the G.I. played the snare drum in a marching band.
Young Mr. Mitranont greatly improved his technique, eventually being hired to play at the U.S. military base camp in those days of the Vietnam War when the Americans had bases in Thailand. Later, he learned jazz from different American soldiers who directed him to listen to Joe Morello, the drummer of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. He loved that style so much, being excited over the new rhythms in 9/8, 5/4, 6/4, etc. After the U.S. troop withdrawal, he played for a time in Taiwan with “The Reason” band. Returning to Thailand, he resumed drumming and co-founded the “Bangkok Connection” band. Presently, he is a member of “Tewan Novel Jazz,” led by Tewan-Metawat Sapsanyakorn, which has toured the United States, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Quite a story this drummer has to tell.
The workshops have some interesting programs. For example, Dr. Kom Wongsawat, a noted drummer and accomplished jazz pianist who studied at New York University and Miami University, plans to talk about cognitive science and music in a “provocative discussion on what happens in our brains when we improvise. Where in the brain is creativity?” He co-leads this at 1:30 pm Sunday, the 27th, with Mr. Nop Ponchamni and Professor Vasunun Chumchua, who is a Professor of Neuroscience at Mahidol University. Her views should be interesting, as she takes a different kind of stance on how biomedical chemistry in neuroscience should promote creative cognition and aesthetic life. She is a developer of neuromusic, and enjoyed working with Dr. Wongsawat on this project.
Dr. Wongsawat has been on the year-long TIJC organizing effort, along with other distinguished Mahidol jazz faculty, including Krit Buranavittayawut, alto saxophonist; Darin Pantoomkomol, pianist; and Noppadol Tirataradol, double bass. These four have their own group, Pomelo Town, and last year this reporter witnessed a highlight of guest artist American jazz guitarist Randy Johnston performing with them—this was definitely a hit. Each of the four faculty members love TIJC so much and wear “so many hats,” such as translating, performing, assisting, announcing, photography, etc.
Carefully Planned Program
The TIJC programming is so carefully planned, with innovation and variety in mind. Mr. Abdon Alcaraz, an international jazz pianist who studied in Spain and has performed in Cuba, Lithuania, Mexico, and Palestine to success, explores flamenco styles in jazz in a fascinating Saturday workshop on the 26th from 10 to 12 noon. After that, the Trionauts hold its master class at 1 pm in the auditorium. Jazz trombone will be presented in a workshop by Jeremy Price, Head of Jazz at the Birmingham Conservatoire and member of the London Jazz Orchestra, at 10 am Sunday.
A noted eclectic group, Govinda Bhasya will present sitar sounds of an Indian style of jazz on the Oval Stage at 6 pm Sunday. Patcharapong Band is another group to check out; they have played to audiences in Java and Macau to acclaim. Pey Saxophones is also another great group. The Backpacker Quartet will play compositions inspired by a story about cosmology and science fiction.
Look also for Midnight Children (guitarist, bassist, drummer), made of previous TIJC competition winners. Chanteuse Namie Rasman, from Singapore, will perform lovely familiar jazz standards for the first time in Thailand in a duo with Japanese pianist Aya Sekine. Other groups to look for are the Shai Golan Band, JRP Little Big Band, the Rangsit University Jazz Orchestra, the Royal Thai Navy Orchestra, the Thaksin University Jazz Big Band, and the local Salaya Tiny Young Chorus.
TIJC19 begins the second 10 years for the cross-cultural, multi-faceted event. If the first 10 years enthusiastically celebrated last year are an indication, the extraordinary Thailand event will keep growing, yet retain its friendly, top-notch, intimate feeling and joyful atmosphere attended by jazz students of all ages. The number of jazz groups has greatly increased over the years. “It has been very inspiring being here,” one expat jazz afficionado Henry Cate told me last year. It’s so easy to socialise with other like-minded attendees at any of the magnificent stages. High quality artists who have played TIJC in the past have included Benny Green, Peter Bernstein, Donald Harrison and Eddie Gomez.
Here at TIJC you witness unparalleled dedication to jazz; TIJC is highly recommended for performers or audience participants. It’s an exciting, enjoyable mini-jazz learning vacation in a tropical climate with thrilling, world-acclaimed artists on indoor and outdoor stages from morning to night. Professional international jazz artists and audience members enjoy eating at the Music Square on the campus, with its delicious Thai and healthy cuisine.
I even found plenty of vegan options. It is easy for jazz enthusiasts to have a chat and say hello to the visiting musical artists. One great thing about TIJC is that it provides a wonderful ambiance and atmosphere for attendees and musicians alike, a total immersion in learning, beautiful scenery and great music. Friendships are formed at TIJC. New jazz concepts are learned.
Not only food is available at dozens of on-site places, but also recordings, instruments, strings, music, souvenirs and more. Everything lends to a relaxing and learning atmosphere. It all is well-planned and organised. Even transportation is easily available from Bangkok’s Victory Monument to Salaya and the campus, with its shuttle buses. Transportation is also planned each evening with special conference buses for very little money (30 Baht equals approximately a dollar). I have had so much fun at the three-day festival over the years—and decided to share my experience from attending many of the last 10 years.
My learning about jazz and appreciation of it came to a new level with the high standard of performances, workshops and really fun atmosphere, and not to leave out, enjoying eating the variety of super delicious Thai food at the Music Square restaurant. Its great service also added to eating there so enjoyable. It was also lucky and convenient that I was able to find lodging at the site of TIJC in a room impressively made of wood and typically Thai. We were all Jazz Cats here at last year’s 10th anniversary celebration, an important milestone.
So if you go this year or another year, you’ll be a jazz cat, too. It’s the best time to go in late January when it’s cold back home in New York City or elsewhere, and the atmosphere is exhilarating at all the stages inside and outside in the amazing setting. The art and music departments work together. All of the College of Music students are volunteers. Smiles really are everywhere
You can’t beat the hospitality and warm feeling. There really are smiles everywhere. It’s true. Happiness is pervasive during the music of big bands, combos, trios, quintets, you name it, or during breaks where you can wander among a huge selection of food in a food truck atmosphere or purchase unique souvenirs from Thai sellers. Also, during nightly breaks, the humorous, talented presenters make a game out of giving out free gifts of items such as jazz books, items of clothing or CDs and the like.
Cut-outs of black cats hang from the trees here on the beautiful campus of Mahidol University, Salaya, for TIJC. You can get your picture taken with your face inside full-size cat cut-outs. Most everyone wears tee-shirts with cats on them. It’s all delightful. Art and music and culture find a perfect meeting here. Plus, this is a festival that you can actually meet up with the performers who come from all around the world, even some from your own backyard as I met some from New York City.
Even though I flew in from New York City for TIJC 2018 and the rest of my three-week holiday, I had never met some of the American jazz artists before. On the final crowd-packed night under the awesome Southeast Asian sky, I stood in line with the other excited audience members to meet performers, as I did other evenings. You can also meet them in the restaurant or after their workshops.
Other performers last year who headlined included the Will Vinson Quintet, the Claudio Flippini Trio and the Alfredo Rodriguez Trio. It was fun during the daytime program watching them be judges for the Solo Competitions. The visiting artists from the United States will do that again this year. It’s an advantage to listen to the material in the master classes and see it demonstrated in the performances.
It’s so much more than a jazz festival here in Thailand and includes extra components, master-classes, workshops, daytime concerts and nightly programs of multiple groups. Thai jazz students listen attentively and hang on every note of the artists, their eyes and ears attuned to each musical phrase.
All in all, it’s a friendly, relaxing atmosphere in a beautiful, lush setting. Hotels are convenient. Van transportation is available to and from Victory Monument in the city. Jazz students all are volunteers to make this successful each year. It’s easy to meet the professionals who come. The Thais line up to buy their CDs and get autographs. Everyone loves eating Thai cuisine in the Music Square restaurant and in the many outdoor stalls. Everyone is listening and thinking jazz. Jazz is so appreciated here in Thailand.
High Level of Respect
“It’s great to see the music of jazz celebrated in this part of the world and the high level of respect and curiosity that everyone should have for it. It’s just beautiful the way people are accepting it,” Robert Hurst, a jazz bassist and professor from the University of Michigan, told this reporter.
“I’m very excited I had the chance to be on the program. It was such a pleasure. I highly recommend it,” said pianist Peter Martin, one of the past invited performers from the United States.
Each year a new lineup of professional artists are chosen for this festival. It’s a win-win for artists, jazz students and the Bangkok audiences at TIJC. Many of the artists always comment what a wonderful feeling it is to see such enthusiasm for jazz and how the audience members hang onto every note and pay such close attention to the music. It’s so refreshing, they say. That’s why Thailand is a much-loved gig, and performers never forget having played at TIJC.
Last year one of the most beloved pieces on the festival was when the Mahidol Wind Orchestra presented its program, Fifty Shades of Blue. The lovely song was entitled “Blue Day,” written by H. M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (1927-2016), arranged by Boonrut Sirirattanapan. “The Man We Love,” composed by Mahidol University piano professor Darin Pantoomkomol, was an exquisite homage piece performed last year by the Pomelo Town group and its guest artist guitarist Randy Johnston. The love for the beloved Late Jazz King is so deep. The beauty of the love comes across in the whole Thailand International Jazz Festival. No doubt, there will be more homages and tributes again this year for the late Jazz King.
Long Live jazz in Thailand and blessings to the memory of the late Jazz King and his inspiration!
For more information, see music.mahidol.ac.th/tijc or write to [email protected], [email protected] or call 02-800-2530, ext. 3109. Concert tickets are also available at the venues. Outdoor afternoon concerts on the Oval stage are free. There is a minimal charge for the daily master classes and workshops, Baht 500 (or around 15USD) A three-day pass is available, for around 100USD, or Baht 3,000, which includes everything. There is a fairly reasonable charge for a one night ticket the evening activities, Baht 800, which is around 26USD. Students are 20% discount.