Contributed By Daniel Chew
| CN PHOTO: Michael Chan|
One of the greatest artistes Singapore has produced, Jeremy Monteiro, has performed with the likes of James Moody, Michael Brecker, Lee Ritenour, Herbie Mann, Ernie Watts, Charlie Haden and Simon & Garfunkel, just to name a few. He has indeed come a long way ever since starting his first band at age 16 and performing “illegally” at clubs.
Playing at the INK Club Bar at Fairmont Singapore over the weekend of July 17 and 18 to coincide with his 50th birthday, Monteiro treated jazz aficionados to the brand of music that has cemented his status as Singapore’s jazz king. He performed 50 of his original compositions over two nights accompanied by fellow jazz artists Tama Goh (drums), Brian Benson (bass), Andrew Lim (guitar), and also Shawn Letts (sax), Daniel Wong (trumpet) and Leo Jeoh (trombone).
Bob James, who wrote the theme for the 80s television series Taxi, can be heard as an influence in one of Monteiro’s pieces, “Brothers.” The soothing melodic lines were a throwback to the early era of Madonna, Guns N’ Roses and Depeche Mode.
Other pieces showed extreme complexity in arrangement, especially “The Boogaloo Dance,” which Monteiro only performs when Ernie Watts is around.
This time, he managed to lead the entire band through it even though there were a couple of tiny bumps. In jazz, there is nothing more perfect than when one is improvising and making a few kinks here and there. The Boogaloo is a genre of Latin music and dance that was popular in the United States in the 1960s. Boogaloo originated in New York City among teenage Cubans, Puerto Ricans and other groups. The style was a fusion of popular African American R&B soul with mambo and son montuno.
Other pieces included “Orchard Road,” which was a groovy samba-dancy tune composed in 1990, and a familiar one for Singaporeans—a jazzed-up rendition of “One People, One Nation, One Singapore,” composed by Monteiro to commemorate the nation’s Silver Jubilee—25 years of independence. Another piece was “Count On Me Singapore,” which Singaporeans will fondly remember singing with gusto during National Day parades.
What does a great artist like him think about? Someone once said, “An amateur plays with his body, a musician with his body and soul, an artist with his body, soul and mind.” There is no doubt of which Monteiro is. City News met the man himself over champagne and pizza.
How was it like when you first started out?
Jeremy Monteiro: Well, live music was banned in the 1970s, and we all felt like we were pioneers of something new, something exciting after the ban was lifted. There were times when we felt burnt out and tired but we have always come back to the right track, which is jazz music.
What projects are you busy with currently?
JM: I’m preparing for a fundraiser concert on July 30 for the Community Chest at the Ritz Carlton, where the President will attend as the guest of honor. We are targeting to raise S$1 million. On July 31, I will be holding a concert with Ernie Watts [on the saxaphone] and Hong [playing the drums]. A week later, I will be performing with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra on a new concerto written for me by Dr. Kelly Tang. I have never been busier in my life. Now, I work 16-hour days with very little rest.
You also have a new CD coming out?
JM: Yes, I have wanted to do this for a long time for my own compositions. It’s called Compositions Volume One. Every year I try to release one CD. This one is coming out next week.
Who do you think are some of the more prominent up-and-coming musicians on the scene?
JM: You know, many people think that prominence is an indicator of how good you are. The fact of the matter is that some of the best musicians are unknown because they don’t wish to communicate at all to the people. So, some of the great musicians are quite unknown.
Under-rated you mean?
JM: Well that’s just the point! They don’t even care about the ratings. For me I have become quite well-known here but I have always thought that my celebrity status is a by-product, nothing else. So I don’t take it seriously. I am thankful for the recognition but that’s not why I did this for, I did this to make beautiful music, period.
So that’s what you’d advise younger musicians?
JM: Just make the best music you can. Of course, learn to be savvy, communicate to people about what you do and your gig … it is all very important, but never allow the myth about you in the public and the press to be too far out of step with what you are doing. The myth and the substance has got to be respectably close and not so far away that there’s this legend and then when you see the person, you think, “What’s this hype about?”
The Man And His Achievements
Jeremy Monteiro was a recipient of the Cultural Medallion in 2002. On the international front, he was accepted as a Fellow of the London College of Music in 2007 and also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures & Commerce in the UK. Current Fellows include Nelson Mandela and Stephen Hawking. Past Fellows include Benjamin Franklin and Charles Dickens.
Monteiro is also an active mentor to younger musicians. He was appointed a Board Member of the National Arts Council in 2006. He was also appointed Professor & Visiting Chair of Jazz, School of Music, Faculty of Performing Arts & Integrated Studies, LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts on May 29, 2006. Since Brother Joseph McNally founded it in 1984, he was the first Singaporean to be appointed Professor at the Institution.
An active voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (Los Angeles Chapter), Monteiro has voted at the Grammy Awards from 1991 through 2009. In late 1992, he produced the album Stand Up for Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Ernie Watts. He has composed over 700 pieces of music and racked up over 20 jazz albums as leader. Chicago Jazz Magazine proclaimed him a “consistently excellent vocalist.”