By Nadiya Nesseer (17S03B), Nicki Chan (18S03C), and Asfar Alim (18S03J)
On a bright afternoon in 1967, one hundred thousand young people convened in San Francisco to celebrate the culture of hippies, or “flower children”, with love, unity and merriment. Almost 50 years later on 5th May, Raffles Jazz’s highly anticipated annual concert, Summer of Love, took place within Raffles Institution’s very own Performing Arts Centre.
As audience members filed into the venue, jazz songs were played to set the mood and ease them into a night jam-packed with songs of this genre. The concert was not only a musical treat, but also a visual one. From the pretty flowers lining the stage to the cheerful costumes and flower crowns donned by performers, the atmosphere in the PAC was every part optimistic. The spirit of Summer of Love 50 years ago seemed to have lived on through the passion of the performing Jazz members.
“Tap your feet, groove to the beat, and feel the heat!”
With the emcees’ invigorating announcement, the concert kicked off on a funky note. The rendition of Cold Sweat, a popular R&B classic, by J1 vocalists Junius Pun (18S02A) and Han Ying Jie (18A01E), did not disappoint. The infectious melody significantly raised the audience’s energy levels, preparing them for the next song. Yardbird Suite, a famous bebop piece, featured a quick, skipping beat that had drummer Xueyan Huang (17S03E) visibly bouncing in her seat. The four performers were dressed casually in light blue and white, matching the lighthearted mood of the piece.
As per Jazz tradition, each instrument was given its own time to shine with solo melodies in each song, while the other instruments captured the beat in the background. The soloists made good use of this, receiving rousing cheers from the audience. In particular, Kwek Min Yih (18S06G) stood out with impressive saxophone solos on the first two songs.
A similarly striking component of the night was a short humorous skit in sepia tones, which had the audience doubling over in laughter as Orange Coloured Sky was introduced. Twangy vocals by Tara Teo (18A01E), coupled with unexpected yet pleasant riffs by electric bassist Justin Ang (17S06G) and guitarist Gillian Cheong (17S05A), kept up an element of surprise throughout the song, fitting the theme of love at first sight.
Next, the performers took the stage for Chega de Saudade, a slow, melancholic melody about yearning for lost love. This song showcased the soothing, breathy vocals of See Kaye (17S03C) who stood out on stage with her flowing hair and an off-shoulder dress. This song was followed up with a poignant rendition of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, and When You Wish Upon A Star as the audience relaxed into the laid-back atmosphere. Bei Mir Bistu Shein rounded off the first half of the concert on a playful note, keeping the audience eager for more.
A particularly thoughtful touch to the intermission were the notes that the CCA had prepared for the audience members, who were invited to write notes to the Jazz performers, to be placed in envelopes for each member of the CCA. This heartwarming initiative was extremely well-received as sizeable crowds were spotted around the tables at the Front of House, with many taking turns to scribble congratulatory messages to their friends and loved ones on slips of coloured paper.
After the break, the audience returned to Moanin’, which featured four vocalists for the first time. Despite having different vocal timbres, the vocalists’ voices complemented one another’s remarkably well. The effortless scat singing, a well-known improvisational jazz technique, was definitely one of the highlights of this piece.
This exciting performance was later followed by a mellower piece, Watermelon Man. Following in the same vein was Summertime, which evoked a sense of fading innocence as the violin and piano led a slow, sombre melody. However, in a smooth yet surprising twist, the pianist took the lead, and the soothing melody quickly progressed to an upbeat one. The performance was definitely more humorous, with vocalists Kaye and Tara injecting jokes about shared experiences in school. A single reference to ‘Marymount Junior College’, a school meme known to staff and students alike, elicited thrilled cheers of support.
The concert took on a melancholic mood with Yesterday I heard the rain, a sombre ballad which captured the essence of loneliness and heartbreak. This was swiftly followed by Aguas De Marco, which was relatively bouncy and cheery, with bassist Lim Tian Jiao (18A01C) delivering low, zappy beats which enhanced the performance of the guitar and drums.
Afterwards, Jazz performed its rendition of one of the century’s greatest classics, Sunny. Lead vocalist Junius made commendable efforts to liven up the song: not only did he don a cardboard cut-out of the sun, he also amused the audience by imitating the different instrument players during their respective solos.
Despite Sunny being the last song slated for the programme, it seemed the audience were in for a pleasant surprise. Most of the J2 batch came on stage for a lively performance of September, originally by funk band Earth, Wind and Fire. Violinist Kong Pek Yoke (17A01C) blew the audience away, carrying the melody to the uptempo beat skillfully. The remaining J2s soon came on stage and danced to the song, while the J1 batch danced in a row in front of the stage. It was the picture of merriment, and thus ended Summer of Love 2017.
Jazz has certainly outdone itself this year, with a concert that displayed its members’ admirable talent and versatility. And more importantly, as Raffles Jazz’s Chairperson Elyn Tzen (17S03B) said, “At the end of the concert I realized that we’ve managed to create something that was so uniquely ours – all of the jazzers have given a part of themselves, big or small, to this concert. The result is a show that would not have been the same without any one of the Jazzers and that is so special to all of us.” Beyond the artistry that was on display, the sheer heart and drive of the Jazzers was what brought the warmth to Summer of Love’17. It is a performance we won’t soon forget.