By: Nicki Chan (18S03C), Asfar Alim (18S03J), Lynn Hong (18A13A)
Photographs courtesy of S Rahul (19S06A) and Kathryn Oei (19A01A) of the Raffles Photographic Society
After months of diligent preparation, Raffles Jazz returned with their annual concert, Birdland 2018, on the 5th of May. The intriguing theme drew much curiosity – the Performing Arts Centre was buzzing with excitement even before the concert began.
Jazz comprises unique elements such as the regular beats of swing music and scat singing (or improvisation with nonsense words). The word “jazz” may bring to mind funky dance moves and lullabic crooning all at once – a testament to how flexible jazz music is as a form of expression. As such, jazz music has a wide appeal that touches people from all walks of life. Yet, this genre is relatively elusive in a world dominated by modern pop music–many may not have known what jazz music was really like before coming for the concert.
Despite this, the performers’ boundless, infectious energy as they grooved to their music helped bridge the gap between layperson and musician. From the moment the lights went out, it was clear that the concert would be anything but snooze-inducing. The emcee’s witty humour in their introduction set the tone for a lighthearted and engaging evening filled with good music.
One memorable aspect of the concert was that no one was overshadowed – every member was given a chance to shine with solos woven seamlessly into the pieces. The vocalists introduced each player to the audience after their solos, and the audience responded with resounding applause each time.
The set itself was composed of a vibrant mixture of songs from slow, crooning ballads to upbeat, swingy tunes, showcasing the different sides of Raffles Jazz. The concert kicked off with a laid-back performance of “Feeling Good”, easing the audience into the concert. Junius Pun (18S02A) had a distinctive smoky tone to his voice which was a good match for this performance. This was contrasted by the next piece, “So Tired”, which was a more lively and exciting piece with multiple key changes in the song.
Following which, the audience was greeted with “Fascinating Rhythm”, described as a “showtune-turned-jazz standard”. The performance was certainly upbeat and had a feet-tapping melody, thanks to Alice Ho (19S03T) on the piano and Scott Tay (18S06E) on the saxophone. Vocalist Tara Teo (18A01E) also added an extra playful tone to the song by singing certain lines in staccato, but what stood out most was the interjecting drum solos by Victoria Lim (18S02A) which integrated surprisingly well with the song, jolting those who may have been bored initially.
Raffles Jazz then switched up the mood with “Dindi”, a Bossa Nova song that remained somewhat mellow while giving a country feel. This melodious performance was followed by “Moondance”, which featured Junius Pun (18S02A) and Tara, together with Rayna Mak (19S03O) and Alicia Bee (19S03I).
The performance highlighted the strength in their harmony, as the members took turn adding ad-libs to enhance their fellow vocalists’ performance. Of course, the members on the instruments were not left out of the fun either, with Kwek Min Yih (18S06G) on the saxophone and Jeremy Xiao (18A01B) on the guitar kicking their legs to the beat.
Another lively piece, “Crazy He Calls Me”, started off slow before guitarist Qin Ai Xin (19S02A) transitioned into a groovy beat, inducing the other instruments to follow suit. Rayna’s melodious vocals were a perfect complement to the song, as her mellow voice brought out the lighthearted nature of the tune.
Perhaps what made the concert so enjoyable despite the relative obscurity of the genre, was the performers’ explicit attempts to make the genre accessible to the audience through their quirky humour. To introduce “Caravan”, which some may remember from the Sundance Award-winning film Whiplash, they produced a short parody featuring drummer Victoria as the brilliant but dysfunctional jazz drummer protagonist, Andrew. Victoria certainly rose to the occasion, executing the technical complexity of the drum parts with aplomb, winning rapturous applause.
Their lighthearted and playful approach to the performance shone through in every aspect of their concert, like their jokes about Further Math student Junius Pun’s mathematical proficiency at the intermission of the concert. In their rendition of “Everybody Wants To Be a Cat”, vocalist Alicia appeared onstage in a cat onesie while the rest of the band donned cat ear headbands, to the audience’s laughter. This performance was made even more whimsical with the remaining performers coming onstage to groove to the beat, once again with synchronised leg kicking. (They are after all, not Raffles Street Dance).
Throughout their performance, the performers’ sheer enjoyment was evident, from the smiles on their faces during their improvised solos, to the lighthearted antics during their performances. It was clear that the Jazz members’ teamwork and passion for their music enabled them to put together an impressive performance that showcased them and their unique music.
On top of providing everyone with an avenue to unwind with good music, the concert was an eye-opening experience to those who know little to nothing about jazz. To put it simply, Raffles Jazz killed two birds with one stone – ending Birdland 2018 on a fantastic note.