Jazz Playhouse: The Swing District

By Gabrielle Ng (20A01E), Jermaine Wong (20S03R), and Ng Jing Ting (20A13A)
Photos courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society

It was a sluggish Thursday afternoon on the 7th of March, but a restless queue had already formed outside the TSD ten minutes before the start of Raffles Jazz’s annual showcase, Jazz Playhouse: The Swing District. As the clock ticked past 4pm and the doors opened for admission, audience members were greeted by cosy decorations and an overwhelmingly chic atmosphere. While stragglers streamed in to fill up the increasingly packed theatre, the performers walked onstage and into the spotlight to resounding applause, before picking up their instruments for a last-minute tuning.

The performance opened with Cheek to Cheek by Ella Fitzgerald, whose lilting melody got audience members grooving to it immediately. The mellow song began with a steady drum beat accompanied by the soft plucking of a double bass, before Rayna Mak (19S03O) stepped up as one of the main vocalists and filled the theatre with her dulcet voice. During an instrumental lull, Rayna took the opportunity to introduce her co-performers to the audience. “Eyes on the keys!” she said, flashing an encouraging look towards keyboardist Alice Ho (19S03T). Eventually, the first piece came to an end, to rousing applause from the audience.

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Alice hard at work on the keys.

Next, the audience was treated to a lively performance of Astrud Gilberto’s Agua de Beber, with Alicia Bee (19S03I) helming the role as vocalist this time. The upbeat tune of the song proved a welcome distraction for several members of the audience who had fallen victim to the mid-afternoon drowsiness. Persevering in their attempt to get their audience to stick with them, Jazz introduced their next song, which proved itself to outdo the previous one both in intensity and volume. The metallic sound of an electric guitar soon filled the air, inciting confused murmurs from the audience as the spotlight continued to beam down upon a vocalist who never appeared. It soon became apparent that there was, in fact, no singer for the largely keyboard-dominated piece. The increasingly visible excitement of drummer Yoon Sang Won (19S02A) embellished Jazz’s sultry rendition of Run for Cover by The Killers with well-received chutzpah, and the audience soon relaxed into the upbeat tune of this song. The showcase continued with On the Sunny Side of the Street, a popular piece that had been widely covered by various artistes at the height of the jazz movement. A curious buzz picked up in the room as Andre Chua (19S03B) carried onstage an unfamiliar wind instrument, later found to be the melodica. Vocalist Alicia let out a nervous giggle as her voice cracked slightly midway into the song, but professionally regained her composure, her steady vocals launching the audience into a thundering ovation as Sunny Side concluded with its eponymous refrain. One Note Samba proved no less virtuosic in nature, as each instrument melded perfectly with one another to complement the ebb and flow of the piece, mirroring the dexterous dance steps that were traditionally set to such music.

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Andre’s groovy solos on the melodica definitely captured the audience’s attention.

Nineties buffs among the audience would have been delighted by the next song. Introduced as the last song before a brief intermission, Jazz’s lively rendition of Still a Friend of Mine by Incognito roused many audience members from their previous stupor. At the climax of the piece, vocalists Alicia and Rayna combined their vocal prowesses in a Barbie movie-reminiscent duet, accompanied by a smooth violin. The chorus then gradually built up to a sonorous crescendo at the end that left the audience completely – for lack of a better word – shookt!

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Alicia’s and Rayna’s chemistry dazzled through the afternoon.

Following the intermission, Jazz returned with Carta Ao Tom 74. It was a less intense piece, but the performers nonetheless captivated the audience with the masterful control of their instruments, which they welded to form a riveting melody that had the audience clapping along enthusiastically.

It was during Jazz’s performance of Put Me Thru where the atmosphere started to heat up. As the J3s stepped up on stage to the jubilant screams of their juniors, vocalist Junius Pun declared cheekily, “It’s a song about Jeremy’s ex!”, prompting an awkward laugh from the guitarist himself. However, the highly-anticipated start of the song was delayed by several technical difficulties, which saw keyboardist Kaitlyn Ng tinkle out the all-too-familiar tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star over and over again in an attempt to entertain the audience. When the song truly began, however, the audience were stunned into appreciative silence by the batch’s seamless performance, and the improvised guitar riff at the end of the piece served only to wow us even more.

The next piece pandered more to lovers of pop music, as Rayna’s voice, once again, filled the room with a masterful acoustic delivery of Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning. A rousing performance of Corcovado then followed – from its first hauntingly wistful refrain on the violin, this bossa nova classic had the audience enthralled. Were it not for the snazzy drum beats interspersed throughout the violin melody, it is not difficult to imagine that many would have been moved to tears by the end of this stunning performance. Later picked by audience member Jordan Aw (20S06D) as his favourite piece of the night, Corcovado’s piercing melody proved not only delightful, but also memorable. “I’ve heard the song before and it’s interesting to hear their take on it,” he commented. Raffles Jazz then followed with a performance of the evergreen Waltz for Debby, as well as Sunday Afternoon, which saw the spirited performance of Ashley on the violin.

The melodica made a comeback in the last song of the afternoon, Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing by Stevie Wonder. Bongo drums complemented Alicia’s soulful vocals as she belted out the lyrics, which continually reminded us to remain positive in the face of setbacks. In a post-concert interview, Rayna also shared that this upbeat composition was her personal favorite, perhaps because as the focal piece of the showcase, it added “more fun and hype” to the show’s overall atmosphere. With the conclusion of the last song in the concert’s programme, the chairperson of Raffles Jazz, Rayna, returned to the stage to deliver the CCA’s thanks to the various groups of individuals that had played a significant role in the making of their concert.

Just as the audience got ready to file out of the TSD, Rayna announced that there would be an encore. Cheekily dedicated to their “more extroverted alter ego”, Raffles Rock, the song was Crazy Little Thing Called Love. The well-known rockabilly hit by British rock band, Queen, instantly had the crowd singing along. In this arrangement, Brian May’s famous guitar solo was played by Ashley on the violin, who impressed the crowd once again with her soulful playing. Jordan, however, disagreed with the notion that Rock fulfilled the role of Jazz’s “more extroverted alter ego”, citing his own introversion.

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Ashley showcasing her impressive musical prowess on the violin.

With that, Jazz’s annual showcase, The Swing District, ended on a high note. Quoting Rayna, Jazz’s main goal for the afternoon was for the audience to just “[have] fun and [enjoy] the performance”. And judging from the cheerful banter and radiant expressions of the audience as they filed out of the TSD, Jazz has definitely managed to do just that.

Performers:

Alicia Bee Jing Xuan (19S03I)

Chua Tze Ming Andre (19S03B)

Ho Hong Wei (19S02A)

Ho Si Hua Alice (19S03T)

Hsu Shien Ashley (19S06F)

Jonathan Aristya Setyadji (19S06D)

Mak Rui En Rayna (19S03O)

Qin Ai Xin (19S02A)

Tian Ke Xin (19S06B)

Yoon Sang Won (19S02A)

Kaitlyn Ng Ke Yi (J3)

Lim Tian Jiao (J3)

Pun Cheuk Kei, Junius (J3)

Teo Hui Rong Tara (J3)

Victoria Lim Yuk Ki (J3)

Xiao Zhenyang Jeremy (J3)

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