By LIM MAY LEE
WHEN we met World Youth Jazz Festival (WYJF) chairman and founder Datuk Nik Azmi during the event, he was collapsed in a chair outside the hall radiating equal parts exhaustion, and equal parts satisfaction.
“The turnout has been fantabulous!” he said with a relieved laugh.
Held at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre (PICC) from May 2-4, WYJF was buzzing with energy and really, really good jazz.
Add to that the impressive staging of the entire event – everything was put together by young jazz musicians and enthusiasts – and it made for a show that even newbies to the genre could appreciate.
Nik and his team had worked day and night to ensure every aspect of the festival would run smoothly, and the cheers of the crowd from within the hall were testament to their success. Busloads of university students populated the hall, and though we couldn’t tell if most of them were fans of the genre when they arrived, it’s safe to say their love for jazz was at an all-time high by the time they left the building.
Jazz for youth
“Jazz is catching on among the youth,” said Boy Katindig, celebrated Filipino jazz singer-songwriter, who was there to show support for young Filipina jazz singer Jireh Calo, who won the Boy Katindig Jazz Competition.
Calo was just one of many international performers at WYJF. Others included the Bavarian Youth Jazz Orchestra from Germany, the Barry Likumahuwa Jazz Connection from Indonesia, Yukiko Onishi from Japan and the United States-based duo of Shannon Kennedy and U-Nam.
“The efforts of the World Youth Jazz Festival and the local jazz scene (in Malaysia) have brought it closer to home for young people,” added Katindig, a Lifetime Achievement Award winner at the Philippine Association of the Recording Industry’s 2010 Awit Awards.
“Back home in the Philippines, there are efforts to revive jazz, but they aren’t as effective as here in Malaysia,” he continued.
But Katindig is doing his part – especially with the Boy Katindig Jazz Competition – in order to encourage the youth to step up and make their presence known in the industry. “Young acts are the future of jazz. We’ve done our fair share, and now it’s time to hand over the baton,” he said.
We got rhythm
In Malaysia, young jazz acts are more than ready to snatch that baton from their seniors, judging by the good form of some of the local acts that performed at WYJF, which included popular names, such as Atilia and Melissa Indot.
One of those acts was Fingerstyle from Kota Kinabalu. The sextet, ranging in age from 19 to 26, provided a welcome contrast to Katindig’s seasoned elegance with their own youthful exuberance on stage.
“I’m 19 and single!” blurted drummer Syuraih Ritchie, to whoops and hoots from his bandmates, while their manager, Ida Said, rolled her eyes in the background.
His older brother, lead guitarist Syuwari Ritchie, 21, decided to stay off the topic of relationships and instead concentrated on the main topic: jazz and youth.
“Most youngsters play hard rock instead of jazz, so we try to make it (jazz) interesting by taking punk and adding some jazz to it, to make it fusion.”
“Young people like things like Justin Bieber,” opined bandmate electric bassist Aldo Majanil, 22. “But jazz is like the secondary school of music. It inspires people to experiment more with different styles and genres of music.”
Fingerstyle’s high-octane brand of jazz is accompanied by slick dance moves, as well as a powerhouse voice courtesy of lead singer
Norfadilah Fauzi, better known as Paya. “They love to groove!” said Ida with a laugh.
Another jazz act to look out for is crooner Lokman Aslam, who was WYJF’s opening act. “I’ve been singing jazz for five years,” he said. He got his big break as a contestant in the first season of reality series One In A Million and continued doing R&B before transitioning back to his first love – jazz.
Describing his style as a fusion between funk and jazz, Lokman bemoaned the perception that jazz is “high-class.”
“We should commercialise jazz and make it accessible to the general public,” he said. “World Youth Jazz Festival is one of the best platforms for Malaysians to get involved in jazz.”
Jazzing up the world
Thankfully, Malaysia is not alone in its quest to educate young people about jazz.
American saxophonist, producer and composer Shannon Kennedy – who performed at WYJF as one half of jazz duo Nivo Deux, alongside French guitarist U-Nam – runs a website called Teen Jazz (teenjazz.com).
The website offers young aspiring artistes the resources needed to break into the industry. And if you want to make it in the industry, you gotta have some jazz. Kennedy is a firm believer in the importance of jazz in the music industry.
“It’s definitely an important factor in music education,” she said. “It’s a great foundation, especially if you want to go into other genres.”
R.AGE was the media partner for the 2014 World Youth Jazz Festival. For more info, go to worldyouthjazzfest.com.