Concert review: Jeremy Monteiro shows why he is called full-blooded Singaporean virtuoso

Jazz icon Jeremy Monteiro. After jazz musician Monteiro performed in May with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra on tour in three concerts, conductor Yeh Tsung introduced him to the Chinese audience as a Singaporean virtuoso. -- PHOTO: RUSSEL WONG
Jazz icon Jeremy Monteiro. After jazz musician Monteiro performed in May with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra on tour in three concerts, conductor Yeh Tsung introduced him to the Chinese audience as a Singaporean virtuoso. -- PHOTO: RUSSEL WONG

SINGAPORE! A MUSICAL CELEBRATION III

Singapore Wind Symphony with

Jeremy Monteiro & Friends

Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Sunday

After jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro performed in May with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra on tour in three concerts, conductor Yeh Tsung introduced him to the Chinese audience as a Singaporean virtuoso. "Not Chinese, not Indian, not European, but a full-blooded Singaporean," were the choice words used. Truly, there can be no greater tribute to one's nationality to have been described in such terms.

This concert by the Singapore Wind Symphony is part of an ongoing series conceived by conductor Adrian Tan celebrating Singaporean music. On show was Cultural Medallion recipient Monteiro, who is as prolific a composer as he is a pianist. What constitutes a national style of jazz is still being defined, but it was Monteiro's eclectic and international style, drawing from disparate inspirations, which put Singaporean jazz into the global spotlight.

It began with Overture In C: The Story Of Singapore, a non-jazz number which featured Malay-style drumming and the pomp of British pageantry for a short round-up of local history. Then the giant of jazz strode out with his rhythm section, including drummer Tama Goh, bassist Brian Benson and guitarist Rick Smith.

Monteiro led from the piano, with soloists Julian Chan on saxophone and flautist Rit Xu shining in Helvetica, a fast number with some unstated Swiss connection, and the swinging Blues For The Saxophone Club, reliving high times at the old jazz club in Cuppage Terrace. Thrillingly, he brought out the stock-in-trade scintillating runs with his right hand, which still amaze given his sizeable girth and apparent laid-back demeanour.

In Brothers, Kenneth Lun's flugelhorn sang silvery blues as the jazzmen paid tribute to the big-band fraternity within the wind orchestra. Olympia was a heady marching tune, topped with a brash and brassy bluster, which Monteiro wrote for some imaginary Olympic Games. The frenetic Orchard Road, co-written with Ernie Watts in a traffic jam, would not have sounded out of place in a Rio Mardi Gras.

Another Time, Another Place was a slow sentimental piece with the harp thrown in, which Monteiro figured could have made great movie music had he been asked. Typically, it gradually worked itself into a grandstanding climax.

Local jazz singer Rani Singam joined in for three songs, the first being Swing With Me, originally known as Strutting Down Sukhumvit but now dressed with a distinctive Broadway accent.

Young composer-arranger Chok Kerong was generously afforded the spotlight with two songs with Singam, the meditative Frailty and the livelier You'll Never Have To Dance Alone (Samba No. 1), which showed that the art of songwriting here continues to thrive.

The 90-minute concert closed with Monteiro's Soliloquy, which culminated with a solo cadenza and a swipe into the innards of the piano, and the thoughtful National Day Parade favourite One People, One Nation, One Singapore.

In a Freudian moment, conductor Tan addressed the man of the hour as Sir Jeremy Monteiro, and then added: "Duke Ellington is great, but can't we play some Jeremy Monteiro once in a while?"

He had just echoed the thoughts of many in the audience.