Jazz quintet The Steve McQueens get leg-up in London

The Steve McQueens – comprising (from left) Jase Sng, Joshua Wan, Aaron James Lee, Eugenia Yip and Fabian Lim – spent two weeks at British musician Jean-Paul Maunick’s Livingston Studios in London in August. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN
The Steve McQueens – comprising (from left) Jase Sng, Joshua Wan, Aaron James Lee, Eugenia Yip and Fabian Lim – spent two weeks at British musician Jean-Paul Maunick’s Livingston Studios in London in August. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

British acid-jazz stalwart Jean-Paul Maunick helped produce The Steve McQueens' latest album

Things are looking up for eclectic soul-jazz quintet The Steve McQueens. The Singapore band were recently in London to record their upcoming album, set to be released early next year, with British acid-jazz stalwart Jean-Paul Maunick, better known as Bluey.

Their music and work ethic have impressed Maunick so much, he tells Life! that producing the album was "a labour of love".

The leader of jazz-funk pioneers Incognito says in an e-mail interview: "They are of the highest quality and as good as any musician and singer worldwide. Most importantly, they have their individual sound and songwriting sensibility, which makes them unique."

The Steve McQueens singer Eugenia Yip, 25, says the band put in long hours at the studio during the two weeks they were there in August.

She says: "We spent 12 hours with Bluey at his Livingston Studios every day. We'd get there at 11am and go back to our apartment only at midnight."

The Steve McQueens' recording project is funded and arranged by a newly set-up charity, Foundation for the Arts & Social Enterprise, headed by Mr Michael Tay, former executive director of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation as well as former Singapore ambassador to Russia.

Mr Tay, who is also co-founder of jazz music festival and club, SingJazz, says the foundation's project with The Steve McQueens is part of a larger plan to build Singapore up as a regional jazz destination.

He says: "The foundation has a social mission to try to bring up our local music scene and we are starting with jazz. I love jazz and we want to grow the scene so that we become a dynamic jazz hub for Asia. This is all part of building that eco-system - you need a jazz festival, you need a jazz club such as SingJazz and then you need a foundation, a patron to advocate for musicians."

The foundation taking on The Steve McQueens is akin to how classical composers used to work with the patrons of their day, he adds.

"In the history of music and the arts, Mozart and Bach did not succeed without patrons, so they needed people to take care of their other needs," he says.

One of the contributors to the foundation is Mr Ravi Chidambaram, president and co-founder of Singapore-based Asian investment bank TC Capital.

An avid jazz fan, Mr Chidambaram says the idea to get The Steve McQueens to work with Bluey arose when both performed at the Singapore International Jazz Festival (SingJazz) in February.

The Steve McQueens also took part in a music workshop that Bluey conducted at the festival.

Mr Chidambaram says: "I think Bluey liked the music very much and the McQueens were in the process of cutting their second CD, so we kind of just put two and two together. Bluey has a wonderful studio in London, so it all just came together - it was kind of organic.

"Incognito are a jazz-funk band and the McQueens are the best jazz-funk band in Singapore. That's the truth, so it's like talent recognising talent."

The Steve McQueens keyboardist Joshua Wan, 47, says Bluey was more than just a producer and was instrumental to opening up their minds to "things we would never have thought of".

He adds: "It was good to have an outsider take a broader view - his view takes into account other things like radio play and what kind of music label would represent our music and how all these labels have a specific target audience.

"So he's always thinking, for each song, the big picture of where to get it played, who the audiences are. That's good - having music industry awareness - because basically, we don't care what we sound like to who, as long as we like it."

The Steve McQueens, which also comprise drummer Aaron James Lee, 18, bass player Jase Sng, 27, and saxophonist Fabian Lim, 41, first got together last year and have performed at venues such as the Esplanade and Blu Jaz Cafe.

While the band are relatively new, most of the members are seasoned musicians on the local jazz scene and also on the indie and contemporary music scene.

Wan, for example, is an acclaimed producer and arranger for regional stars Jacky Cheung and Tanya Chua, and has directed music at the 2003 National Day Parade. Yip is known in indie circles as the frontman for electro-indie act Riot !n Magenta.

The Steve McQueens released their debut six-track CD, Einstein Moments, in September last year and are set to perform at SingJazz Club this Saturday evening.

Bluey says in the e-mail interview that he firmly believes the band have global potential and he was "constantly captivated by their sound, boundless energy, friendliness and humour".

"After 40 years in the music business, I look for moments of inspiration to rekindle and reinforce the joy of music creativity in my soul," he says.

"I work only on projects that fulfil that role in my life. The Steve McQueens thundered into London and did just that."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg