Jazz veteran played in war zone

Louis Soliano (above) says he fell in love with the drums when he was 10.
Louis Soliano (above) says he fell in love with the drums when he was 10.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Drummer and singer Louis Soliano packed a gun when he performed in Vietnam in the late 1960s

There are probably not too many Singaporean musicians who have had to carry a pistol while they were on the job.

Drummer and singer Louis Soliano, a stalwart of the home-grown jazz scene here who is headlining his own show at Resorts World Theatre on Wednesday, is one of them.

Back in the late 1960s, he was performing at American military bases in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

"We would play at three different venues each night. And when we were travelling from place to place, the piano player and I would each carry a gun and double as security for the rest of the artists in case of any emergency," the sprightly veteran says at an interview held in the Paya Lebar office of the concert's organiser, Fest Events International.

The gig kicks off the company's series of shows highlighting pioneer musicians here and is also the first show of music festival Singapore Drum Fest 2016.

And while Soliano, now 74, never had to fire his gun outside of the practice range, playing music in a war zone was an unforgettable highlight in a music career that has spanned close to six decades.

  • BOOK IT /A DATE WITH A LEGEND: LOUIS SOLIANO

  • WHERE: Resorts World Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa, 8 Sentosa Gateway

    WHEN: Wednesday, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $38 to $78 from www.apactix.com/

The adroit musician, who has four children and six grandchildren, has played with many jazz luminaries who gig here and in the region, as well as in cities as far away as London.

These include international acts such as American drummer and bandleader Buddy Rich, English crooner Matt Monro and American singer Anita O'Day.

Soliano has also backed regional and home-grown stars including Hong Kong Cantopop singer Frances Yip, Filipino singer-actress Lea Salonga and Singapore veteran S.K. Poon.

In recognition of his long involvement in the music scene here, he was conferred a Lifetime Achievement Award at the inaugural Singapore International Jazz Festival 2014, and an Artistic Excellence Award by the Composers & Authors Society of Singapore in 1997.

For the upcoming show, Soliano will be accompanied by a band comprising American pianist Benny Green, American bassist Dezron Douglas, Singaporean guitarist Andrew Lim as well as home-grown guest musicians drummer Soh Wen Ming and contemporary string quartet Viva Strings.

Soliano will play the drums and sing and his repertoire will include jazz standards such as Evidence by Thelonious Monk and Caravan by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, as well as Singapore jazz maestro Jeremy Monteiro's Lucky Green Blues.

"It's going to be a show," he promises. "I'll make it an entertaining night for the audience."

Born in Kedah to a Filipino father and Vietnamese-Chinese mother, he hails from an illustrious family of musicians. His father Paul was a travelling musician who played various instruments and the family moved to Singapore when Soliano was about eight years old. Veteran musician and former head of the now-defunct SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation) Orchestra, Rufino Soliano, 84, is his cousin.

At the age of seven, Soliano's father taught him the violin while an uncle gave him piano lessons. But it was at the age of 10 that he truly fell in love with an instrument - the drums.

He had always admired the drummers whenever he followed his father to music practice at the now-defunct film studios at Jalan Ampas and when his father brought home a set, he could not resist playing around with it.

"I would take the sticks and fidddle with them. There's just something about all the different parts, the snare, the hi-hat, the cymbals. Af all the instruments, I loved the drums the best."

And while none of his children or grandchildren have followed in the family tradition to make a living playing music, Soliano says he is not disheartened. He and his cousin Rufino are "the last of our generation".

"They are my biggest achievement," he says of his children, one of whom is an army commando while another is a trader. "I cannot tell them what to do, I leave it to them to pursue their own lives."

And while he does not gig as often as before, he still clocks about four to five shows a month at corporate shows and weddings.

"As long as my hands can move and I can walk around, I will always be playing music," he says with a twinkle in his eye.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Jazz veteran played in war zone'. Print Edition | Subscribe