Sifa 2021: Tribute concert for Louis Soliano, Singapore's 'godfather of jazz'

Cultural Medallion winner and jazz icon Louis Soliano at Victoria Theatre, on April 15, 2021.
Cultural Medallion winner and jazz icon Louis Soliano at Victoria Theatre, on April 15, 2021.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - With the live music scene curtailed by the pandemic in the past year, Singapore's "godfather of jazz" Louis Soliano has been feeling out of sorts lately.

But an upcoming live concert, in which members of the local jazz fraternity will pay tribute to his legacy, has put the spring back in the veteran musician's step.

The show, A Song For Louis, is part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts and will take place over two sets at Victoria Theatre on May 14. It will also be streamed online from June 5 to 12.

Soliano tells The Straits Times: "I am 79. I haven't been feeling fantastic lately. This recognition makes me feel happy to be alive and able to do what I love to do."

The concert will feature 13 other musicians, including fellow Cultural Medallion recipient Jeremy Monteiro, singer Rahimah Rahim, flutist Rit Xu and singer Richard Jackson. Soliano himself will also perform.

Soliano's long career in music spans six decades, earning him the Cultural Medallion, the nation's highest arts honour, in 2018.

Monteiro, 60, says Soliano made an impact on the Singapore jazz scene on many levels. "He was one of the first Singapore jazz musicians to have played on such a high level since the early 1960s."

He cites as an example Soliano's European stint with the band Dave Packer Trio, which included playing with iconic American group Bud Powell Trio at Blue Note, a famous jazz club in Paris.

Soliano has also mentored many of the succeeding generations of Singaporean jazz artistes, from Monteiro himself to seasoned composers and musicians Chok Kerong and Andrew Lim, as well as young musicians like Sean Hong Wei.

They have all gone through what Monteiro calls "the school of Louis Soliano, to hone our craft and develop a high level of performance".

"I often say, if there is no Louis Soliano, there would be no Jeremy Monteiro. I am incredibly indebted to him."

Monteiro adds that Soliano taught him the importance of communicating with the audience both onstage and offstage, and engaging the emotions of the listener.

Singer Joanna Dong, who will co-host and perform at the concert, says that "Uncle Louis", as she affectionately calls him, is an inspiration.

The 39-year-old says: "Onstage, his impeccable brushwork and vocals, combined with his flair for charming audiences, presents the best of both worlds in musicianship and entertainment.

"Offstage, he makes a habit of uplifting younger musicians, often with words of encouragement and praise. That is something I've really taken to heart and remind myself to do especially now that I am considered a veteran myself."

Soliano describes the concert as akin to "a beautiful reunion with my brothers and sisters in music".

"I have watched these artistes grow up to become the successful people that they are now. I'm honoured that they all gathered today to join me in this show. I thank them with all my heart."


Mr Louis Soliano's long career in music spans six decades. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

He also paid tribute to his own family, who raised him in a musical environment.

"You know, I am the son of a migrant Filipino musician. I honed my craft in the streets, working my way up to perform with some jazz legends like (American pianist) Benny Green and (American jazz singer) Anita O'Day, just to name a few," he says.

"It has been a long journey and this recognition makes it all worth it. I share this recognition with my musical family who chose to settle in Singapore and contribute to its musical history."


Book It / A Song For Louis

Where: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place; online

When: May 14, 6pm and 9pm (in-venue); June 5 to 12 (video-on-demand)

Admission: $58 and $68 from Singapore International Festival of Arts' website