Chok Kerong jazzes up shows

Musician and composer Chok Kerong has assembled an 11-strong big band that includes a woodwind section and a string quartet for his shows.
Musician and composer Chok Kerong has assembled an 11-strong big band that includes a woodwind section and a string quartet for his shows.PHOTO: ESPLANADE

Musician and composer Chok Kerong is recognised in local jazz circles as one of the home-grown scene's finest rising talents.

But the 32-year-old wants to be known for much more than his stellar jazz credentials and aims to prove it in his upcoming shows at the Esplanade Recital Studio on Friday and Saturday.

He has assembled an 11-strong big band that includes a woodwind section and a string quartet and will debut new and wide-ranging compositions that encompass not just jazz, but also hip-hop, soul, R&B, pop and classical music.

The performance, part of the Esplanade's Mosaic Music Series, will be a good barometer of how far his music has evolved since he made headlines as the first jazz musician here to score a National Arts Council arts overseas scholarship to study for a master's in music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York back in 2008.

Chok says: "It's going to represent everything I'm interested in, which isn't limited to jazz. So I think when people first hear it they might think, 'Oh, this is not what I was expecting', but I hope they find it compelling."


  • WHERE: Esplanade Recital Studio

    WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $35 from Sistic. Go to or call 6348-5555

In a way, the two shows have been three years in the making. Chok has been toying with the idea of forming his own large ensemble that includes string and woodwind sections ever since he worked with classical group T'ang Quartet for a Christmas show in 2012.

"I really liked the textures, I liked the challenge of writing for that format, so that's when the idea was born. I thought, maybe I can try to integrate this with what I normally do as a jazz player.

"There was a natural progression and I started to get interested in the other parts of the orchestra as well, like woodwind."

The ensemble includes some of his regular collaborators, such as his close friend, drummer Soh Wen Ming, as well as two international musicians who are flying in for the show - Hong Kong guitarist Teriver Cheung and Australian bass player Desmond White, who was his classmate when he was studying in New York.

Chok has also been doing regional gigs with Cheung in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. "We get together sometimes to do hip-hop and R&B gigs, but he's a great jazz guitarist. We explore a lot of different styles together."

Indie singer-songwriter Charlie Lim will also feature as a guest on the show, which comes as no surprise to fans of both musicians as Chok plays the organ in Lim's backing band, The Mothership.

Besides his gigs and collaborations, which include arranging and composing music for prominent local jazz artists such as Jeremy Monteiro and Rani Singam, Chok also has his hands full nurturing the next generation of musicians here.

He teaches music at Lasalle College of the Arts, School of the Arts Singapore and the National Institute of Education, and mentors young musicians in programmes such as Esplanade's Mosaic Jazz Fellows and the SingJazz academy.

Chok says young musicians today are fortunate to have such mentorship programmes, unlike his own experience of "stumbling and trying to figure things out, groping in the dark" as a teenager playing with seasoned musicians such as double bassist Christy Smith and drummer Eddie Layman in local jazz bars.

He plays down talk of him leading a new generation of musicians who will chart the future of the jazz scene in Singapore, though.

"I guess my main concern is just not to stagnate, not to sound the same as I did last year, and if I can continue growing like that, I will be happy."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2015, with the headline 'Chok Kerong jazzes up shows'. Print Edition | Subscribe