To him, the violin had a soul

Violinist Julai Tan (in a 2018 file photo) was the oldest performer to take part in last year's National Day Parade.
Violinist Julai Tan (in a 2018 file photo) was the oldest performer to take part in last year's National Day Parade.PHOTO: ST FILE

Violinist Julai Tan, known as Singapore's oldest jazz musician, died on Tuesday aged 94.

He was the oldest performer at last year's National Day Parade and played with the BBC Orchestra in London in the 1960s.

In 2010, he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass) Awards.

According to Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, Tan's health had been deteriorating in the past few months. He died in hospital of health complications and organ failure.

In an interview with The Straits Times last year, he recalled learning the violin at the age of seven, inspired by an Indonesian violinist who stayed at his house.

Tan, who also performed in recent events such as music festival We Love Jazz Party in 2017, said: "I think the violin is an instrument with a soul. When I play it, it can convey messages back to me."

He joined the Singapore radio orchestra in the 1950s and was with the BBC orchestra from 1964 to 1967 before returning to Singapore in the late 1970s.

Members of the local music and entertainment industry paid tribute to him on social media.

Veteran jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro, who has performed with Tan since the 1970s, wrote that "a light in our music scene has left us".

"He was always so gracious to the audience members and the public loved him. I learnt a lot from him, not just about the music, but also how to be warm and kind to the audience."

Singer Joanna Dong described him as "legendary" and thanked him for "building the foundations for the music scene we have today".

Tan leaves behind his wife, Madam Ng Siew Lan, 75.

The couple have no children, but Tan had a stepdaughter from a previous marriage in the United States.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2019, with the headline 'To him, the violin had a soul'. Subscribe