What is Jazz? .. the musicians answer me!

ParkCity Everly Hotel
ParkCity Everly Hotel


Before I attended the Borneo Jazz Festival  in Miri, Sarawak, (May 2014) I asked “What is Jazz?” and I came to no real answer so said I would ask the performers once I was able to talk to them at the  ParkCity Everly Hotel.

Worldwide, jazz festivals are really popular and the local organisers in Sarawak decided they could not afford to be the same as every other jazz festival so the people selected to come to Malaysian Borneo are all very different creating a small and perfectly formed music festival. This year, by chance, vocals and piano were big in this 2014 event. (Next year is the 10th annual Jazz festival so I expect there will be big celebrations for this milestone)

However, this, in part,  is what some of those performers said in reply to the query ‘what is jazz?’

The crowd-pleasing group was Vocal Sampling, an all-male a cappella group from Cuba . The band is 25 years old and the trip to Miri was part of the celebration. They said Cuba is a very rich musical environment in which both old and young like jazz … but no explanation why their music is jazz … it seems improvisation will be the common denominator answer!

Mario Canonge is a great musician and showman who plays creole jazz with West Indies rhythms. Originally from Martinique he now lives in France  and said”Jazz is just a word. When you improvise you are jazz’.

Anthony Strongpianist and singer, hailed as ‘England’s new jazz superstar’, sings mostly classical jazz and I missed his interview so a few days later, over breakfast at the Royal Mulu Resort I asked him the same ‘what is jazz’ question. He responded with “I’m sure if you Google it there will be heaps of people who have written many theses on the topic!” All true – he went on to say he thought not all jazz was improv; that the term is an umbrella for many forms of the music.  Just like ‘world music’ has no specific musical genre – that there must be 500 different forms of music that comes under the label – and jazz is the same.

YK Band from Indonesia featured jazz with a Borneo flavour and the locals particularly loved this group – who also couldn’t give a simple answer to my question.

Iriaoa Georgian ethno-jazz band said each area had its own ‘folk’ music and all were different … and although they didn’t give me a definition of jazz they said that Georgian music and jazz were sent to space as a part of  ’13 masterpieces.’

Both evenings of the festival concluded with a jam session all the musicians ( inside the hotel) which was certainly improv .. so maybe was ‘really jazz’, while in the Pavillion beside the ‘Stage by the Sea’  DJ Roundhead had a popular Club Set: crowned the ‘Malaysia DJ Champion’ three years in a row he has a 20 year history in the local music industry.

Junk o Func, (with 12 people) grabbed the stage and entertained us with punchy, gospel-influenced vocals and playful, interaction with each other and the audience – who loved them. (I predict they will return!)

So what is jazz .. to me it seems it’s jazz if you say its jazz! So make up your own mind or become one of the thesis-writing uni students and spend years studying the genre.

So, if you love jazz, if you love music, if you would love to laze around the pool (or beach) all day, eat and then experience great jazz at night, the Borneo  Jazz Festival is for you! (repeat daily!)

If it’s World music that you like, Sarawak also hosts a festival which is also by the beach! Rainforest Word Music Festival (#rwmf). I’ll I’ll be at in Kuching, Sarawak in a week for both the Rainforest the Borneo World Expo at the Hilton  – I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort for the RWMF and at the Hilton for the expo … see you there! 🙂

Andy Kho: official photographer
Andy Kho: official photographer at the Borneo Jazz Festival
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