You have to be thankful for the Mosaic Music festival. Decades ago, it was unusual for big acts to come to Singapore as part of a series; now the young generation can take it for granted.
It seemed like that was happening, as R and I looked around us, wondering why one-third of the seats had yet to be filled at 7.30pm (the appointed time of the concert) despite this being a triple Grammy award-winning act.
“Is the jazz scene in Singapore truly dying?” I asked myself, echoing the laments of my jazz piano teacher, Victor Pillay, who himself was a live jazz musician for many years. I didn’t want to believe it. Looking at the chunks of empty seats in the most expensive section, it looked like the price points for tickets were not calibrated well enough. The back row behind us was completely empty as well. Fortunately, more latecomers trickled in throughout the performance so it didn’t look too bad in the end.
Around me were mostly expats and some yuppie Singaporeans - those in their thirties and above. Among the expats were quite a number of grey and white heads, and from their accents, they were probably American. Definitely not representative of the Singapore population, whose tastes, I imagine, are much more mainstream.
Unusually, the concert started late, so that allowed for latecomers to be seated. Finally Charlie Haden and his band appeared on stage. As a relatively casual listener of Charlie Haden’s music (mainly the works done in collaboration with Pat Metheny), I was surprised to see how slowly he moved on stage. As the artiste in residence for this festival, he thanked the Mosaic team for making his stay a good one, and also praised the medical team at Raffles Hospital, who helped remove his kidney stone. [Turns out that he just underwent the procedure the day before - making me appreciate all the more his efforts on stage that night!]
It was announced that this was the band’s 25th year anniversary, which is remarkable. I was reminded again of Haden’s age when he announced that he was performing a song he recorded in 1957. I recalled a writeup which mentioned he played with jazz greats like John Coltrane - long departed.
Haden and his bandmen played First Song, something he wrote for his wife, a calypso, and another piece on what I think was either ‘Hello My Lovely’ or ‘Sophisticated Ladies’, which was the title of his latest CD. There was another piece that meandered into what reminded me of Coltrane’s Ascension, which I didn’t like very much because it gave me prolonged indigestion. But overall, it was a pleasing performance which garnered two standing ovations from most of the audience.
Every now and then, Haden humorously made a sales pitch for his latest CD, which features female singers like Diana Krall and Norah Jones. His spoken humour matched his deliberately offbeat pace on the bass, which gave texture to the music.
What perked me up most were the numbers towards the end - his little ‘surprise’ for us, which turned out to be Miles Davis’ Blue in Green. It began very much like the original, almost as if Coltrane was playing the tenor sax - but of course, Haden’s Quartet infused the rest of the piece with its own style.
Overall, it was pleasant, but now I understand what a fellow jazz lover meant when he told me he was skipping this concert (despite being a serious amateur bassist and fan of Haden). Don’t expect a high-energy visual performance from this quartet - just kick up your heels and listen.
As always, I just wish that this sort of thing could be done in a cosy little jazz cafe, not in a formal concert hall.