UNESCO International Jazz Day Wrap-Up: Phuket the Principal Venue in Thailand

Jazz Day 2014 edThe scene during Phuket Jazz Day.

by Marque A. Rome

If you missed it…. Hey, that’s too bad. Put it in your calendar for next year: it was one heckuva good time, and trust me — Phuket’s the place to enjoy Jazz Day.

April was International Jazz Appreciation Month and 30th April International Jazz Day, a date officially sponsored now by both UNESCO and the United Nations. According to the official PR, 196 countries participated in the festivities, which were initiated in 2011, but in Thailand it appears only two towns made the list, Phuket and Bangkok.

Performances in the capital were limited to twelve players — eleven Thais and one Korean (UNESCO Bangkok’s director), divided into three bands — at a small record store cum nightclub on Thonglor Rd called Sweets Records. No reports, videos or photos came out of the event that I can find, thus far, and the venue itself has apparently now closed. “Sweets on vacation…will be back with a new venue and a new concept soon!” reads an announcement on Sweets’ Facebook page, which notes that the Jazz Day event was Sweets’ last.

So much for Jazz Day in Bangkok.

Black and Blue 2Black & Blue’s J.B. Henry.
In Phuket, on the other hand, we closed a small soi in Phuket town, and with backing from the city council erected a stage and put on an event that drew dozens of performers and hundreds of spectators. The genii at Phuket Videomakers recorded portions of the event for posterity with great artistry and surpassing technological expertise.

Jazz Day Ranel vdo capSee the video here

Class Act Media, the people who bring us The Phuket News and Live 89.5 FM radio, promoted the festival in the newspaper and on radio, and Phuket News Features Editor Claire Connell took many photos that can be viewed here.

17 bands with performers from around the world took the stage and music went on till just before dawn. Phuket town mayor Somjai Suwansupapana paid a visit and, during an impromptu speech, told the crowd how happy she was to see that the city’s efforts were not in vain. This was the event’s third running in Phuket town, with the municipal government lending its support each time — thanks largely to deputy mayor and inveterate jazz lover Kavee Sukhatanon.

Jive GroupThe Jive Group.
Many who came to play were unable to take the stage because the press of performers was so great — more than 50 were expected and more still came. But, no matter: each band had a different groove, each performance was hot, each player strove to bring out his best. It was a memorable night, made more memorable by the eclectic variety of acts. As one expat afterwards pointed out: “I used to live in Patong and went looking for live music most every night. Everyone seemed to play the same kind of thing. It was boring. You just don’t realise what a fantastic array of talent is on this island till you see them play on the same stage like that.

“This was special.”

City Line-up Jazz DayMayor Somjai (centre) and Deputy Mayor Kavee (in Jazz Day T-shirt) of Phuket town.

Special, indeed, but did we get any notice? UNESCO Bangkok director Gwang Jo-Kim was scheduled to play guitar and give a speech at Sweets Records, a venue where the line-up could hardly be called ‘international’. In other countries, the American ambassador visited event sites and showed support for America’s only uniquely original musical oeuvre — jazz. But neither the American ambassador nor UNESCO’s officialdom deigned to notice what we’ve been doing here in Phuket, despite the fact that it is manifestly better and bigger than anything done in Bangkok or elsewhere in this country and despite the fact that the Phuket event is the only one listed on the official Jazz Day Calendar since Jazz Day was inaugurated.

Some people might feel that as a slight, and they’re right — but, baby, that’s how it is. This country is Bangkok-centric: the capital accounts for half of Thailand’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), half its economic expansion, 62 per cent of all bank deposits and 70 per cent of all loans. So people in Bangkok may be forgiven for navel-gazing tendencies.

George Cordeiro and Jeffrey Jazz DayJeffrey Sevilla of Music Matter and performer George Cordeiro.

To get noticed here in Phuket, we’ll have to make a bigger noise than has hitherto been the case. Jeffrey Sevilla and Kay Mangkolkaew of Music Matter have done yeoman’s work in organising the Jazz Day fest each of the last three years — but they have been soloing much of the time.

They could use some solid accompaniment.

The plain fact is that Phuket has more of what it takes to stage a great jazz festival than any other place in this quarter of the globe. First, the place itself is a huge attraction. Most performers, including all your top acts, would rather come here than, say, Tokyo, to play. They go to Tokyo — or Bangkok — because that’s where the money is. All other things being equal, they’d rather be here.

Wouldn’t you?

Second, the necessary infrastructure and technology to put on a good fest are here in spades. Top notch staging and lighting — we got it. Video and recording — yes! Accommodations for the performers — have we ever got ’em! Connections to all corners of the globe — sure. Food to suit any palate — ditto. Transportation, communications, entertainment, medical facilities, a base of people speaking international languages — we’ve got ’em all, and we’ve got lots of ’em.

Phuket is the perfect place. Performers are dying to come. We have only ourselves to blame if they don’t.

Siobhan and Jared Jazz DaySiobhan and Jared.

What are we doing wrong?

As I see it, the problem is that everybody wants to do his own thing separately — so he doesn’t have to share the glory when it’s a success. But it rarely is. By mounting purely private events, we fail to capitalise on all the free press and promotion that comes from public events.

Imagine if the Phuket Vegetarian Festival were the baby of one restaurant or food shop, with no backing from rivals and no support from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT): how big do you suppose it would be?

Right.

So let’s all pull together and make the Phuket International Jazz Day festival the monster event it is waiting to be. Thailand already has a good tradition of jazz: His Majesty, King Bhumibol, was formerly a reed player and composer of note, played with Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Jack Teagarden, James Moody, Benny Carter, Les Brown, Maynard Ferguson and The Preservative Hall Jazz Band among other notables, had his own jazz band and gave weekly concerts on radio for more than 20 years. So let’s build on what His Majesty has done, instead of letting it slip into history.

The 3rd UNESCO Phuket International Jazz Day showed what a fine base of jazz and blues musicians we have here in Phuket. If we all work together, next year’s fest will be much bigger; and it’s not too far-fetched to imagine it turning into a match for the famous festivals at Montreux, the North Sea and Montreal. As a famous former football player noted, in response to derisive comments from doubters, “Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut, that held its ground.”

So may we, too — let’s do it!

Readers interested in contributing can leave a message and contact details in the comment box below. To experience a little of the Jazz Day atmosphere, drop by Music Matter on Chana Charoen Rd. in Phuket town any Wednesday night about 9.00 PM — that’s where most of the players go when they want to jam. International Jazz Day’s Website is here for info and video links about the festival.

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