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Mabuhay Jazz

Last revised 3/14/2016

MabuhayJazz-CoverArt25002Richie C. Quirino. Mabuhay Jazz: Jazz in Postwar Philippines. Manila: Anvil Publishing. Pp. 188, incl. Index.

By Collis H. Davis, Jr.

Publisher Gus Vibal wrote in this book’s Introduction, “In reconstructing our  musical past, Richie Quirino is giving us a musical future, a statement undoubtedly inspired by the Shakespearian line, ‘What is past, is prologue,’”¯ found on the base of a sculpture called “The Future”€¯ located at the National Archives building in Washington, DC. This aptly applies to Mabuhay Jazz as a repository of Philippine jazz history, one which has chronicled the continuing development of the art of jazz during the Philippine post World-War II era, and monitored how the music has struggled to find and retain its own identity in the face of an onslaught of rock music that swept the world of the 1960s and ‘70s.

Mabuhay Jazz is the second volume in a projected series of three books by Richie C. Quirino, the first of which was Pinoy Jazz Traditions, also published by Anvil in 2004, and the winner of the 2004 National  Book Award for Music. Slightly smaller in format, with fewer pages than the previous book, and printed on a lower quality paper stock that has resulted in less-than-stellar reproduction of its cornucopia of rare photos and graphic art, the book includes an all-important index which the first volume sorely lacked. Quirino informed me that the press run was limited to only one-third of the 1,000 copies of the first volume, and unlike the first book, Mubuhay Jazz is unfortunately not available in bookstores but that it can be special-ordered at Power Books with a three-day delivery. Of course, Mabuhay Jazz can be ordered online from Anvil at http://www.anvilpublishing.com, tel. 63-2-637-3621

Like Pinoy Jazz Traditions, this work is organized into three parts consisting of the author’s essay, From Roots to Routes, The Pinoy Jazz Photo Chest and One-on-One  Interviews. From Roots to Routes illuminates personalities, music venues, notable bands, musical trends, and scenes overseas both in Asia and the US. As one progresses through the essay it becomes abundantly clear that Maestro Angel Peńa was a major informant about the heydays of the jazz scene both at home and abroad in places like Hong Kong, Tokyo and US. For more of the story about Maestro Peńa, check out his book, A Man and His Music, published in 2007 by Ateneo de Manila University Press. http://ateneopress.org

From Roots to Routes opens with the introduction of some new material on Filipino-American jazz connections that unfolded in the Philippines and Stockton, CA. In regard to the former, Quirino cites some references about the development of African-American improvised music in the boondocks (derived from the Filipino bundok for mountain) of the Philippines by the African-American Buffalo soldiers. This reviewer believes much more research is needed to establish whether these African-American soldiers did indeed accomplish any major breakthroughs in developing improvised music while in the Philippine boondocks. The author should have provided the bibliographical reference for the article, Tell-tale Signs/Boondocks and Jazz€¯ by Rodel Rodis. This seems to be the case with several other articles that were cited in part one.

A second tantalizing anecdote comes from the late Dr. Ramon Sison, a pathologist living LA, who said that as a youth, he had heard dirges played by illiterate musicians during funeral processions in Ilocos Sur€¯ (northwestern Luzon) [that] echoed dirges played by black musicians in New Orleans on the same occasions. This theory would appear to be plausible as it was most likely that funeral duty in the Philippines fell to the black soldiers to bury the dead from the ranks of the US  military units fighting the Insurrectos. In this instance, it could very well have been possible that the black military bands did play funeral dirges as part of their burial details, but there is no direct evidence of this.

But getting on to the revelations about the Filipino-American jazz scene that developed in Stockton, CA, Quirino cites research in the article “Stockton: €A Birthplace of Filipino-American Jazz”€¯ by George Leong about the development of jazz before World War II. He mentions the polyglot character of Stockton that was at once a railroad center that brought blacks to Stockton as porters and railway workers and a port for ocean-going vessels on which Filipinos might have arrived in Stockton. In spite of the racial and ethnic tensions that characterized relations between the African-American, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino communities, the Filipinos were very much into jazz, but they considered themselves as a sub-community of the jazz circles then. Fulbright Scholar Theo Gonzalves documented one prominent musician, Joseph “Flip”€¯ Nuez who started his career in Stockton, but later moved to LA when rock music encroached upon the jazz scene in this San Joaquin Valley city. Gonzalves said Nuez played with luminaries such as the avant-garde reedman, Eric Dolphy, and later gigged in Hawaii and San  Francisco.

Among other topics addressed in part one was the collaboration that often took place between American GI musicians and their Filipino counterparts, both in Manila and up in Angeles City where Clark Field Air Base was located. The rise of Latin and Afro-Cuban music has been credited to a Puerto Rican GI, Chino Santos, who taught modern techniques of Latin percussion. Such was the Latin craze that it dominated the scene well into the early 1950s when Xavier Cugat played here in 1953. Notwithstanding the preeminence of Latin, jazz in the form of bebop and cool jazz was holding its own through the efforts of musicians like Lito Molina, Angel Peńa, Emil Mijares, Tony Velarde, Bading Tuason, Bobby Enriquez, Fred Robles and many others too numerous to mention.

Clubs like Cafe Indonesia and those situated in important hotels, bands such as The Executives, and concerts sponsored by the fraternity, Upsilon Sigma Phi, the US Embassy’s Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center, all  contributed to a hot musical atmosphere in Manila. Part one is closed with a discussion about fusion jazz that began to come in the late 1970s.

Unlike the first volume, Mabuhay Jazz has only one so-called sidebar€¯ feature compared to the three in Pinoy Jazz Traditions. This sidebar featured a poignant essay by Dick Demuth, a British-born ex-patriot pianist who wound up in Hong Kong and got into the jazz scene, then later in Bangkok and Tokyo. He writes affectionally about the Filipino jazz men and women he met over the course of five decades since 1945. But being a non-Filipino, it was hard for him to get a gig in a Filipino band. Calling himself a naturalized Asian,¯ Demuth eventually married a Filipina and lives happily in Manila nowadays.

Section two, The Pinoy Jazz Photo Chest, features some 40 pages of rare photos and memorabilia that have been entrusted to Richie by musicians and the families of musicians now deceased. Arranged by decade, many photos from the 1920s through the 1970s have also been featured in the 60-minute video documentary, PINOY JAZZ: The Story of Jazz in the Philippines, produced by Richie Quirino, Collis Davis, and Gus Lagman. Aside from the benefits these literary jazz histories provide for the public, the first volume served as the primary basis for the video documentary that was completed in 2006.

Part three, the One-on-One Interviews, features a little more than half of the number of interview subjects of the first volume of both contemporary and veteran musicians such as vocalists Charmaine Clamor, Mon David, Nelda Lopez Navarro, Josie Quizon and Sandra Lim Viray; and  instrumentalists such as Mar Dizon, Rudy Regalado and conductor/arranger, Gerard Salonga. Several artists who live abroad were interviewed via e-mail; in this regard, Quirino has acknowledged the central importance of the Internet in being able to reach far-flung artists, including Angel Peńa whom Quirino first contacted by email and eventually persuaded by him to return to the Philippines from California to help rebuild the UP Jazz Ensemble.

Among the most recent interviews included in this volume are two exemplary contemporary musicians who hail from strong musical or literary families, Marlene del Rosario, vocalist/pianist and daughter of jazzman Bert del Rosario, and Aya M. Yuson, son of writers Sylvia Mayuga Yuson and Krip Yuson. Marlene’s background in the family piano-making and  later recording business enabled her to be among the first in the Philippines to get into MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) technology which is de rigueur these days if you are a musician. After attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, she got a fairly late start professionally, so she is thankful that jazz is one of those fields where growing old is OK, and could even be an asset.€¯

Aya Yuson, a precocious young guitarist who was a member of the highly-respected WDOUJI (Witch Doctors of Underground Jazz Improvisation) in the early years of this decade, is one of the more cerebral players on the scene today. On the question of what is his dream project, Aya said, “my life’s abiding ambition is to be able to  play at least half of everything I hear, everything I imagine. If I could get to half, I could die happy.”

In conclusion, I highly recommend Mabuhay Jazz as required reading for anyone wanting to learn more about this nation’s robust but scarcely documented jazz history, especially students and scholars of the art form. The book provides convincing  evidence of the universal respect that has been accorded the Filipino jazz men and women for their artistry, even if such recognition has eluded these musicians at home in the Philippines.

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About the reviewer: Collis Davis, a two-time Fulbright Senior Scholar to the Philippines, has retired to the Philippines from Columbus, Ohio with his wife, Violeta Peralta Hughes, a professional writer and editor. Violeta edited and created the index for Mabuhay Jazz. Davis is co-author with historian and Fulbright Senior Scholar, Charles M. Hubbard, of a coffee-table  book, Corregidor in Peace and War, published in 2006 by the University of Missouri Press. He has been an aficionado of jazz since the early 1950s and has written critical reviews for the student paper of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Daily Cardinal, and for various African-American newspapers in Chicago and New York. He has also photographically documented the New York jazz scene for journals such as Downbeat and the Modern Drummer. A  graduate of NYU’s Graduate Motion Picture and Television program, Davis is currently working on video documentary called Headhunting William Jones.¯

© 2005-2016 Collis H. Davis, Jr.
All rights reserved.