They might think they’re playing “jazz” when in actuality, they’re simply retreading well-known standards, yet, for reasons unknown to me, there is this overriding need to be seen as being “jazz cats”, the same old group of usual suspects in Hong Kong who move in herds and “blow” at the usual places- Backstage, Peel Fresco and Orange Peel. It’s like describing Robbie Williams as being a “jazz singer” because he recorded “Swing When You’re Winning.”

Don’t get me wrong. Amongst the copyists and the shuck and jive impersonators are a few brilliant musicians- mainly instrumentalists like Blaine Whittaker, Ted Lo, Eugene Pao, Jezrael Lucero, Rudi Balbuena, Jun Kung- understand and respect the history of Jazz and what this genre of music actually is and what made everyone from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Ella Fitzgerald and Errol Garner to Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and the combination of Joni Mitchell and the brilliant Jaco Pastorius the innovators they were, and others like Nikki Yanofsky who remain true to this art form.


What’s missing are the songwriters- those tunesmiths and arrangers and marketers and innovators who brought out- and still bring out- the creativity in brilliant session men like Steve Gadd, Steve Lukather, Louie Shelton etc. Is it the Hong Konh water that doesn’t spawn a songwriter in the city like a Paul Simon or the creativity that led to One Giant Leap or the production skills of a Mark Ronson?

Right now, there’s something elitist, corny and and “puritanical” in almost a religiously fanatical way in 2015 to be seen as being “jazz aficionados”- but to each their own.

What is irksome, however, and embarrassing, are the musical fakirs who, basically, con naive audiences into thinking they’re what they’re not.

Then, again, is it their fault that many local audiences are so gullible and just as faked-out as some of these musos that they so dearly wish to be seen as “connoisseurs of jazz”, who can usually be found in any of the aforementioned venues clapping like trained seals after every turgid instrumental solo or when a singer hits a high note, no matter how sharp or flat? Then, when all else fails, these performers resort to that old shtick at “soul” where one growls at the audience. Shudder, man.

The gawdawful Taylor Hicks conned the voting audience of “American Idol” a few years ago and won the television karaoke competition with his growling impersonations of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Joe Cocker. Again, despite Cocker Power and Wonderlove hardly being “jazz”, the laughable posturing of Hicks was labelled as just that- “jazz”. And “soul”.

In Hong Kong, Jacky Cheung, the Engelbert Humperdinck of Canto-Pop,recorded a “jazz album” comprising some hideously weak “originals” by a dated songwriter from the States a few years ago. It might have been a labour of love for Cheung, and despite millions in its marketing and described as “brave”- politeness for WTF- it sunk without trace.

Meanwhile, part-time actor, model and pilot Michael Wong is labelled a “jazz vocalist” because, one guesses, he snaps his fingers and has someone blowing sax during his ‘live’ appearances while those trained seals believe his version of the James Brown classic “I Feel Good” is, well, you know what. This from the man who recently gave the world the surreal video for the truly awful song called “Airwaves Of Love”.

Why this almost religious zeal to be seen as being all about Jazz when it’s actually jizz?

Much has to do with age- and the fear factor to do with ageing and being seen as something between a has-been or never-been.

No longer young enough to be Pop, there seems to be this feeling that there’s a new career waiting where one can be sold as being a “jazz stylist” or, horrors of horrors, an “R’nB” artist.

For a few years, lightweight Mando-Canto muppet Khalil Fong, whose songs are modelled after everything Babyface has written, was peddled as being “R’nB”, and the younger version of Taiwanese crooner David Tao, also fobbed as being a “soul singer”. It’s as silly as Karen Mok continuing to dupe so many as a “jazz stylist”. Oh, puhleese.

This ridiculous labelling and, far worse, the scamming must stop. It robs Hong Kong of bona fide young Jazz talent like drummer-writer-arranger Nate Wong, and the various off-shoots of the excellent band that is maRK and led by the very good and inventive percussionist Anna Fan of what they have to offer. And labels always get in the way of originality. Labelling creates elitism, something from which the freedom of creating music should not be afflicted.

What musicians in Hong Kong should be doing- constantly- is changing and innovating knowing everything learnt through all those years of experience. Even old dogs can learn new tricks. If they can’t, don’t get in the way. Retire gracefully and come together at some old folks home to con each other while blowing smoke up the yazoo and reciting stories and name droppings from Wikipedia.

Wanna hear someone in Hong Kong with all the phrasing and timing and material that seamlessly brings together Jazz and Contemporary Pop? Check out Jessica Edmunds at the Grand Hyatt’s Champagne Bar.

With the right band behind her and someone with good A&R skills, they can certainly take her away from that wasteland of hotel lounges with their own group of trained seals. And now, back to Paul Simon and “The Afterlife”- timeless music without labels. Be bop a loo la, baby.

Hans Ebert
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc and Fast Track Global Ltd
www.fasttrack.hk

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