“It’s just you and your music—straight to the ear of the listener. So you try to create that pathway, and a great instrument makes a big difference.”
Partnered with Steinway Gallery Singapore, we brought six of Singapore’s top Jazz pianists—Jeremy Monteiro, Chok Kerong, Mario Serio, Mei Sheum, Tan Wei Xiang, and Aya Sekine—together with Jazz singer Joanna Dong to reinterpret several Mandopop favourites of our time. The performances was filmed and recorded live at the Steinway Gallery, Singapore. All songs were performed on the Steinway Spirio. The first episode of the video series will launch on April 14, featuring Joanna Dong, Jeremy Monteiro, and Noreen Loh.
JEREMY MONTEIRO, JOANNA DONG, and NOReeen Loh
Covering Stefanie Sun’s popular hit, 《遇见》, the jazz arrangement was a collaboration between veteran Malaysian jazz pianist/producer Michael Veerapan and Jeremy Monteiro. We also invited artist Noreen Loh, as she drew in real time to the performance by Joanna and Jeremy. The performance, drawing process, and artwork will be shown in the music video.
a conversation with Jeremy monteiro
Joanna: Jeremy, I won’t beat around the bush—
Jeremy: (looks around frantically)
Joanna: No bushes here! (laughs) But when we think about Jazz in Singapore, your name is definitely one of the first to come to mind. How does it feel to be at your level, up there, especially right now in the world of the internet. How does it feel like to be the maestro?
Jeremy: Well for me, it’s just because I’ve been around (laughs). I mean if you stick around long enough, people will build a narrative around you. Besides your own story, people will start building all these side stories, creating this persona. Sometimes you can’t recognise this persona, but generally speaking, if it’s not a bad persona then you kind of hang with it (laughs).
Joanna: I’ve seen you at jam sessions too. The stereotype is that you would only see the maestro in a concert hall, in very elevated surroundings. But what keeps you going, to attend these jam sessions?
Jeremy: Well as a jazz musician I play everything from hole in the wall jazz clubs, sometimes in pretty dangerous areas in parts of the U.S. or Europe. I make an effort to show up every once in awhile, for two reasons. One, to see who is up and coming, who is sounding good. But also to show that I support upcoming musicians.
Joanna: You mentioned that some of the places you played in are dangerous. Have you ever felt like your life was in danger because of music?
Jeremy: No, not really. Although I have turned down one gig in my life. It was to play in Somalia. I told them I didn’t feel safe. They said “don’t worry we will have a platoon of 30 soldiers guarding you.” When I heard that, I made my mind up. If you need a platoon of 30 soldiers, no thanks.
Joanna: Yeah that says a lot! So there are still boundaries where you won’t cross for your music?
Jeremy: Well generally speaking I love to play, so I will go anywhere as long as the situation looks like it could be musically fun, with nice people to make music and hang out with. The hang out part is really important because after the gig, you want to be able to try out new food, especially if you’re travelling. I love those back lanes, like in Japan. There are back lane Sashimi places that tourists don’t know about, that the Japanese people bring you to. They’re all over the place.
Joanna: Yes I always say that musicians know their food. They tend to be foodies, especially the good musicians! It’s almost like the better the musician, the more likely they would know where to find good food. So, in Singapore, after a wonderful night of jamming, where would you go for supper?
Jeremy: Recently, the place that I go to a lot is a Dim Sum place called Swee Choon.
Joanna: Yes! Mee Sua Kueh! (laughs)
Jeremy: Ya (nodding), they open till very late. And just by my place there is great Kueh Chap at Bishan where taxi drivers go to. That’s a place I go to at least once a day.
Joanna: So let’s speculate, why do you think that musicians are so into food? Do you think there is some kind of common ground between our approach to music and our approach to loving food?
Jeremy: I think because we work late, we know all the supper places more than others. I suppose other people in entertainment, F&B staff, taxi drivers, would know as well. The regular folk don’t really stay up so late. That’s why we know all these hidden gems.
Joanna: Today you got to play on this beautiful Spirio piano, and you mentioned that you play in all sorts of venues. From your point of view, does it make a difference what instrument you play on?
Jeremy: Well, playing on a finely crafted instrument is always wonderful because you get rid of the potential barriers between your thoughts and the music that you make. This can be things like a bad instrument, or even having aches in your hands. But when your hands are fine, and you have an instrument like the one we worked on today, then it’s just you and your music—straight to the ear of the listener. So you try to create that pathway, and a great instrument makes a big difference.
Joanna: You’ve done just about everything it seems one can do with music. Even recently you started your own radio programme, that’s pretty amazing. Is there anything at all in your music career that you haven’t done, but hope to do in the future?
Jeremy: Well I worked with so many great jazz artists, some of them were names I saw in lyrics when I was a kid. I would tell myself I want to make music with them one day. I have played with everybody I want to play with, except one person, that is James Taylor. To me, his voice, his delivery, is second to none. I may know the people who know him, but it’s about having the right material. There’s no point if you don’t have the material he might be interested in. So I hope that moment won’t come too late.
Joanna: I know, I hear you. That’s an interesting choice, because James Taylor probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think about jazz. But, does it matter?
Jeremy: You know, I kind of saw his versatility with his sound and his style. His phrasing is just gorgeous. I heard him on an album, where he sang ‘the nearness of you’ and one of his own tunes, ‘don’t let me be lonely tonight’ with jazz musicians. Even Joni Mitchell worked with jazz musicians, Sting worked with jazz musicians. We have to remember that the highest selling album of all time, ‘Thriller’ was produced by a jazz musician. It’s a skillset that, if you’re willing to adapt and bring to the table, working with musicians from different genres, you can really come up with something aesthetically very beautiful—like what we did today.
Joanna: Yay! I’m glad you think so! Thank you. It was a real pleasure for me to sing the song. Without the pressure to be jazzy, just singing the song as honestly as possible. One final question, what was your earliest or fondest memory of yourself and the piano?
Jeremy: Well, it’s interesting because I started off with the usual classical piano training. I liked it at first, but at around 9 years old I hated it because I was forced to practice. Then my family moved to Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, and my mother realised that if she didn’t find a good teacher for me, I would lose interest. So she found this gentleman by the name of Tan Tze Tong, a Shanghainese Pianist, one of the first Master Degree piano performer majors in Southeast Asia. He started teaching me, and he made me fall in love with music. He was the first teacher that could show me everything that he wanted to teach. Whether it was something technical, like phrasing, or even feeling, like connecting with the universe. He would always show me two versions, and it was like white and black, so clear. Suddenly I went, “oh”, and I fell in love with music.
Joanna: Thank you Jeremy.
Jeremy: Thank you.
A conversation with Noreen loh
Joanna: (drawing) How long have you been doing art?
Noreen: Since 2008, but I used to paint when I was younger.
Joanna: Was today your first time doing something like this?
Noreen: Live with music, yes.
Joanna: Have you done anything similar to today’s art/jamming concept?
Noreen: I always draw portraits for friends, and at events. But not like this, with music. At home, I do draw with music, but I don't focus on the music, or go with the musical flow.
Joanna: So when did you decide to do art full time?
Noreen: Well, I have a day job selling cameras. But if you’re referring to art, it depends. The projects I do sometimes take up a lot of time.
Joanna: What kind of projects attract you? What drew you to this project?
Noreen: I usually take jobs from friends, or because of friends that have recommended me. I take projects that I find are interesting. For today, I really liked how I had the freedom to draw whatever I wanted.
Joanna: So if today I said “you have to draw this and that”, you would have said “No thanks Jo?”
Noreen: Yes! (laughs) I think hundred percent I would have said no.
Joanna: I agree! I mean art is already so difficult to do. I think it is quite hard to be a musician in Singapore, but it’s even harder to be an artist—especially visual arts.
Noreen: I think it’s the same. It depends on the mentality, I guess. If you always think that it is hard, then you will never do it. Right now, you’re doing this even though you felt that it is hard—but you’re still doing it. If I don’t continue to do what I want, I’d have continued to be a florist, maybe?
Joanna: But florist is also creative mah.
Noreen: Creative yes, but to survive as a florist, creativity only accounts for 30 percent . The other 70 percent is about what the clients want. It is very hard to stay fully creative as a florist.
Joanna: We don’t know each other very well, although we have some common friends, but I get the sense that you are a very optimistic, open and cheerful person. Is that true? Or do you have your dark, emotional moments? Even your art is so bright and cheerful.
Noreen: I’m more of a cheerful person, more optimistic. But of course there are times when I get emo, especially when I'm very focused. Like for today, we had fun! But when there are deadlines to meet, I wouldn’t want to have any disturbances in my work.
Joanna: But what are the things, in your optimistic life, that do get you down? Is it things like love, family, work?
Noreen: Yeah when someone you love passes on, I think that’s the only time I get emotional nowadays. But generally most of the time I won’t feel down.
Joanna: So what’s the secret to your happiness and optimism?
Noreen: I guess what I’m doing everyday is something that I enjoy, so that makes a huge difference.
Joanna: I really had a nice time having you here. Even though I couldn’t see what you were drawing as I was singing and performing, having your presence in the room gave us strength as well.
Noreen: Thank you! (laugh)
Joanna: My pleasure!