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At least in Hong Kong, if saddled with a “jazz singer” label, and depending on where you are in the pecking order of importance, and not being the incredibly bland Karen Mok or Coco Lee, both of whose “status” and demand is baffling, it often means being pigeon-holed and having somewhat limited opportunities as this word- “jazz”- comes with an “exclusivity” tag that stunts growth and offers sparse opportunities.

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It’s a weird back-handed compliment where anything that’s either remotely sophisticated, or has an extended solo by even, gawd forbid, Kenny G, or a singer bending notes for no other reason than they can, becomes “jazz”.

On the subject of labels, “back in the day”, just as Faye Wong was a “folk singer” and then “Alternative” when she discovered Bjork and decided to skip around stage in her bare feet, Canto-poppet Khalil Fong was a “jazz” singer.

This was before his Babyface-induced songs suddenly made him “R&B” and the “new David Tao”- Tao being the hugely overrated Taiwanese singer-songwriter whose nearly every “original” bears an uncanny resemblance to some Western pop pie just as much as Khalil Fong’s songs appears to have been fashioned after Minnie Ripperton’s “Loving You” and every other Stevie Wonder song.

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As for these supposed “jazz singers”, it was a label the very much multi-dimensional Norah Jones fought hard to dismantle during her early “Snorah” days whereas Taiwan’s Joanna Wong seemed only too happy to be marketed as “the Chinese Norah” and had her fifteen minutes of fame before she blew a gasket over this pigeon-holing, refused to play the game, and returned to the US. Smart, brave girl.

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In Hong Kong, like every chanteuse hired to play the usual watering holes in five-star hotels, Norah Jones still falls into this “jazz” category. Why?

Somewhere long ago, the music world- or Billboard, the music trade publication, and the music companies because of the growing popularity of Rap and Hip Hop, and, later, Dance- decided that music must be categorised to accommodate various “genre” charts- and “priority acts” on rosters.

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This resulted in every three penny opera and nickel and dime musician being blindly swept up in it all when trying to find their USP- Unique Selling Point. Or make-believe Happy Place where priorities got lost in the shuffle.

While watching Jennifer Palor performing at Adrenaline at Happy Valley Racecourse, without a doubt, the best venue and gig in a town with one too many Peels- will there soon be a Banana Peel?- the host kept referring to this very good singer as being “Jazz”.

Is Jennifer Palor or the rest of the small pool of Hong Kong-based singers who perform at the equally small pool of venues, “jazz” artists? No. Ella Fitzgerald was Jazz and Horace Silver, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Charlie Mingus, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Miles, and the wonderful- and young-Nikki Yanofsky, below, is Jazz.

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Those in Hong Kong labelled as being “jazzy la” by local audiences unaware of this music genre, are singers- interpreters- some better than others. But when burdened- and by this “jazz singer” label, there’s the cringeworthy penchant to try to live up to this image which often results in self-indulgent affectations and, sometimes, unintended parodies where jazz becomes jizz, self-consciousness takes place and these performers finds themselves shackled and restricted to venues like Peel Fresco, Orange Peel, Gekko and Backstage or the hotel lounge circuit.

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There’s also the problem of ageism when any musician past their Pop or Contemporary Use By Date seems to feel the need to ease themselves into being a “jazz” musician and enter some retirement home with all the other seniors where built is some tired, clammy Old Boys Club with its members happy to piss in each other’s pockets while talking the talk and singing, “Anything you can do, I can do better” and repeating the same riffs along with the same old stories.

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Are there any attempts to push that creative envelope to move away from complacency?

Maybe- but how good is this creativity? Is it adding more confusion to “fusion” or recycling tired ideas that worked far better when fresh and new?

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As often said here, because of the need to keep on gigging, to move from one gig to the next, and the sleepless nights that go with all of this to make ends meet, time management goes out the window with zero time left to expand one’s musical universe and see and hear all that youthful energy and “newness” being produced.

Without an understanding of who and what’s working and why, how can one progress and compete?

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Later this year, UK-based Robin Bannerjee returns to Hong Kong to be more than “the former guitarist for Amy Winehouse”. He will, more than likely, take up a residency at the Blue Bar with a band comprising some familiar faces who are a fixture of Hong Kong’s gigging community.

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Nothing at all wrong with this as it’s simple survival. Knowing the one-time management of Miss Winehouse, her band was discardable-and paid accordingly- whereas gigs in the UK and Europe today are tougher than nuts to find and crack. Giving up to the dole system and government handouts do nothing to improve one’s art if a musician still having a passion for their craft.

Whether Banerjee, a fine guitarist, will bring something new to music and the Blue Bar along with the venue’s next resident singer, only time will tell. I hope so, but am not holding my breath though it’s always good to have a new player in town so as not to keep going back to the same old talent pool.

Small talent pool

Many continue to say that all the best notes have been already used up to write the greatest songs whereas “fusion” music ended with the wonderful creativity of the first “One Giant Step” documentary. But this is a defeatist attitude. So is recycling what can be termed “copyist music”- supposedly new takes on old ideas that are not new or good enough.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Dm3_9xaNL4

Once in a while, however, you hear the whiff of a riff or a bass pattern or vocal performance that wakes you up and offers up Hope and the impetus and inspiration not to ever be that hamster on a treadmill.

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On Wednesday, Jezrael, a vital part of the Hong Kong ‘live’ music scene and a naturally gifted musician, played what sounded like an Arabic-influenced bass pattern to a totally stripped down version of Lorde’s “Royals” by Jennifer Palor.

It sure wasn’t jazz or jizz. It was simply very good music- and music should never ever be categorised.

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Hong Kong has some excellent musicians and singers- Blaine Whittaker, below, Marcus, Ricky and Anna Fan from maRK, Jun Kung, Eugene Pao, Ted Lo, Tess Collins, Jennifer Palor, Jay Apungan, also below etc.

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jay

But, whether it’s a lack of bona fide management or too few A&R people and music companies looking only at signing up and offering obscenely high unrecoupable advances to Canto and Mando Poppets, there is a disconnect: Recordings have been released and nothing has come of them as, perhaps, they were, how you say, crap.

Gigs take place and are forgotten about the next day whereas even the best this city has when coming together for good, paying gigs almost always have one weak link- the person who didn’t have the time to rehearse and so wings it and flies off in all directions throwing the best laid plans and arrangements into total confusion.

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Let’s also be frank here: Many in Hong Kong, China and Macau are currently being duped by so-called DJs- flim flam men who talk the talk, but talk with more holes than cottage cheese.

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But, these shysters are making the bucks by sucker-punching those happy to throw money their way to have them scratch and sniff over “real music”.

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Having said this, these mediocre “DJs”- certainly nowhere near as creative as a David Guetta and with a scary lack of knowledge of music- move in packs and seem to work together to ensure that the gravy train keeps running.

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Musicians? Musicians in Hong Kong tend to live in each other’s pockets in an incestuous way and bitch about each other more than delivering- or even looking at delivering- some new servings of bitches brew.

Bitch bitch bitch

Sure, most can’t write, but they can play their arses off. What seems to be missing in Hong Kong are those that can bring everyone and everything together starting with the songs- the creative talent comprising tunesmiths and wordsmiths- and then having the marketing savvy to turn this product into something that doesn’t start and end on Facebook or Youtube.

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When Welsh singer-songwriter Ben Semmens self-detonated his once-in-a-lifetime contract and gig with the Hong Kong Jockey Club where he was paid extremely well to perform eight songs once a week at Happy Valley Racecourse with a free apartment thrown in, Jennifer Palor stepped in. That was in mid-January.

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In three very short weeks, this venue with its three floors, a long balcony area that overlooks the races, plus offering a chillout lounge, a dinner buffet and a stage area for ‘live’ music, has seen the arrival of Ms Palor give Adrenaline the rush it needed.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SClawa71tc

There are new regulars, there is a new-found energy and inspiration whereas gone are the slapdash performances short on creativity and inter-activity from a few musicians looking at gigging only for the money, but feeling they needn’t have to stretch themselves. Wrong.Those days of false promises are gone forever and never ever to return.

Disappearing act

When Jennifer Palor and her backing group performed their versions of Radiohead’s “Creep” and “Royals”, there was a definite sense of something new happening. Nothing jaw-dropping, but a positive start.

It wasn’t the faked out “jizz” heard over the years at Gekko or Backstage or Orange Peel (or Banana Peel), or the Champagne Bar or the Blue Bar or the Lobster Bar or the Captain’s Bar, or the untapped potential of Sevva.

It was the laying down of a gauntlet that said, “We’re starting with a fresh new slate, we’re doing away with the past and musical stereotypes, and we’re going to lead by example.”

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