Five years on, the Singapore International Jazz Festival – affectionately called Sing Jazz – continues to underline the true diversity of the beautiful genre that is jazz music, its magnitude evident by the quality of amazing shows I had the pleasure of experiencing, even more so for a power-packed weekend that also saw Coldplay and Armin van Buuren performing around other parts of the island.
In a recent interview with Corinne Bailey Rae, who took the main show’s headlining act on the first night, she summed up the secret to playing a memorable live show as being able to vibe off the audience’s energy, and in turn, they’ll vibe back off the performer – and it was extraordinary to see how the many different artists took on the task during the three days. At the centre of it all: the soaring vocals and musicianship by many a woman.
Things start with the English DJ and record label owner Gilles Peterson, as he invited Nubya Garcia and her band up on stage. Nubya is one of the UK’s coolest (and busiest) saxophonists, with a few hot jazz collectives to her name. She plays the flute too, just as proficiently as she carries the tenor saxophone – powerful and earnest – against the funky, soulful tunes of her bandmates and guest singer Poppy Ajudha‘s crooning vocals.
As more audience members started gathering towards the stage, Corinne Bailey Rae emerged dressed in a radiant and very aluminium space suit of sorts, reflecting light from every angle like the angel she is. Alternating between acoustic and electric guitar, the soul singer served up old favourites like Put Your Records On and Is This Love, alongside selections from her first album in six years, The Heart Speaks in Whispers. This includes the uplifting tune The Skies Will Break, as she reached out to the skies with a shining smile to end the set.
On Saturday, Esperanza Spalding – the first ever jazz artist to win the Grammy Award for Best New Artist – took the evening slot with her signature combination of voice and bass – contrasting her sharp voice with the lower octaves of her playing (on the bass guitar and the acoustic string bass). And what a delight, as she cooed out the lyrics to Black Gold in soulful glory while thumping out the funkiest lines, before diving into an intensely mesmerising rendition of Unconditional Love.
Esperanza isn’t the only prodigy on the bass either. Nik West, the 24-year-old bassist who’s already collaborated with Prince and Stevie Wonder, hit the stage on the last day after a rocking good time by Adam Hall & The Velvet Playboys (who incidentally featured Singapore’s very own Alemay Fernandez). If I had to describe her in two words, it’d be ‘explosive’ and ‘colourful’.
But the biggest voices that night (heck, for the entire festival) would come during David Foster’s show-closing set, as he brings in one of Indonesia’s most established jazz singers, Dira Sugandi, to belt out tracks from legends Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, and hit money notes like they were nothing. With half an hour left to go, it seemed apt to bring out the night’s star act, the ten-time Grammy Award-winning Chaka Khan, in a peacock dress, no less. And boy, can she sing her heart out, pulling out hit after hit of her best songs – Ain’t Nobody and Through The Fire included. Not like we’ve ever needed confirmation of her singing chops.
Together with the likes of Al McKay’s Earth, Wind & Fire Experience, Basement Jaxx, Ray Parker Jr, and Youssou Ndour, it was clear that the audience was darn satisfied, making Sing Jazz a triumph on every level.
Singapore International Jazz Festival 2017 took place from 31 March to 2 April 2017 at the Event Plaza, Marina Bay Sands and Sands Expo and Convention Centre.