My JB : Jazz Corner

If you happen to be in JB on a Friday night and wondering what is there to do in JB or where to go to de-stress yourself from the ravages of the last five days (traffic, the boss, the kids, inconsiderate drivers, even more inconsiderate bus and truck drivers, reckless motorcyclists et al), you can try making a beeline for the clubs or cafes where live music is part of the club’s or cafe’s offering.

However, the trick is to know which club to patronise for the kind of music that you’d be looking out for eg jazz, rock or indie or contemporary, and that itself will require some time-consuming research. But question is, how many of us have that kind of luxury on a Friday night?

Admittedly, JB’s night life is not as lively and varied as KL’s (for the uninformed, read that as Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital) or even of that of Singapore across the Causeway, but as most Johoreans can proudly tell you, the Malaysian music scene (and dare I say it, Singapore’s as well) is littered with musicians who either call Johor their home or have their roots in Johor or both.

Hutan Bandar MBJB
(source : hutanbandar.gov.my)

Should live easy listening and entertaining music be your cup of tea, you can make a beeline to one of the city’s green lungs, the Hutan Bandar MBJB (MBJB being Majlis Bandaraya Johor Bahru or Johor Bahru City Council, for the uninitiated), and sample the weekly 3-hour performance by JB City Council’s award-winning musical ensemble, Orkestra Bandaraya Johor Bahru (lit. JB City Orchestra), at their once-a-week musical program, Jazz Corner.

Limsimi.com - Back to the visitor resting area at Hutan Bandar (Johor Bahru, Malaysia)

Daytime – Visitor Resting Area
(source : limsimi.com)

Friday Night – Jazz Corner
(@ all rights reserved)

Held under the open night sky, Jazz Corner commences at 8.30pm, Orkestra Bandaraya Johor Bahru‘s musical repertoire includes covers of local and foreign musical scores and the occasional original, re-arranged to add that slightly jazzy feel to the music. The evening’s performance always commences with instrumental numbers, to get the musical juices going so to speak, before the orchestra’s resident singers, who are award winners themselves, take to the mike.

How did it all began, you might ask? Legend has it that several then top officials of the State and City’s administration were mulling over the idea of having an outlet for City residents to let off steam. Good harmless fun, nothing sordid, where families and couples can hang out together on a Friday night and it would not cost you a bomb just to get through the front door. And since music is a  universal language understood by all, it was decided that ‘that something’ be connected to music, and so Jazz Corner was born.

That was in 2006, I was told, and six years down the road, Jazz Corner has become a permanent fixture for many a music lover in JB. Music with a slightly jazzy feel, to cater to the masses, so to speak.

One would be surprised as to the who’s who attending these evening performances. Some are or were high-level officials in the state and local government, whereas some are household names in the Malaysian music scene, past and present. An ex-Mayor of JB City has been known to drop in on occasions, as did some senior state officials.

And every once in a while, these household names would give impromptu performances or even have jamming sessions during the interlude, the musicians that is. And as they say, if you have the skills you will never lose it as is evident from these sessions.

Not to be outdone, new musical acts are also given opportunities to show what they can do. Of course, their ‘thing’ may or may not be your cup of tea, but for some of these new acts, half an hour performing on stage is a totally new experience and for some, a very nerve wrecking one as well. But as they say, practice makes perfect and experience comes from exposure.

For every musical performance, one of the most important personnel is the one manning the controls aka the sound engineer. This is where MBJB is lucky enough to have the services of one popularly known as Ecer. Looking nondescript, you may just take him to be just another regular Joe but delving deeper into his past, this regular Joe is not so regular after all.

Malaysian Rock Band, Lefthanded
Ecer, 4th from left
(source : puteraduyong.com)

Local rock fans in Malaysia and Singapore would know of the group Lefthanded. Big in the 80s and 90s, you’d be surprised to find that one of the band members happen to be that regular nondescript looking Joe, Ecer. Minus the hair, of course. And instead of keyboards at his fingertips, it’s now the consoles of the sound equipment.

Ecer, the sound maestro at work at Jazz Corner
(@ all rights reserved)

As he always say, sound engineers can either make you sound like Michael Buble or Mickey Mouse, at their romantic best. When it comes to sound, this guy is a perfectionist, that much we can say.

Jazz Corner takes a hiatus for about eight weeks in a year, which is timed to coincide with the holy month of Ramadhan and the first two weeks of Syawal. The Jazz Corner program is also suspended whenever the orchestra has to give a performance at state-level or city-level functions. This of course does not always go down well with some of the regulars as they have gotten used to getting their weekly diet of live entertainment but hey, these orchestra guys are employees of the City Council after all.

Personally, I think Jazz Corner is due for a makeover. For starters, it can do with a bit more support from the City Council and of course, the State government, mainly because Jazz Corner has the potential to be more than what it is now.

The idea of having a resident band ie Orkestra Bandaraya Johor Bahru should be expanded to allow other jazz-inspired acts to perform, and maybe, culminating into a once-in-a-year week-long Jazz Carnival where jazz acts, local and international, are invited to perform. (We can dream, can we not?)

Being part of Iskandar Malaysia, the city is more than ready for such festivals and such a project won’t be want of sponsors. Besides helping to put JB on the map for international music, such a festival will also allow our musicians to observe up close the professionalism of those international acts and if handled correctly, a potential revenue generator for the state and the city.

We have the people, we have the location, we have the musicians, and dare I say it, we have the funds and the sponsors. Question is now, do we have the drive and energy to do it? Lets ponder on that, shall we?

In the meantime, lets settle in for some nice entertaining music, courtesy of MBJB’s Jazz Corner. Cover version it may be, but it beats paying through your nose just to get through that front door every time you want to hear good music.

So here’s to good music. Cheers then.

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