All that Jazz
The beat’s on the streets in Bangkok’s vibrant jazz scene
Thailand’s revered late King His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej was renowned as an accomplished and enthusiastic jazz musician; perhaps that’s one reason why jazz has such a long-standing and prominent presence in Bangkok. His Highness took part in a jam session with bandleader Benny Goodman during a 1960 visit to New York (above) and was described by Lionel Hampton, another American jazz legend, as: Simply the coolest King in the land. His majestic musical legacy lives on in Bangkok, where Thai musicians and international artists alike make sure the city’s jazz joints stay jumping. Whether it’s full-on stomping sounds, modern inventive instrumentals, traditional standards, laid-back fusion or late-night crooning, the city’s hotels and bars offer a diversity of jazz satisfaction.
Aladdin’s Cave of Vinyl Classics
Fans of the warm sound of analogue vinyl recordings will be in seventh heaven in The Siam Bangkok’s new Vinyl Room, a treasure trove of vinyl jazz. It houses the vast vinyl collection of Hugh Van Es, the Dutch photographer famous for iconic images of Americans fleeing the fall of Saigon in 1975 who was an avid jazz fan. His collection, together with fine examples of his photography, forms the heart of the Vinyl Room, the vision of the hotel’s creative director and friend of Van Es, Krissada Suksol Clapp. Guests can play records from the collection while relaxing with a drink or two in the stylish surroundings. Hugh loved nothing more than sitting down with a drink and listening to the trumpet of Miles Davis, or the instantly recognisable voice of Ella Fitzgerald. We know he would love to think of people enjoying his collection, says Krissada Sukosol Clapp. Among the Vinyl Room’s jazz memorabilia is a tribute to the Thai Royal Family’s deep love of jazz: the photo of the hugely popular, saxophone-playing, His Majesty the late King Bhumbol Adulyadej jamming with jazz legend Benny Goodman.
On Friday and Saturday evenings there’s smooth laid-back jazz fusion and popjazz sounds to savour among the elegant surroundings of Le Bar de L’Hôtel in Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit. These eclectic musical vibes are courtesy of Messes Jazz Band, a local group of Thai musicians featuring charismatic lead singer Natt. Recently re-designed Le Bar de L’Hôtel is part of the hotel’s art-inspired lobby, with a backlit countertop and bar that creates flair and atmosphere. Jazz buffs can kick back in style and groove to the sounds with fine wines and signature cocktails.
It’s quite a distance from the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York City – where legends of jazz and soul such as Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Gladys Knight made their names – to The Zuk Bar at The Sukhothai Bangkok. But that’s where another talented graduate of the famous Apollo Theatre is currently wowing audiences with her own blend of jazz, bossa nova and soul. Coco, from Washington D.C., launched her career at the legendary talent competition Amateur Night at the Apollo, moved on to perform at New York City’s renowned Don’t Tell Mama Cabaret & Piano Bar, then sang with the The Jerry Kravat NY Orchestra at high society Manhattan weddings and corporate events. She went on to perform solo and has been pouring out her exciting music around the world for almost 20 years. Coco performs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night alongside the hotel’s resident Filipino three-piece band. She also serenades every week at the hotel’s Sunday Brunch.
Lovingly-revived jazz melodies complement the fine modern French cuisine of The Reflexions restaurant at Plaza Athénée. They’re presented by pianist Jean-Francois, a self-styled musical revivalist who delights in discovering forgotten jazz gems to keep the music of their composers alive. Dedicated to celebrating jazz as an art form, he plays styles covering a vast spectrum, from traditional varieties of Chicagoan jazz to various modern genres, and even throws in some classical influences. Jean Francois performs from Wednesday to Sunday evenings at The Reflexions – a captivating musical accompaniment to the restaurant’s artistic focus on subtle discoveries of taste, and connections between food and art.
Blowing Up a Storm
There’s no better testament to the deep love of jazz in Bangkok than Saxophone, where toes have been tapping to rhythms of jazz and blues for 30 years. This downhome pub venue stages live performances from some of the city’s top musicians every night of the week; it’s the go-to spot to catch both legends and up-and coming stars of the local jazz scene. Famous Thai artists who’ve graced its stage over the years include Koh Mr. Saxman, the T-Bone Band, Neung Jakkawul Bang, The Emergency, JRP Little Band and many more. Its walls are packed with fascinating music memorabilia and there’s a mezzanine level overlooking the stage to relax and take in all the musical action in comfort.
Living for the City
The Living Room at Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit has hosted some of the most respected musicians on the international jazz scene, including Grammy Award winners. Sophistication is the name of the game with tasteful décor, a sweeping bar, comfortable armchairs and sofas, and subdued lighting all making it a seriously cool place to hang out. With black and white images of jazz legends looking down from the walls and staff in flowing outfits that recall the decade of swing and style the ambience of The Living Room hits all the right notes. And upcoming residences by two renowned American jazz vocalists will ramp up The Living Room’s musical credentials. First up, from 16 May – 10 June, is multi-talented Cynthia Scott, whose style encompasses jazz, blues, R&B and gospel. Discovered by the legendary Ray Charles, Cynthia has appeared in concerts worldwide for more than three decades and was described as: A mesmerising vocalist by the Chicago Tribune. She’s followed from 13 June – 7 July by powerhouse singer Emily Braden, winner of New York City’s prestigious Best of the Best Jazzmobile Vocal Competition , whose signature sound is an effortless blend of jazz and soul. Cynthia and Emily will both perform with the Randy Cannon Group, every night except Sunday and Monday. Celebrated for commanding performances, Randy’s piano playing is complemented by outstanding drummer Willard Dyson and Thailand’s leading bass player, Therdsak Wongvichien. And if that’s not enough, the hotel’s Sunday Jazzy Brunch features live music from Jazziam, a four-piece band led by singer Athalie de Koning playing timeless jazz standards and funky reinventions of old tunes, with a focus on swing and improvisation.