Jazz in ‘I Am Iloilo City’, really?

CALL IT serendipity. While doing research I came across a post on social media which came as a pleasant surprise and mild amazement.

The post was an announcement of a jazz festival (yes, the musical genre) in “I Am Iloilo City” aptly called “The 1st Iloilo Jazz Festival” and it is part of the celebration of the Charter Day celebration of “I Am Iloilo City”.

Of course, my first reaction was, “Jazz in ‘I Am Iloilo City’, really?”

This is rather quaint considering that “I Am Iloilo City” has never been known for jazz music, let alone promote it.

But first things first. For sure Ilonggo jazz enthusiasts know what Moi is talking about here but what about the rest of the natives and the uninitiated?

From that free online encyclopedia a.k.a. the internet:

Jazzmusical form, often improvisational, developed by African Americans and influenced by both European harmonic structure and African rhythms. It was developed partially from ragtime and blues and is often characterized by syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, often deliberate deviations of pitch, and the use of original timbres.

Any attempt to arrive at a precise, all-encompassing definition of jazz is probably futile. Jazz has been, from its very beginnings at the turn of the 20th century, a constantly evolving, expanding, changing music, passing through several distinctive phases of development.

And we segue to jazz in the city, rather “I Am Iloilo City”. Jazz per se is not common in these parts and most natives, save perhaps for a few enlightened souls, i.e. the Jazz Enthusiasts Iloilo, probably cannot tell the difference between jazz music and a fig tree.

Jazz as a musical genre is as alien to most natives of “I Am Iloilo City” as, say, Leni Robredo actually saying something with real sense. And I do not mean the now famous quip, “I have three daughters and they’re all girls.” But of course, that’s another story, and pardon the unintentional digress.  

Jazz is basically non-existent in “I Am Iloilo City”; not a single radio station on the AM and FM frequency band play jazz music or have any programming specifically for jazz. In short, you cannot hear jazz on the airwaves.

Meanwhile not a single bar, club or hotel features jazz music, live or otherwise. You may say the dearth of jazz in “I Am Iloilo City” is on epidemic proportions. The only jazz music you may inadvertently hear will be from the homes, cars, iPhones or laptops of the few enlightened souls of the Jazz Enthusiasts of Iloilo.

“It’s a sad…sad situation and it’s getting more and more absurd”, that is, until the 1st Iloilo Jazz Festival on Aug. 23 – a breath of fresh air from a seemingly dire situation musically and culturally wise.

There was a time when jazz music was holding its own in “I Am Iloilo City” from the mid-‘70s till the late ‘80s. Jazz was on the FM radio airwaves. There was DySA Radio San Agustin who had regular programming feature on jazz music, particularly jazz fusion and samba.

As a teenager in the 1970s, DySA-FM was my introduction to jazz. I got to hear artists like Astrud Gilberto, Joao Gilberto, Sergio Mendes and the Brazil 66, Tower of Power, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, mostly the jazz and rock fusion genre.

In the 1980s there was DyXI-FM. They started featuring jazz and eventually became the de facto “Jazz FM Radio” in Iloilo City playing mostly jazz the whole day until the station was bought by GMA and turned into a baduy pop station.

They were featuring artists like Michael Franks, Spyro Gyra, David Benoit, George Benson, Earl Klugh, Groover Washington Jr. and a host of other jazz musicians mostly on the jazz fusion genre.

Most notable was the show “Jazz Album Countdown” with quintessential Jazzman DJ Butch Tan.

The ‘80s till the early ‘90s were probably the “golden age” of jazz in Iloilo City. We had a few joints in “I Am Iloilo City” featuring live jazz music. Notable were The Tavern Pub on Delgado Street featuring the late Jones on saxophone and Nelson del Castillo on keyboards. Sadly what Tavern was is now the parking area of SM Delgado Supermarket.

And then there’s the original Buddy’s Bar on the ground floor of the Oro ancestral house on Valeria Street just at the back of the Atrium. They had a jazz trio with a great bass player and piano man featuring on vocals Bituin Balesteros.

Right along General Luna Street is Cactus Bar in the Treehouse featuring the late Vidal on trumpet and further down the road in what was then the Sarabia Manor Hotel was Café Salvatore featuring Jackie Albito on vocals with her own brand of Samba.

Jazz music is progression and improvisation. To understand and appreciate this progressive musical genre requires a high degree of sophistication. Perhaps with the 1st Iloilo Jazz Festival the taste in music of the natives will “level up”. ([email protected]/PN)  

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