“Private Concert” by Herb Scott
Recanting my experience traveling to Thailand in January of 2020 is just as surreal as it was to come back to a country completely unaware the fate that the year had in store. When I was told that we were heading to Thailand, to be honest, I had forgotten that we even applied. Furthermore, I had never traveled that far before and knew absolutely nothing about Thai culture and history. I quickly prepared as best I could—searching Youtube, Wikipedia and Google for as much information as possible and, I even got a Lonely Planet travel book for Christmas that I brought with me. When I learned that the movie The Beach was shot there, I could not wait to find a way to go there at some point during our stay. I started to make a mental checklist of places I hoped to visit outside of Bangkok, since I did not know the next time I would be able to come back.
Quickly my excitement turned to worry when American news outlets were reporting this new virus—though based in China at the time, it was deemed highly contagious. I mentioned my worry to our group several times before we left, and each time I was assured that not only would we be fine. I was worried the entire flight there, but by the time we landed and settled in, my worries quickly subsided. Immediately noticeable was the warm weather and the very friendly students who picked us up from the airport. Mahidol University’s campus is beautiful and so serene; starting there on our trip really helped ease me into the hustle and bustle of Bangkok later on. And to hear these incredible students in Thailand, playing Jazz music, was incredible. In a lot of ways I felt at home amongst a community of people that speak music despite us not speaking the same spoken language. It was also great to meet and hang out with the other acts—legendary musicians that I would probably never meet in D.C. I had a great time having lunch with saxophonist Javon Jackson as he recanted stories of him on the road with the Art Blakey band.
Although I felt very comfortable at the festival, I could not help but wonder how much American culture has changed Thai culture. And as a Black man, how our music has influenced Thai music. I know that while Jazz is an American-born genre, there has been a huge decline in venues, album sales and popularity, and now many of the consumers are also musicians themselves. I wondered if hip hop had the same effect in Thailand. My quest brought me to an online article published by High Snob Society that listed the “10 best Thai rappers you need to know,” and while going down the list I was amazed how much our American rap had influenced Thai youth. I became an immediate fan of one of the only female artists on that list, who goes by Nur$etime. I played her song, D Tor Jai, over and over, and despite not understanding what she was saying I could totally feel the vibe of the song. It also helped that she threw in bits of English throughout the song.
The festival came to a close, and we were to head to Bangkok to perform at Jazz clubs there. While excited to do that, I still wanted to find a way to get to a club that played Thai rap. I started making plans before we left the university for Bangkok of places that I would try to see in between performances. I knew I wanted to go to Phuket, Chiang Mai and possibly Pattaya and that beach from the movie, The Beach. Once we arrived in Bangkok, we checked into our AirBnB, and first thing I did was plug in my phone to charge, as it had just died. And that was the last time my phone was on during that trip. My phone never came back on, and I knew that my plans to escape to those other cities were canceled. Luckily, I had my iPad with me, and I could communicate with friends via social media, but I could only use it when connected to wifi. I did not want my phone to ruin my trip, and I was saved by the fact that my long time friend, Amy, was on the trip, because she let me use her phone and we could explore together. We went on as many adventures during the day as we could. We went to Wat Intharawihan, Jim Thompson house, traveled by canal and went to a night market and shopped. But I still longed to experience the nightlife beyond the Jazz clubs that we were playing. I figured the safest alternative was to explore the nightlife of the neighborhood we were in. Our place was on Soi 11, and I found a bar close by that had live music called Apoteka. It was a safe first start, and I noticed a lot of expats, so I figured I could find out more information about where to go from them. During one of my first nights out, I met a beautiful Thai woman and we ended up meeting up several times before I left. Mainly to learn about each other for the short time I was there. I also was the only person in the group that was not married or engaged, so when the gigs were over, I did not want to just sit in my room alone. By the end of the trip I had fallen in love in many different ways—Nur$etime’s music and Thailand and beautiful country and delicious food and this beautiful young lady. That experience later became commemorated in two songs. “Private concert” is a romance song, with a vibe similar to the Nur$etime song and the bells and chimes that are played throughout are similar to the sounds and tranquil spirit of the Thai temples. The second song, Soi 11, plays on a theme that is reharmonized four different ways, but the melody is basically the same. The four of us—Will, Amy, Ethan and myself—all played Jazz together at night, but had completely different experiences during the day and after the gig. Both songs hint at the feeling of desire, yearning and wanting. And when we got back to America those feelings lingered as we were we told that we would have to quarantine. I hope to return to Thailand if not to see the young lady again at least to satisfy my longing to see that beach.