The first time I went to Bangkok was when I performed with the DC jazz Collective sister city program. I quickly became enamored with the city. It has the complexity of big city life combined with the peaceful Buddhist belief system which brings harmony to the perceived chaos. The combination of Eastern and Western cultures blends well together which made me feel at home while experiencing a “new” ancient culture. I got the feeling that life in Bangkok could be as simple or as complex as I choose to make it. I like options. As a bassist, I get to play a wide variety of music, thereby satisfying my desire for options. I find that playing bossa nova music provides similar musical possibilities. The bossa nova feel is laid back and relaxing. However, with the right musicians, the song can get very complex and cycle through multiple styles and feels before returning to the original laid back feel. The Bangkok Bossa has that potential. The melody is simple and laid back. But during the solos, there is the freedom to flex your creative muscle and incorporate other musical styles thereby intertwining complex musical ideas within a simple musical structure. Once you’ve had your fun, you can go back to the laid back bossa nova feel. Bangkok made me feel similarly. I enjoyed the hustle of the city as well as the serenity of the temples and ruins of the countryside. Having the ability to have eastern and western cuisines right next to each other is just another beautiful aspect of living in Bangkok. Bangkok provides lots of life choices. Bossa nova music allows for multiple musical ideas. For me, Bangkok and Bossa Nova music go together.
My piece “Call” was inspired by our trip to Thailand, and the musical concept of “the call”. “The Call” is when the band takes a break, and the bandleader wants to start the show again. They head to the stage and start playing alone, declaring the start of another set, and the band walks up to join in.
Since returning from Thailand I have been playing alone in my home for months. As a freelance musician, calls were no longer coming in, and like many others I pivoted to work online. I miss my daily interaction with other musicians on the bandstand and off. I often talk to music students about music being a calling, not just a job, and this break has made me recognize that performing brings so much joy into my life. Despite the stress and depression, the piano continues to be a comfort for me, and an important mental health routine as I write and practice daily. I have never been more grateful to be a musician and have this music to keep me afloat.
Traveling to Bangkok was my last trip out of the country before the pandemic, and was a powerful experience performing with the band, jamming with new friends, and listening to amazing music at the jazz festival. Every night I would call my husband and tell him all my favorite moments of my day. I told him how I casually chatted with Rachel Z, an amazing jazz musician at the festival, over breakfast. I described how I went all over Bangkok looking for giant Buddhas and speeding in water taxis down canals. I bragged about our jam session, that it lasted all night and the young women from the local college were excited to “sit in” with a woman playing in the American band.
These calls solidified and crafted the stories of my memories, and I hold onto them now. As I sit alone again and again at the piano, writing new music and thinking of the next time I will be able to take the call, join a band, travel abroad, and immerse myself in a new culture through music.
There are three sections of the piece. The initial theme is “the call” representing the project coming together and our bandleader Will organizing the trip and our group calls with the members of the band. The call is repeated several times, and the texture thickens, becoming more harmonically interesting as the idea comes to life.
The second section with the descent and low rumble of the bass represents our travel to Bangkok, hauling our instruments and suitcases, rushing around airports, etc. The third section is short, fast, and spinning around, like our jetlag as we arrive and get settled. Then the first theme returns again, but this time it’s stretched out and dramatic with lush chords and thickened octaves in the left hand. This represents the band finally performing in Bangkok.
After all three sections have been played the improvisation starts on the original chords of the A section, a wild freewheeling line that creates conversation between two hands. When the improvisation is over the 2nd and 3rd sections return, traveling back to DC, and eventually finishing with dramatic modulation and elongation of the original theme, just as the project successfully finished and we returned safely before the shutdown.
I am looking forward to adapting this piece for a larger ensemble after the pandemic, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on my wonderful experiences in Thailand in 2020.
Arriving in Bangkok late into the night, or rather very very early in the morning there is not much to see or distinguish on the ride from the airport into the city. This is especially true with a mental state fogged by almost 24 hours of travel with little to no substantive sleep. The coming of morning however revealed the location and surroundings of our residence for the week. Though morning is perhaps a generous descriptor since in reality sleep was necessary until well past noon local time.
A walk out of the door, down the alley, and onto Sukhumvit 39. The path that led to the main drag of our part of town. The sleek buildings along Sukhumvit Road created a canyon filled with wide streets and narrow sidewalks. A towering two-level elevated train system and pedestrian walkway streaming down the center of the canyon cast a welcoming shadow in the bright tropical sun. This everyday trek off to the scheduled and improvised adventures always set the proper tone and ambiance required for a long days journey.
By the time the sun sets and the sky darkens, the lights of the city come alive and cast a calming glow on the streets and thoroughfares. Bustling people move through the cooling air in the markets, restaurants, and clubs. Along the smooth waters of the Chao Phraya the international language wafts above the commotion. Even half way around the world the music of jazz brings people together. It is instantly recognizable that we are all students of the same masters.
And late into the night it is time to make the journey down that increasingly familiar and reassuring path. Through town, down Sukhumvit, onto Sukhumvit 39 and towards our humble alley and abode.
This Tuesday, February 4th, the DC Jazz Collective will be playing at Alonetogether, one of the exciting recent additions to Bangkok’s jazz scene. Nestled in Sukhumvit neighborhood, Alonetogether features local, regional, national, and international talent in an intimate space. The music lineup is curated by Mahidol jazz faculty member Kom Wongsawat.
Please join us at 21:00 for two sets of originals and standards — no cover!
The Mahidol Faculty jazz ensemble closed out their visit to DC with a performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage as the last event of Jazz Appreciation Month, and on International Jazz Day (April 30, 2019).
Thanks to all who came out, especially all the attendees from the staff of the Thai embassy!
See their full performance on the Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel here:
In an official proclamation, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser today formally greeted and thanked the Mahidol Faculty ensemble for traveling to DC to share their talents and artistry!
The proclamation document is available here. The full text reads as follows:
As Mayor of Washington, DC, I am pleased to extend greetings to the Mahidol University Faculty Jazz Ensemble.
Jazz is more than music — it is a universal art form and today, you are hosting your performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. These talented musicians will showcase their skills for all to enjoy, celebrate, and learn about jazz and its impact. I want to thank you for raising the awareness and reinforcing international relationships through this art form.
The nation’s capital is a wonderful place to visit and while you were here, I hope you enjoyed the diversity and amenities our great city has to offer.
On behalf of all the residents of Washington, DC, you have my best wishes for an enjoyable, memorable event.
Friday, April 26th (8pm-11pm) — @ Mr. Henry’s (601 Penn. Ave. SE), backing up vocalist Aaron Myers
NO COVER! Join Wammie-winning vocalist Aaron Myers as the Mahidol faculty jazz quartet sits in for one special night as his back-up band at the historic Mr. Henry’s upstairs music and dining room. Advance reservations recommended.
Saturday, April 27th (6pm-9pm) — @ Alice’s Jazz & Cultural Society (2813 12th St NE), with the DC Jazz Collective (www.dcjazzcollective.com)
This is an exciting joint performance of the DC Jazz Collective (first set) and the Mahidol jazz faculty quartet (second set) at the very intimate JACS, run by long-time DC trumpeter DeAndrey Howard. Save your appetite for JACS’ delicious dinner food, as well. The $10 cover charge supports the non-profit JACS in its efforts to bring local DC jazz to the community.
About the artists: Mahidol University College of Music is Thailand’s most prestigious music conservatory and one of the most highly-respected music schools in Southeast Asia. The faculty ensemble includes Jazz Department Chair Darin Pantoomkomol on piano, bass instructor Noppadol Tirataradol, saxophone instructor Krit Buranavitayawut, and drum instructor David Parente. Individually and collectively, the faculty ensemble members have toured extensively and played with internationally renowned jazz artists such as Randy Brecker, Antonio Hart, Jakob Dinesen, Terumasa Hino,Tiger Okoshi, Randy Johnston, Jay Anderson, Lewis Nash, Pat Harbison, Fabrizio Bosso, Peter King, and others. Mr. Pantoomkomol, Mr. Tirataradol, and Mr. Buranavitayawut are also part of Pomelo Town, Thailand’s premier jazz combo.
Thanks for coming to our site! We will be sharing more information about the DC Jazz Collective and our January 2019 trip to Bangkok, Thailand here. We will also be posting about the visit to DC from our Mahidol University (Bangkok) College of Music friends in April 2019. Come back to read more!