Filipino Jazz Retrospective:
Novemberly Liner Notes
Novemberly commemorates bygone generations. It also plays with some traditions and icons about love & memory. The title combines the month that a concert was held in honor of musician-composer Flip Nuñez with the name of a tune that my parents enjoyed. In the back of the best music store on Alvarado Street in Monterey, Abinante Music, my dad thumbed through the selection of sheet music stuffed into a revolving wire rack. He handed the blue chart to me: "Here, this is a good song." It was "Tenderly," a standard written by Jack Lawrence and Walter Gross in 1947.
Joseph "Flip" Nuñez (1931-1995) was a giant of a talent. He could sing, play the piano, and write tunes-a triple threat. He was a musician's musician. San Francisco Manilatown poet like Al Robles recalls listening to Nuñez in Fillmore clubs. Toward the end of his life, Nuñez became a hero to a younger generation of musicians that grew up in his shadow. Weeks before a November concert in 1995 that would have featured him as the headliner, Nuñez passed away. What started out as a fundraising concert for the Bay Area advocacy group Filipinos for Affirmative Action (FAA) became a living musical tribute-not only to Nuñez but also to the legacy of jazz music by Filipinos in the United States. I also performed that night; I was scared stiff. My family was in the audience. On the original recordings, you can hear my mom laughing at my jokes in between the tunes on my set. It was also the last time my dad would hear me play live.
When I think of this music, I think of my heroes-folks like my parents, musicians like Nuñez-how they loved music of all types-jazz, mambo, pop tunes, show tunes, anything that kept you humming, tapping, or dancing. My parents were my first music teachers. They sang all the time, danced until my brother and I laughed or were embarrassed, and played vinyl records and 8-track cassettes. Buried somewhere in my folks' garage is a reel-to-reel player my dad brought back from Germany where he was stationed as a staff sergeant in the 1970s. They listened to Clark Terry, Harry Belafonte, Tom Jones, Jack Jones, Charo, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Mac Davis. They passed on their love of music to their kids, even though we had our own ideas about what was cool. When my brother and I were growing up near Fort Ord, California, the battle lines were drawn on Sunday nights. We wanted to watch Solid Gold (and the Solid Gold dancers) while my folks stuck with the Lawrence Welk orchestra. For us, the only radio programming worth listening to was the locally produced independent operators like KSPB, home of "Super Soul Sunday." The best music back then was on TV: MV3 with Richard Blade, NightFlight on the USA Network, and eventually MTV. Even at times when we didn't always listen to each other, we never stopped listening to the music that kept us satisfied like the feeling of having finished a great meal.
On Saturday, 18 November 1995, FAA held their second "Lasa ng Jazz" (Taste of Jazz) concert at the Jack Adams Hall in San Francisco. The event gathered together at least three generations of Filipino/American musicians. With the passing of Bobby Enriquez and Flip Nuñez, Stockton-based pianist and singer would be considered the dean of Filipino jazz musicians in the Bay Area. He and his sister led a set of obscure and well-loved standards. Tenio's piano playing was elegant and restrained; his singing tone was soothing and looked to a time when the lyrics of jazz ballads allowed ordinary folks to claim love better than everyday speech. Saxophonist Melecio Magdaluyo teamed up with percussionist-composer Dana Nuñez (Flip's daughter) in a jazz/funk combo called Network. Their set was tight, playful and soulful. The Ben Luis/Nito Medina (bass and guitar respectively) charmed with blues and straight ahead tunes. My set followed one by flautist Raym Picardo, who opted for standards like "Ceora" and a solo rendition of "Body and Soul."
Of the youngest musicians featured that night, there were two. Vocalist Chris Abad sang a version of "This Masquerade"-nothing significantly different from George's Benson's recorded arrangement. The most vivid performance that evening for me was by a youthful trumpeter. He performed solo, at the top of the evening, as if a clarion to gather us together. His tone was fragile, nervous, and unsteady. The notes crackled; his breathing sounded unsupported. It was as if we could hear in his song how our community had failed him-and we did. For his generation, free music education-including weekly or daily instruction with loaned instruments-became a thing of the past. We can lament how there's a lack of funding for art for our young ones when they get to school; but these are symptoms of the social contract we've worked out for ourselves. We've accepted priorities that no longer include music as part of the foundation for what we consider to be an "education." We've accepted the notion that standardized tests exhaust the goals for the process of learning. In the future, those that are proficient in making music-not with computers, samplers and loops, but with your hands, lips, lungs and heart-will be seen as wizards or freaks or maybe guardians of dead traditions. Our young trumpeter that night sang out through his horn all by himself-stepping out on nothing, hoping to land on something, attempting to step through a fragmented tradition.
Novemberly records my trio's performance at the Lasa ng Jazz concert. The album opens with "Soul to Share," written in 3/4 time. It segues to "Magnolia," written in a leisurely 4/4 groove. The tune came to me after sharing a kiss with a woman under a magnolia tree in Golden Gate Park. That song is the only thing from the relationship that survived. Maybe the tree is still there. "Throwin' Game/Recon" concerns relationships in their first stages. When you're interested in someone, you usually try to find out something about him or her-any details that might help to break the ice. "Recon" as in reconnaissance. "That's All" is a beautiful ballad written by Alan Brandt & Bob Haymes in 1953. I found it in a book of standards and was struck by lyrics like "I can only give you country walks in springtime...." The song is replete with the simplicity of similar offers.
On "'Cuz U," I'm joined by Farris Smith on bass and Mark Foglia on drums on my version of the Miguel Velarde standard, "Dahil Sa Yo." The tune's sub-title, "She is Vampyre," comes from Van Helsing's line in Coppola's version of "Dracula." I arranged an ostinato rhythmic figure to drive the original Velarde melody-part of my attempt to wrest the tune away from its common reference as a memorable fixture on the campaign trail by a former first lady of the Philippines. The tune is also ubiquitous Filipino/American community dinners, dances, and pageants. I thought I'd try my hand at casting it in the darkest light I could find. The fifth track came from flutist Raym Picardo's set. He arranged the traditional Filipino children's tune, "Bahay Kubo" with the melody sitting on top of Miles Davis' "All Blues" opening vamp. The recording shows that Raym likes to play with traditions-Filipino as well as American.
Artwork by Christopher N. Ferreira
On the final track, "All the Things He Was (For 'Flip' Nuñez), I'm joined by poet Al Robles. I first accompanied Robles on some of his poems years ago when I lived in San Francisco. The City has been home to a legendary group of Filipino/American writers-Robles, Oscar Peñaranda, Serafin Syquia, Virginia Cerenio, Jessica Hagedorn, Jaime Jacinto, Jeff Tagami, Shirley Ancheta, Jocelyn Ignacio Zimardi and so many more. As a student at San Francisco State University, I was thrilled at the thought of backing up Al on the piano for a poetry & music event. When we first agreed to work on something, I met him at the music department's studios on campus. We found a rehearsal room with two pianos and started throwing references, licks, passages, and favorite tunes to each other. Growing up in a family of artists, Robles has been around art, poetry and music all his life. He recites his work like a musician pulls apart a musical chart. Al knows when to blow, lay out, riff, repeat, and then bring it back to the top. I'd often accompany him as he read pieces like "Music of My Youth." On Novemberly, Al took time to draw a beautiful word portrait of Flip Nuñez playing in the Fillmore that cradled jazz and blues. Underneath Al's text, I stitch together a medley of standards and other colors.
© Theo Gonzalves
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