I’ve never heard of the KL International Jazz Festival (KLIJF) until recently, when I was engaged to photograph the event on behalf of University Malaya (UM), at which the event was held. The KLIJF was debuted last year at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. This year’s event was scheduled to kick off in April but was postponed till now.
Internationally acclaimed artistes and accomplished local musicians dished out over 20 performances on 4 indoor and outdoor stages, which included the famed Dewan Tunku Canselor (DTC). As a signature full day event from 11 am to midnight, this premier Jazz Festival in Malaysia attracted many music lovers and expatriates.
I first thought that bassist Maziyar Khavajian of the TrioMyn project was cool. The TrioMyn project has concentrated on the mixture of Jazz, Rock and Latin music with influences from Middle Eastern regions such as Azeri, Turkish, Arabic and Kurdish folklore music.
Backstage preparation shots of the UM Big Band were no less interesting though, followed by a quick practice session and last minute fine tuning among all members of the band.
First up was a performance by Todd Gordon, one of the world’s leading jazz and swing singers who performed a number of Sinatra’s songs while accompanied by the amazing and talented UM Symphony Orchestra. His rendition of “New York” and a couple of Sinatra’s hits reverberated throughout the hall, and tugged at many audiences’ heart, including mine. It was almost eerily as though Frankie was in the building! Soulful indeed.
The Director of UM Cultural Centre, Dr. Mohd Nasir Hashim who specializes in composition, music technology and orchestration was the conductor for the day. Now here’s the interesting part. Apart from the trumpet, piano and guitar, Nasir also plays a number of traditional instruments. He aims to make the Orchestra one of the jewels of UM.
Next up, Mohammed Rauzan Alwi, or Roy as he is commonly known locally, continued with the jazzy blues ballad “Cry Me a River” and a string of other groovy international and local songs.
After Roy’s performance, I was darting in and out between DTC and the much more comfy Experimental Theatre next door. This new world class theatre with its tiered seating offered a very intimate experience, perfect for any dance performance and plays. Todd Gordon performed here with The Christy Smith Quartet.
The Carl Orr Quartet was next in line as the final performance to be held at the Experimental Theatre.
After this, I was back to the Dewan Tunku Canselor Hall to catch a highly charged and energetic performance by the always enthusiastic and radiating Ezra Brown.
I had been observing the way the randomly revolving stage lights making their rounds. I positioned myself just in the path of the blue light as I noticed much earlier it had been hitting me rather regularly while I was framing Ezra. The fleeting flares were amazing even as I looked through the viewfinder. Ezra too happened to be quite stationary at the edge of the stage then. I had been anticipating this, and just when he was holding a note, they aligned, and bammed! I got it! Here’s the uncropped shot.
After shooting for awhile at the stage’s edge, I decided to move to the back of the hall and captured some wide shots. Ezra suddenly walked down the stage towards the aisle. Something’s happening! I was just plain lucky for being already there.
While serenading the crowd, he turned and knelt in front of two lovely Chinese ladies. It happened so fast I almost couldn’t change my settings in time.
He then got up and threw his arms in the air in a celebratory gesture in the final moments of the piece he was wrapping up before finishing back up on stage with a culminating roar of standing ovation from the audiences.
People were beginning to rise up while raising their hands clapping. Again I knew I was on to something here. I placed the crowd to my left and moved in close to further blur them out. Ezra, let loose the sax and wore a tired but relieved smile on his face, started waving back at the crowd in a victorious acknowledgement. I knew he was on the right. When that happened, I made the exposure. Perfect.
I was then observing the bassist who began exchanging glances with the drummer as the piece drew to a close from all the momentum of built-up energy Ezra brewed. I thought it was one of satisfaction and a stare of acknowledgement that gave them an imaginary pat on the back; “Job well done!”
The performance subsequently made way for the award-winning Afro-pop singer Zamajobe Sithole.
Finally, the moment that everyone had been waiting for in this KL International Jazz Festival. Even though the program was already running 1 hour late with two more performers to be featured, the DTC was already filled to the brim. It was the performance of the legendary Lee Ritenour & Friends, led by Lee Mack Ritenour, an American jazz guitarist.