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From Miles Davis to Laura Fygi, a personal journey on jazz music

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‘Seducing’ the Filipino crowd, Netherlands-based jazz singer Laura Fygi shows what jazz music really is in her recent one-night only concert at Fairmont Raffles Hotel in Makati City. Video by JP Dalangin/INQUIRER.net

MANILA, Philippines—Miles Davis’s 1959 opus “Kind of Blue” was playing on my mind when I was assigned to cover Laura Fygi’s recent show at Fairmont Raffles Hotel in Makati City.

Davis, the late great legendary American jazz trumpeter, had beeen notorious for being blunt and unpredictable onstage and in his personal life.

The Netherlands-based Fygi, meanwhile, has been compared wih American pioneering jazz singer Peggy Lee and Brazilian bossa nova-samba singer Astrud Gilberto.

Jeannie Tiongco opened up the concert with a riveting cover of Chaka Khan’s “What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me?” The result was more funk than jazz with the bass and drums steadily grooving behind the scratchy guitar parts. She followed it up with Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.”

The band played it bossa-nova style, featuring an arrangement of her husband, musical director Henry Katindig.

“I always like to include Tagalog songs in my set,” said Jacqui Magno. Garbed in a sleek black dress, Magno belted her way through “Ang Tangi Kong Pag-ibig,” a popular kundiman (native Filipino folk song). Her impressive scat-singing between verses was reminiscent of the late lamented Ella Fitzgerald.

Responsible for bringing Laura Fygi to the country was Richard Merk, semi-retired actor-comedian now a full-time jazz singer, bar owner. Merk is considered one of the few prime movers of jazz music in the country.

Merk was so impressed by the Dutch chanteuse that he, together with his wife Roni Tapia-Merk, invited Fygi to have a concert in the Philippines.

That night at the Fairmont Raffles Hotel, Merk sounded like an impassioned crooner, a more mature Bublé with his version of Teri de Sario’s “Fallin’.” While performing, Merk threw his head back when reaching for the high notes. When he asked for a sing-along, the crowd didn’t disappoint.

“And now I’m falling/falling fast again,” Merk bellowed. Tiongco and Magno joined him onstage for a final number, a Moulin-Rouge-y rendition of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

A short break followed and the lights dimmed.

In the half-dark, Katindig gestured at the drummer Mar Dizon, who exchanged his sticks with mallets, like those used by drummers in symphony orchestras. Dizon pounded the toms to a slow marching beat. The beat intensified as the crowd cheered him on, and then Laura Fygi swayed to the stage like a queen to her song “Night and Day.”

“Just sit back, relax, and enjoy 90 minutes of music,” Fygi said. She dished out jazz standards “Let There be Love” and French versions of “Autumn Leaves” and “Fly Me to the Moon.” She gyrated seductively while singing. Men were transfixed at her, watching every movement of her hips, every bend of her limber body. The scion of an Egyptian belly dancer mother, she clearly has the genes to show it.

“Who was the most beautiful woman who ever lived?” Laura asked the crowd. By this time, the wine was being served on the tables. Someone shouted “Laura Fygi!” She feigned disinterest.

“See, men never listen. I said ‘was.’ I still am,” she said, shaking her head. Then she launched into a cover of Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Bestfriend.” Her impersonation of the Hollywood sex symbol revealed talent. She flicked her fingers as if looking at an imaginary ring, blinked repeatedly, and giggled like a school girl.

More comic moments: Drummer Mar Dizon left his drum stool. Fygi asked him, “You want to wee-wee? Go ahead.” A  female concert attendee shuffled from the front seat and headed out the door. Laura remarked, “She’s had enough.” The crowd didn’t know how to react. It turned out the woman was former Makati City Mayor Elenita Binay, wife of Vice President Jejomar Binay, who also graced the event.

“Where do they produce this?” Laura said, as if wondering. She brought onstage a male fan who became the object of her flirtation. The act culminated at her sitting on the man’s lap, his head buried in her bosoms. Lucky guy.

Above the whistles and cheers, the band continued to play. No wonder they were considered as some of the finest jazz musicians in the country. Never the one to steal the spotlight, Filipino jazz icon Henry Katindig just sat behind his keyboard and piano to lead the  ensemble. Drummer Mar Dizon’s chops were perfect, his execution flawless.

However, saxophonist Tots Tolentino was on another different plane. The man was the epitome of coolness. His instrument reverberated long serpentine blues lines. Merk urged him during his number to play another bar for an extended solo, and he did without breaking a sweat.

Guitarist Rudy Lozano held equal clout, switching from playing funky guitar parts to complicated chord changes to sweeping arpeggios within seconds. Colbie dela Calzada’s basslines bugled the mind.

Jazz musicians are known for their talent at improvisation. Toward the end of the performance, Calzada broke out of the drum pattern for his bass solo. He seemed to have gone so far out the field that the singer lost her beat. “It’s because of this guy!” Fygi shouted. Perhaps, but darn if I could play like that.

“Hasn’t it been too long enough?” she asked the crowd. She seemed exhausted. She was nursing a glass of water. Meanwhile, the crowd was clamoring for an encore. “Mooooorrre! Mooooorrre! She danced again as the band launched into “Almost Like Being in Love.”

“What a day this has been /What a rare mood I’m in/Why, it’s almost like being in love,” she sang during the first verse. A couple near the stage begun to dance. Laura Fygi smiled. That night, the Netherlands-based jazz singer also had a good time.

As Miles Davis once said, “Music is an addiction.”


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Tags: Fairmont Raffles Hotel , Jazz , Jazz music , Laura Fygi



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