A (musical) piece of work: 6 things you may not know about WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble’s Cher Siang Tay.

From screen time with his band on Hollywood’s Crazy Rich Asians to the unlikely start of his love affair with jazz, the bespectacled maestro behind WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble is one to watch among the talented personalities who have contributed to Malaysia’s lively jazz scene in recent years.

He’s played his way through every concert hall and jazz venue in Malaysia and beyond, but it doesn’t stop there: a significant portion of Tay’s time and effort goes toward training up aspiring musicians via master classes and seminars.

We caught up with this exceptional instrumentalist ahead of WVC’s show-stopping performance at The Melium Group and Malaysia Tatler’s 30th Anniversary Charity Auction for a chat about his work and the challenges of being a jazz musician today.

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Screen time on Crazy Rich Asians

Talk about great timing: what started as a casual phone call from an acquaintance eventually led to Tay and his WVC bandmates performing alongside Chinese jazz artiste Jasmine Chen for a scene in the hit Hollywood film, Crazy Rich Asians.

‘We were merely a set in that one scene, and I don’t think too much about it,” Tay remarks modestly.

“Still, it’s always amusing when friends whom I haven’t met in years text and say that they saw us in the movie. People have good eyes, don’t they?”

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A love for jazz that replaced a dislike for classical piano

“My dad always said, ‘You have to finish what you’ve started.’ I grew up in Melaka and learned classical piano since I was 7.

“I suffered for years learning to play the piano under the ever-watchful eyes of my parents,” Tay shares, in hindsight describing those gruelling years of regimented piano training as the much-needed foundation for his success today.

“At the age of 15, I was passing a record store and fell in love with the sound of a genre of music I later discovered to be ‘jazz’. That really began my life-long pursuit of this genre.”

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Hard-earned success and the long journey to achievement

It’s hard to imagine a younger, more vulnerable Tay struggling with the challenges of his craft, especially once you've heard him perform live.

Nevertheless, the art of mastering jazz is no trifle; a journey that took Tay years of hard work balancing his love for jazz with dedication and discipline.  

“The biggest obstacle was finding my own language and voice, and speaking it in a convincing way,” Tay shares.

“The spirit of Jazz is improvisation, among other elements. If music is a language, I had only been learning how to “speak” music written by the great composers without ever learning to speak in my own way.”  

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On making jazz accessible, not watered-down

Formed in 2006, the talented foursome that make up WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble boast an easy closeness and an infectious energy that’s hard to ignore.  

“I for one would love to share the fun of jazz with our audiences,” Tay says. “I’d like our performances to be educational but accessible, without necessarily watering down the substance."

Touring the region with WVC

A father of 2 kids, Tay balances family commitments with being on the road regularly with his bandmates.

“Even though touring is really tiring, I can’t wait to prepare for the next tour whenever the opportunity presents itself,” he says.

“The comradeship with my brothers in arm, enjoying the local food, the anticipation before the concert, playing our own music to new audiences – I’ll never get tired of it.”

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Playlist inspiration: Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau

A longtime follower of American jazz pianist and composer Brad Mehldau, Tay was privileged to hear the jazz star perform live in Japan together with his trio.

“Shai Maestro, an Israeli pianist, is another amazing player with very fresh ideas and a unique sound.”

Though he still counts himself as a life-long student of music and other interests (culinary arts and the written word among them), Tay has indeed learned how to “speak in his own voice musically”, as he puts it, the result of many years of jazz training, touring and cutting his teeth at countless jazz festivals across the region.

“I guess I really loved the music so much that I didn't really care how much time I had to practice, learn and listen to it. My advice to budding jazz musicians? Play with other musicians, make friends in the community of artistes and most importantly: read!”

Follow WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble on Facebook or scroll down to listen to tracks from their album on Spotify!

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