The Jazz Association Singapore (Jass), led by maestro Jeremy Monteiro, turns five this year—and in that short time, it has accomplished so much, including promoting jazz to a wider audience and nurturing local talents. We meet four young musicians who are set to take the jazz scene in Singapore into the next stage. In the third of a four-part series, Aaron James Lee shares how he hopes to deepen his music knowledge, with the support of the Jass Music Scholarship

Aaron James Lee was drawn to music since young. “My parents are both musicians,” he shares. Mum is jazz singer Anne Weerapass and dad is drummer Jimmy Lee. “I guess being around them, and also their friends in the music scene, I was drawn to music. I also enjoyed listening to the CDs of other musicians—and this added to the attraction.”

Lee started playing the drums at age four. He started playing professionally after winning the Singapore Drumfest Drum Challenge Asia, in the under‑12 category, in 2008. He later played for local acid‑jazz band, The Steve McQueens

He considers his father as a big influence since they both play the drums. You only have to do a quick search on YouTube to find a few videos of them jamming together—each with distinctly different styles—and Lee’s mastery of the drum apparent even at a young age.

So it is hard to believe that he is only 26 years old. Lee hopes to further hone his craft and grow as a musician through his studies at Lasalle College of the Arts, where he majors in jazz performance.

Read more: 5 Things You Didn't Know About the Jazz Association Singapore

MUSIC IN THE BLOOD

“My mother used to perform these resident gigs and I remember the songs she sang always moved me. My father is definitely a huge force especially since we play the same instrument. The study that he put in and his sensitivity towards the instrument and drummers is interesting to me. He went to the Drummers Collective in New York City, and he has shown me what he’d learnt, which was really cool. He also introduced me to so many drummers and musicians through his CD and DVD collections. His sense of righteousness towards life and his craft definitely did a number on me.”

DEEP DIVE

“I’ve learnt so much since young, but the possibilities are infinite. I’m still learning about the craft and instrument. I didn’t put in proper study into my instrument when I was younger and I’ve been trying to do that since. I’m also working on getting nearer to music, and being more present and honest. I hope to deepen my music knowledge through my studies at Lasalle College of the Arts, with the support of the Jass Music Scholarship.”

JAZZ IN THE CITY

“I look up to so many musicians here, but if I had to name a few it would be Weixiang Tan, Christy Smith, Jeremy Monteiro, Andrew Lim, Chok Kerong, Wen Ming Soh, Louis Soliano and Don Gomes. I admire their individuality and character, and their personal relationships with music and the way it manifests in their sound and being.”

In case you missed it: Singapore’s First Virtual Jazz Gala Raises $650,000

PLAYING WITH THE BEST

“Playing with the musicians in Singapore and those I’ve met here and elsewhere has already been a dream and there’s a lot to learn and observe. Through my participation in the Lion City Youth Jazz Festival, I’ve had the privilege of learning from and playing alongside drummers such as Lewis Nash and Justin Faulkner.”

ON REPEAT

Jazz standard:How am I to Know by Billie Holiday. I remember loving this song a lot—it’s really beautiful.”

New release:Celia (Live at the Village Vanguard) by Gerald Clayton. This came out sometime during lockdown, so it’s not really new anymore, but I really liked the band’s playing. The trio sounded great, and [drummer Marcus] Gilmore always feels good.”

Wildcard:El Marino by Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, from Cantar Maravilloso. I’m still learning about the music of the African diaspora—and I was revisiting this recently.”

Read more: Singapore International Festival of Arts 2021: Making Music with Jazz Icon Louis Soliano