The Singapore jazz community pays tribute to one of its pioneers in A Song for Louis. Soliano himself will be performing in a special showcase, which will surely be a treat for jazz audiences here

Update: Based on the latest advisories, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (Sifa) has made adjustments to some programmes in its opening weekend line-up by capping capacity at 100 for selected shows and reducing capacity to 50 at the Oldham Theatre. A refund exercise based on the date of purchase has also been implemented due to the reduced capacity, and patrons affected by the reductions have been contacted by Sifa’s ticketing agent, Sistic.

Louis Soliano is many things to many people: a deft drummer and vocalist to jazz enthusiasts who have followed his music career spanning more than 50 years, a fun but strict bandleader to fellow musicians of his time, and Uncle Louis to the younger musicians today.

The Singapore International Festival of Arts 2021 is celebrating these facets of the Cultural Medallion recipient with A Song for Louis, a tribute concert featuring all of the creative talents he has worked with—and inspired—throughout his career. “It’s an indescribable honour,” Soliano says. “It’s very humbling to see all these gifted musicians, who are stars to me, so readily giving their time and immense talents to do this show. I’m so excited that we can all do what we love doing together, making music for our audience.”

Led by music director Joshua Wan and show director Jeremiah Choy, the two sold-out live concerts on May 14 will feature performances by musicians such as Jeremy Monteiro, Joanna Dong and Tony Makarome, along with a special showcase by Soliano himself. There will be video-on-demand access during the post-festival programme from June 5 to 12.

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A Song for Louis is also a testament to Soliano’s musical kinship—what with a career that runs alongside the history of Singapore jazz—and the close-knit community’s admiration of the man himself.

“I’ve known all of the artists performing for a long time, and actually spent many years with each of them, some I’ve even watched grow up. We’ve gone beyond being colleagues to being friends in the deepest way, so I’m most looking forward to the musical conversations we are going to see in the show,” Soliano expounds.

Here’s what some of the luminaries of the Singapore jazz scene have to say about the maestro, as they reminisce their shared passion for music throughout the years.

Jeremy Monteiro, Pianist and Vocalist

How did you first meet Louis Soliano?

I first met Louis when I was playing at the old jazz club called Club 392, which was across the street to where he was playing at the Hilton Singapore lounge. I was 16 1/2 and bandleader of the Club 392 Quartet, which backed many of the great singers of the day. It was in 1977. I used to also go across the street to the Ming Court Hotel to listen to the great Penang-born jazz pianist David Ng, Julai Tan, and Frisco Soliano, Louis’ cousin and bass player. Occasionally Louis and I would sit in to play and that was when I got to first play with Louis. I also used to visit the famous Jockey Pub jam session and Louis used to kindly call me up. So our friendship and musical relationship goes back about 45 years. 

How has he inspired your musical journey?

In my life, I have only had very few bandleaders on a regular basis, not counting one-off gigs. Perhaps three: famed Japanese trumpeter Terumasa Hino, my MDC (Music & Drama Company) bandmaster Tonni Wei, and Louis Soliano. I was in the Louis Tan Trio, from 1981 to 1983, playing at the Hin’s Heavenly Cookhouse at the top of the Hilton. Louis was a fun but strict bandleader. He knew I was the enfant terrible of the jazz scene but he knew how to manage me. Often, when I thought I was already “there”, he would call out a difficult song that made me realise what a long way I still had to go. His tough love was such an important part of my early career. A lot of what I have learned about repertoire programming, keeping the audience engaged during a show and off the stage, and being a bandleader, I learnt from Louis Soliano. 

I often say, if there was no Louis Soliano, there would be no Jeremy Monteiro. 

What is your song for Louis? 

One of the songs that I used to love playing with Louis, and a tune that appears on my latest album release Live at No Black Tie, is Just in Time. It will really showcase Louis the maestro and it will clearly illustrate the musical rapport and close camaraderie that we have built up over the decades.

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Joanna Dong, Singer

How did you first meet Louis Soliano?

I can’t remember when I first met him, but I do remember when I first started getting interested in watching live jazz gigs. People would often say to me, “You have to catch Louis Tan in action”, or “Have you seen Louis Soliano? He’s great!” For a while I was confused and thought they were two different people! 

How has he inspired your musical journey?

Uncle Louis is a prime example of a musician who is well-loved by both audiences and other musicians. Sometimes you’ll hear the narrative that entertainers are not “serious musicians”, but that is a false dichotomy. Yes, he plays to the crowd, and yes, he twirls his drumsticks, but in between all of that, there’s also an impeccable sense of musicality and soulfulness. I continue to aspire to become the musician and entertainer that he is.

I was part of an alternative Christmas music band called Naughty “Noor” Nice, and Uncle Louis gamely agreed to appear as a guest in a duet with me. Our duet was a lovely arrangement of When You Wish Upon A Star, but for the rest of the night, he sat through our cheeky repertoire of covers of Christmas songs with lewd lyrics, and he was just the most supportive audience, laughing and cheering.

What is your song for Louis? 

It’s uncanny how several of the songs I associate with Uncle Louis such as What a Wonderful World, Wonderful Tonight, and the one I am singing [for the concert], S’wonderful, all have the word “wonderful” in them. I think it has a lot to do with how he makes people feel, and I don’t just mean with his performances! I remember when I was younger and a less well-known singer, if we were at an event together, he would always make a point to introduce me to guests and other musicians as a “beautiful, talented singer, with an incredible voice”. He’s very generous with praise, and always so charming.

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Rahimah Rahim, Singer

“My late father [jazz singer and musician Rahim Hamid] introduced me to Louis in the early 1970s. Some of the memorable performances where we shared the same stage were the supper club shows in Penang and Singapore, as well as the TV show, In Person with Rahimah Rahim. Louis is a fabulous jazz singer and a great drummer—one of the best in Asia. For A Song for Louis, I will be performing Getaran Jiwa.”

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Sean Hong Wei, Saxophonist

How did you first meet Louis Soliano?

My first encounter with Uncle Louis was actually also the first time I played with him. It was at a private home gig with Jeremy, Ben Poh and Mel, back in 2017. I remember that as nervous as I was trying to keep up with the music, we all had a great time that night!

How has he inspired your musical journey?

One memorable performance I had with Uncle Louis was at the Origin Bar in 2019. Jeremy hired us and on the gig was Christy too. I sat out this tune called You Don’t Know Me by Ray Charles as they played trio. I sat right next to Uncle Louis’ drums and I remember being mesmerised by the control of his brush work and tasteful colouring of the tune with the drum set. That night I learnt an important lesson from Uncle Louis that “less is more” indeed!

What is your song for Louis? 

One of the tunes I’m excited to perform is A Lot of Livin’ to Do. I’m sure it will be a ball hearing Uncle Louis sing it because I’ll tell you that he sure does! We all can learn something just from watching Uncle Louis keepin’ it on. 

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Tony Makarome, Bassist

How did you first meet Louis Soliano?

Back when the club Jazz @ Southbridge was still around, Louis Soliano invited me to work with the house band several times. I had just returned to Singapore from the US and the experience opened doors for me in the local jazz scene. Musically, it was also an amazing environment. I had performed with Louis Bellson before in the US and Louis Soliano has that kind of groove and timing that reminded me of all the drum legends I had listened to as a fledgling jazzer.

How has he inspired your musical journey?

Every performance with Louis has been a memorable one. His best advice to me is to never stop studying and practising all kinds of music.

What is your song for Louis? 

Every song in this concert has a special meaning for me. Whether it be a connection to a specific venue we performed at or a special musical moment shared onstage. There is a moment when you bite into a wonderfully made cake that you stop analysing the ingredients in your mind and merely enjoy the momentary burst of subtle flavours. This is a pinnacle for me as a performer: when I forget what I am actually playing and just live in the music. I am expecting this to happen in this concert. I know this because it has happened many times in the past when I’ve worked with Louis.

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Above A Song for Louis at the Singapore International Festival of Arts 2021

Singapore International Festival of Arts 2021 is held from May 14 to 30. A post-festival programme with video-on-demand access is available from June 5 to 12.

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