Cover Jolie Chan (Photo: courtesy of Alan Chan, Jolie Chan and Universal Music Group)

Hong Kong’s queen of jazz, whose last album Tasting went gold this month, pays tribute to Canto-pop legends Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung in her new album, Present

You could say that Jolie Chan is having a pretty great month: the announcement that her last album had gone gold arrived right before both her 40th birthday and the release of her new record, Present. To Chan, who has been singing since she was six, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry certifying last year’s Tasting as having sold more than 20,000 copies was a dream come true.

In the digital age, where platforms such as Spotify, iTunes and YouTube offer instant music streaming, Chan decided that her song choices and hi-fi disc design would reflect a more vintage sensibility. She banded together with Hong Kong design guru Alan Chan, known for his work for the Mandarin Oriental and a contribution to M+, to come up with a sleek cover with a touch of Hollywood glam.

Read more: Inside Designer And Artist Alan Chan's Eclectic Private Museum

Here, Chan tells Tatler about her new album, on which she covers Canto-pop’s best-known numbers; how she ended up working with one of the city’s most famous designers; and why she has a thing for the past.

What is this new album about?

Present is a tribute to the best of the best Canto-pop superstars from the past, including Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung. At the same time, I want to revive each song with a new soul. Adapting the songs was difficult: if you can’t bring new [angles] to the songs, it’s worse than singing them at karaoke.

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Why did you name it Present?

It has three meanings: a gift, to give a presentation and the now. I want to present classic songs in a modern way as a gift to my listeners.

The eight songs in this album are originally Canto-pop classics. What was your criteria for the song choices?

Choosing the songs was the greatest challenge. I wanted to make sure that there was consistency in terms of style and content throughout the album. They had to be representative of the Hong Kong Canto-pop genre; the melody had to be good; the messages had to be in line with my personality; and there [had to have been] possibility for the rearrangement of the music from Canto-pop to jazz. Of course, originals are great, but I also think adapting the songs and making covers are artforms in themselves. These classic songs are worth revisiting and revamping in our times.

As a jazz singer, what elements have you added to these Canto-pop classics?

I’ve added a big band to “Refuse to Play”. Unlike pop, which usually spotlights the lead vocalist, jazz emphasises the musicians as well. Our team has arranged for more instrumental solos to be in the foreground. Jazz, after all, is a dialogue between music and musicians.

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is a typical joyful song you hear at weddings. I’ve slowed it down and changed the melody to create a sweet vibe.

“Red Wine Heart” is about red wine. I pictured a conversation between a girl and her date, both with a glass of red in hand, sitting on a sofa. This song originally was by 1980s Canto-pop singer Alan Tam, and it sounds quite masculine. I wanted to rearrange it in a way that sounded more feminine. Some of the listeners thought I was tipsy when I recorded it—and it’s true I always have a glass or two as a jazz singer. But I intentionally sang it in a seductive way to fit the mood.

When adapting Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush”, I added trumpet to the heavy beats to make it [sound] trendier. This is also the final song, and I hope it makes my listeners feel so good that they’ll want to listen to the album again.

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How does the album’s design also play into the theme of Canto-pop classics?

The album is an artwork itself, designed by Hong Kong’s very own Alan Chan, whom I’ve known since my mother used to work for him as a model back in the day. Everything about the album is a tribute to the past: it is recorded with vinyl sound quality, which suits jazz music more. The album is initially released on CD but the artwork sleeve is LP-size. In terms of the cover and back images, we looked at the photography styles of vintage images of Marilyn Monroe and Madonna. Inside the album, we’ve prepared a booklet, in which the lyrics’ font is a throwback to the [style used for] 1940s and 1950s albums, such as those by Miles Davis.

Do you prefer streaming platforms or vinyl?

Vinyl, for sure. It’s so easy to skip songs on your mobile phone. But I like it when you can sit down, put the turntable’s needle onto the record and listen to the music in peace. It gives you a sense of the ritual of music enjoyment that songs deserve.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be releasing the vinyl for this album soon. It will have a new set of photos and posters that can be inserted into the CD’s sleeve. It’s a genius design.


“Up-close with Stars” is a monthly cultural series where Tatler spotlights top performing arts talents on their latest achievements and get to the heart of subjects that matter to culture and society.


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