An interview with Jeep - Jazz Piano Player and Proffessor of Music

I sat down with Jeep to talk more about jazz piano and Boogie Woogie. He was generous with his time and explanation in answering my questions. Thanks Jeep!

Find out what it takes to learn how to play jazz piano in my exclusive interview with him.

He opened my eyes to a world of piano playing that I did not know about before. He did spend 12 years studying music in France. I suppose I should not be surprised.

APO: How did you discover Boogie Woogie?

Jeep: This has to go back to the beginning of my music background when I first started learning the piano, initially I learned classical piano.

I had the oppurtunity to further my music studies when I received a scholarship to study music in Paris in 1985.

I lived and studied music there for 12 years, and the result is what you saw just now in the workshop, that kind of jazz piano playing.

You do not find many pianists in Malaysia who would exploit that kind of paradigm of playing. I was trained in that in Paris at the Conservertoire de National de Region de Rueil-Malmaison.

APO: Conserva…er…er…er… can you write that down for me please?

Jeep: Sure, no problem. Here you go.

APO: Thanks. You speak French too?

Jeep: Yeah, yeah, my theses were all in French. I came back in ’97, immediately USM (Universiti Sains Malaysia) took me.

Now I am professor of music at the music department and also the deputy dean. I work on the university’s social networking and industry networking.

This jazz piano workshop is part of the industry networking. Social networking is for the students and people who want to learn music that is where I am involved.

We need young people to project the university’s credibility, I love doing it and they encourage me to do it. It is an oppurtunity.

APO: Lucky for us.

Jeep: In a way I think so too. There is not many, in fact most pianists playing in clubs in Penang are my former students.

They go on to form their own bands and recordings and I am very happy. I taught them whatever I could.

APO: After your students graduate, do they continue their careers in music?

Jeep: No, no.They go on to become teachers, chemists, pharmacists, bankers, accountants but we still find time to play. We play for functions, events, corporate dinners and festivals. When the timing works well with our schedule, we’ll go. We have fun and enjoy ourselves doing it. It is a wonderful experience to be on stage and communicate with others through music.

We do not get that everyday, when someone asked me just now during the Q & A session of the workshop, “Are there any musicians who have recorded boogie woogie albums? “ I answered not that I know of.

That is why I also write books on jazz piano. If you walk around the exhibition booths here at the festival, you will be able to see a lot my books on display. I do not know how much they sell for though.

Most musicians perform. I am an educated performer. I perform, teach, write books and do research. You need to do research if you are working for the university, so I write about music – articles like you are writing. Normally I share it with my students.

Actually a few of my students are here today but most of them have gone back to their hometowns because of the college break. Write this down, on the 29th December the university will be organizing the annual jazz band concert. This is going to be a big one. You can meet all my jazz piano students there.

I arranged the music and the theme is ‘A Jazz Odyssey’. Every year we have a different theme. We wanted to create kind of a voyage, a jazz adventure as this year’s theme.

These are the things I try to get my students to set up. We work together everyone has their own roles to play. Besides playing music, they have to administer, take care of the budget, rehearsals, lighting, prepare the props, sounds, equipments, decorations, it is a learning experience not just show up to fool around.

It is up to them to make it entertaining, of course I will be monitoring them. I will guide them on what they have to do what they can not do. I mix and play with them, I feel it is important not to distant myself from the students. They are my extension, we have to get our hands dirty together do it together.

APO: Were you always interested in music, or did it come from your parents’ encouragement?

Jeep: Yes, I have always been interested in music. None of my family members were musicians.

APO: How old were you,when you started?

Jeep: 9 years old.

APO: Piano?

Jeep: Recorder.

We were interrupted by Paul, the Festival Director who was looking for Jeep as there was another group of journalists from Hong Kong seeking to interview him.

APO: Popular celebrity.

Jeep: It is always like this during festivals. I can’t help it. Since you are into piano, I just wrote a book on ragtie. It just came out last month. Every year I try to come out with a book.

APO: Thanks, I’ll be sure to pick up a copy. When you play jazz piano, how do you find it different or more interesting than classical music?

Jeep: Basically jazz piano is a form of human expression. When you have a musical instrument to express your feeling, you gain a certain amount of freedom. The keyword is freedom. Freedom is when you have a well thought out information that you can freely exchange with others.

When I play, there are many elements that I improvise on. Even though I have the music sheet in front of me, very often I would inject my own feeling inside it. That is where jazz is different from classical music.

In classical music you have to play exactly as it is written in the score or else you are not considered good. You are just an interpreter. I was like that when I was younger, I learnt Mozart, Bach, Beethoven.

One day I realized something was missing and I said to myself, “This cannot be, I want to play my own music.” So I began looking for places where I could express myself, slowly I discovered pop music.

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