Third time lucky as jazz festival returns to FCC

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 June, 2009, 12:00am

One of Hong Kong's best jazz clubs is to be found in the basement of the Foreign Correspondents' Club, where most of the town's leading jazz musicians have played at one time or another. The snag is that you have to be either a member or a guest of one to go there.

Once a year, however, the club opens its doors to non-members for the three-night FCC Jazz and Blues Festival (although there was a break last year due to tricky scheduling).

'This is a good opportunity for people who are not members of the FCC to experience the kind of jazz we have available here for members all the year round,' says the club's musical director, jazz pianist Allen Youngblood.

'The best of Hong Kong's jazz players perform here, and we have also booked some very talented overseas artists to make the event that much more special.'

The FCC Jazz and Blues Festival 2009 is the third event of its kind, and this year's forms part of the club's 60th anniversary celebrations. It features two visiting artists: Singapore-based singer-guitarist Paul Ponnudurai and Japanese singer-pianist Yuki Makita.

'Yuki Makita is a jazz pianist and singer who also composes a lot of her own material. She is very popular in Tokyo and is building up an international following, and we've managed to get both her and her band, so the audience here will get the same sort of experience they might get in a club in Roppongi,' says Youngblood. Makita is classically trained and became interested in jazz while attending music school in Japan. She then studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston - the leading jazz music school in the US - where she had the opportunity to meet more like-minded musicians and to develop her own sound.

Recent years have seen her concentrating on the Japanese club and concert circuit, with occasional festival appearances overseas. She packs houses in her home country, and late last year released a new CD titled Kotori, meaning 'little bird', to enthusiastic reviews.

Makita appears on the first night of the festival, at 9.30pm in the FCC's Bert's Jazz Bar, named for journalist the late Bert Okuley, who also played piano with Elvin Jones. Sets will continue to midnight, and she follows a guitar duo comprising Cary Abrams and Paul Shupack, who take the stage at 7pm. For those who feel like dancing, upstairs in the club's main dining room from 9-11pm Chris Polanco and Azucar Latina will be performing Latin music in a range of styles, including salsa, cha-cha, merengue, rhumba, cumbia, samba and mambo.

The star attraction on Friday is Singapore-based singer and guitarist Ponnudurai, who performs in the main dining room from 9-11pm.

Ponnudurai's distinctive sound will be familiar to anybody who has visited branches of the Harry's bar and restaurant chain in Singapore.

Ponnudurai plays regularly at Harry's @ The Esplanade, where he is a major draw for visiting musicians. Although he plays music with elements of jazz, blues, country, rock and much else besides, he sufficiently inspired the normally more musically strait-laced Wynton Marsalis to get up on stage with him unannounced and jam when he was performing in Singapore.

An extraordinary player and singer, he should probably be listed by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board among the reasons for visiting the city.

'Paul Ponnudurai is a true original,' says Youngblood. 'He's a great guitarist and a very soulful singer who interprets popular songs with great passion and real jazz feeling. He has been here a couple of times before and he always gets the crowd going.'

Also performing on Friday are pianist Yoyong Aquino in Bert's at 7pm, followed by Youngblood and Jazbalaya at 9pm.

Saturday is a party featuring locally based talent. Starting proceedings at 9pm in the main dining room are Eugene Pao and his band, and from 9.30pm to 12.30am South African singer Brigitte Mitchell will sing her distinctive mixture of gospel, blues, soul, funk and jazz featuring her virtuoso scat improvisations.

Guitarist Skip Moy with singer Michelle Carrillo and a number of special guests will keep the party going in the main bar from 10.30pm to 2.30am.

'We've got the full range of music a good jazz club provides,' says Youngblood. 'Different shades of jazz, Latin music, blues, a little rock, instrumental and vocal. We're going to have three really good nights.'

FCC Jazz and Blues Festival 2009, Tonight-tomorrow, 7pm, HK$175 (includes two drinks); Sat, 9pm, HK$588 (includes buffet dinner from 7pm and unlimited standard drinks). Inquiries: 2521 1511