Samui Wining & Dining
Going For a Song
The second ‘Samui International Jazz Music Festival’ looks set to take the island by storm.


Going For a SongIn 1939, America’s Billie Holiday made her mark on the world of jazz by singing ‘Strange Fruit’. But it was actually more than that; at least, in the places it could safely be performed. It was a disturbing, haunting ballad and the first-ever outspoken lament against racism. Q Magazine later referred to it as, ‘One of the very few songs that actually changed the world’. And it was certainly the mould from which all the subsequent protest songs of the 1960s were cast.


But these days, the wheel’s turned full circle. Looking back with hindsight, many of the ritzy and glamorous pop megastars of recent years now seem boardroom-fabricated and thin in real talent – with the exception of some notable performers who have risen out of the mire. Today, most people beyond their teen years have come to appreciate the value of a truly stunning voice. Now, the ability to improvise is applauded. Even the established but rigidly-rehearsed performance of Western classical music is seen by many as a poor relative of the spontaneously-improvised voice of musical talent that represents the world of jazz.


Last year saw the first Samui International Jazz Music Festival. But for some time before that the island had been staging ‘Samui Jazz’. This was a series of concerts sponsored by Bangkok Airways and local businesses and featuring one or two acts each time. “We chose Samui Park Avenue, at Samui Airport, as our venue and hoped to see audiences of around 50-60. But, as it turned out, a lot more people showed up. They really loved the concerts and looked forwards to more, so the organisers made it a regular activity and invited performers from overseas,” explained M.L. Nandhika Varavarn, Bangkok Airway’s Vice President, Corporate Communications Department. But she hadn’t anticipated the huge interest, both locally and internationally! And so it came about that the first week-long festival was organised and held in September 2010.


But this year’s festival is set to be even bigger and better. Running from Sunday 18th September to the final Jazz Brunch, a week later on Sunday 25th, there’s a total of 17 internationally-renowned groups or soloists, plus their backing bands, appearing from as far afield as Holland, Israel, Singapore, Russia, America and … Thailand. Yes, it seems that Thailand has a huge following within this musical genre and the Samui Jazz Festival has become an eagerly-awaited showcase for their potential. Last year’s organiser, Khun Santi Wongsawat, noted that, “Samui Jazz not only lifted the spirit of Samui’s travel industry, it also inspired young Thai music aficionados.”


Coincidentally, this year’s event very effectively blends world-class music with world-class cuisine, being staged in some of the island’s finest resort-restaurants. The first evening (the 18th) is to be held at Amari Palm Reef Resort in northern Chaweng, close to their esteemed Italian restaurant, ‘Prego’. And it will feature Irene Atman, a rising star on the jazz and orchestral pop music scene. She’s appeared on the same bill as the legendary Tony Bennett, Mel Torme and Luciano Pavarotti, and she’s an accomplished pianist and seasoned jazz singer with ‘the vocal quality of a young Ella Fitzgerald crossed with Karen Carpenter and Barbra Streisand’. Irene and her band will be kicking off the week, beginning their performance at 7:30 pm (this is the starting time for all the evening performances).


The following evening (the 19th) features Frank Sinatra. Or, to be exact, ‘The Truly Great Frank Sinatra Revival Show By Frank In Person’. Frank In Person (yes, that’s his ‘name’; usually abbreviated to ‘FIP’) not only looks just like his namesake but really sounds like him too. FIP and his band will be drawing music lovers into one of Samui’s most attractive locations, The Dining Room restaurant at Rocky’s Boutique Resort, close to the landmark of the Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks in Lamai.


Tuesday’s event (on the 20th) takes us just a few minutes along the road northwards towards Choeng Mon, to RockPool at Samui Beach Club. The location and outlook here is just stunning, and a perfect backdrop for the Afro-Caribbean-Calypso influences of Curacao-born Izaline Calister and her band. She’s a vital and energetic performer who has toured in Holland, Italy, South Africa, Israel, Ethiopia and Mexico and now … Koh Samui.


Nora Buri Resort & Spa, with its dramatic landmark-restaurant of The Barge Fine Dining, is where the action’s to be found on Wednesday (the 21st) with the Peter Beets Trio. Peter Beets, himself, is a world-class jazz pianist who has shared the stage with jazz greats like Chick Corea, Dee Dee Bridgewater, George Coleman and John Clayton. And his equally-esteemed brother, Alexander, will be joining him on saxophone. As active members of the Netherlands Jazz Association, you can expect to see other members in the show and performing throughout the week at other venues.


Thursday (the 22nd) features another artiste from Holland, this time the funky and laid-back SarahLee Voss, appearing at Anantara Bophut Resort & Spa. This resort boasts yet another outstanding fine-dining venue, their Full Moon Italian restaurant, and the expansive performance space alongside the adjacent pool is ideal to showcase the group’s individual finger-snappin’ jazz/blues/funk brand of music. Another one not to be missed.


And so on to Beach Republic in Lamai, where both Friday’s set and the rest of the sessions are scheduled to be performed. Beach Republic is one of Samui’s most prestigious and laid-back resorts, and rightly prides itself in the quality of both the fare and also the music it serves up. Alexander Beets, Ntjam Rosie and Ruud Breuls are just a few of the musicians taking part in the ‘Dutch Jazz’ evening there on the 23rd, followed on the next day by the ‘International Blend Band’ together with ‘Tropic Green Big Band’ from Singapore, Ori Dakari from Israel, and the excellent ‘Changton and Friends’ from Thailand. And to wind it all up, for those still standing, there’s a Jazz Brunch there on the final day – Sunday 25th.


We might only be a small island but this is a huge event and one that’s already served to put Samui firmly on the international music map. You’ll hear almost every form of jazz, from standard, modern, fusion and pop to Latin and bossa nova. It’s a long way from Billie Holliday, although her spirit still survives. But perhaps that’s not such a bad thing – particularly if the only ‘strange fruit’ you’ll come across this week is in the basket next to the durians!

Sunday 18th Amari Palm Reef Chaweng Irene Altman jazz/orchestral pop
Monday 19th Rocky’s Lamai Frank In Person Sinatra/big band classics
Tuesday 20th Samui Beach Club north of Chaweng Izaline Calister Afro-Caribbean/Latin
Wednesday 21st Nora Buri north of Chaweng Peter Beets

jazz piano

Thursday 22nd Anantara Bophut Bophut SarahLee Voss


Friday 23rd Beach Republic Lamai Dutch Jazz various performers
Saturday 24th Beach Republic Lamai festival climax various performers
Sunday 25th Beach Republic Lamai Jazz Brunch DJ and various performers

* Please note that all the initial performances have an entry charge of 500 baht per person. The concerts at Beach Republic on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th are free. The Sunday Jazz Brunch at Beach Republic is 1,295 baht, including brunch.

Rob De Wet



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