Jazz has always been deemed a blessed kind of music, for its richness in heritage, its role as an art form, and brazen appreciation for spontaneity. Unfortunately, the current generation’s sense of urgency for instant gratification have made them unable to appreciate the exquisite nuances and subtleties of the music. However, some illustrious luminaries of jazz still manage to hold their own and continue to thrive even under the current adversity. In this issue of Top 10 of Asia, local jazz powerhouse Junji Delfino opens up about her career, the difficulties present in the local jazz scene and her very own company – Jazz Works.
“One of my main challenges is a lack of dedicated jazz audiences,” says Junji who grew up listening to a lot of her jazz musician father’s collections, sparking her interest in music. “ As much as I believe Malaysian audiences have grown in numbers from the time I first came here 28 years ago, the actual number of people who do come for live jazz gigs with a real appreciation of jazz as an art form, those with a real understanding of the nature of the music, those who seek out live jazz performances and sit silently, intently listening to every note, every nuance… I have yet to see in this country,” admits the songstress.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Junji Delfino landed her first singing gig in 1980, when a temporary substitute member was needed for a band called Four Play. Even though she was initially unable to read music, she completed her tenure with the group owing to her astute listening skills and a Sony Walkman. Then opportunity came knocking once again when another band needed a replacement for their lead vocalist – she auditioned against her employer’s wish, got the job and was in Malaysia by 1985 for the first time, performing at a venue with a local band led by Michael Veerapan. She then returned in 1987 to sing in All That Jazz, the 1980s jazz go-to place in Petaling Jaya set up by Michael, where she met her husband David Gomes.
All That Jazz was special to Junji not only as the place where she found the love of her life, but also for being the place where others came to fully appreciate her love for jazz. This symbiotic relationship between the singer and the audience – as she noted earlier – in a welcoming environment, is almost non-existent nowadays due to a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. “Most jazz venues around the world find it hard to sustain the business without compromising on their programming. Most will start off with noble intents only to succumb to the realities and pressures of meeting their overheads,” reveals the founder of Jazz Works, an entertainment consultancy firm specialising in providing jazz performers for social occasions that call for live entertainment.
This phenomenon has even spawned a dispiriting industry joke: “If you want to be a millionaire, open a jazz club. But first, you have to be a billionaire,” chuckles Junji who, in 10 years’ time,hopes to be lying on the deck of a 40-foot yacht in the isle of Capri without a care in the world.