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The Big Easy comes to the Big Mango

New Orleans' greatest jazz musicians are returning to Bangkok to pay tribute to the late King Bhumibol

HITTING THE HIGH NOTES: Below, New Orleans-style jazz was the favourite of King Bhumibol. Photos: Supplied

It has been almost a year since Thailand lost its beloved king, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej. He left a considerable legacy, being a great ruler as well as developer of the nation. While Thai people are still in mourning, they all are trying to remember his achievements for his country.

The late king left us many great works but one of the most outstanding things that Thai people can clearly remember him by is his musical talent and his love of jazz. The 45 royal compositions the late monarch composed are more than enough to prove his dedication to the music.

When talking about jazz music and the late king's royal compositions, the style of jazz that he mostly used is New Orleans -- the original style of jazz that originated in the Crescent City.

No one plays New Orleans jazz better than a band which hails from the Big Easy. Therefore, the late king extended an invitation to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band to come all the way from Louisiana to perform in the City of Angels. They were truly honoured to get to perform with King Bhumibol and his band, the Au Sau Friday Band, with whom he usually played live on radio since 1952.

Since then the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have been regular visitors to Thailand.

Meanwhile, the late king promised the Au Sau Friday Band he would take them to see a real jazz performance in New Orleans when he retired at 60. However, he didn't get to retire as he wished. Instead, he continued to work and develop his country until he fell ill and was unable to travel.

BRINGING NEW ORLEANS HERE

ORGANISER: Dr Pathorn Srikaranonda arranged for a New Orleans jazz band to perform for King Bhumibol in Bangkok in 2010.

When the late king arrived at Siriraj Hospital, he apologised to his band, explaining he would not be able to take them to see a jazz concert in New Orleans. The band members understood how much he wanted to do so. Therefore, they agreed to make his wish come true.

"Since His Majesty Bhumibol can't go to New Orleans, we will bring New Orleans to him," said Dr Pathorn Srikaranonda, the youngest band member. He told everyone he would ensure the king would be able to watch a live performance from New Orleans without having to leave the country.

He contacted the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and organised a boat for the musicians to perform in the middle of the Chao Phraya River. In November 2010, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band transformed the River of Kings into the Crescent City and performed for the monarch, who watched from the pier of Siriraj Hospital.

The king enjoyed the performance immensely. Even though he couldn't take the Au Sau Friday Band to New Orleans, Dr Pathorn felt like the king's wish had come true. Three years later, Dr Pathorn contacted the New Orleans Jazz All Stars (NOJAS) to perform for the king.>>

>> The plan was to perform from a boat in the middle of the Chao Phraya. However, the king had recovered and was able to go to Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin. The NOJAS went to Hua Hin to perform in his palace in August 2013. The NOJAS were the last jazz band who got to perform in front of the King Bhumibol before he was admitted to hospital again.

"In 2013 we were called to contact a New Orleans music producer to put together a band of jazz musicians from New Orleans to go to Thailand to perform for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej," recalled Wendell Brunious, a jazz trumpeter and bandleader who is a member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

"Michael Paz, who is the artistic manager and New Orleans Jazz Band manager, contacted one of the most outstanding trumpet players in the city and together they put together a band of musicians to make a special trip to perform the jazz music that the late king enjoyed so much.

"They drew from a deep pool of New Orleans musicians and in mid-2013 they made the long trek to Thailand to perform in two concerts. The All Stars are a revolving door of New Orleans' finest and most gifted musicians.

"The main event, of course, was the Royal Performance in Hua Hin. Wendell was deeply honoured to perform for the late king it and it remains a high point in his long and amazing career."

WITH LOVE AND COMPASSION

The fourth generation of music lovers in his family, Dr Pathorn recalls seeing his father playing saxophone as long as he can remember. His Portuguese great-grandfather was a musician. He brought his love and skill in jazz to Thailand and passed that on to his son, Dr Pathorn's grandfather.

He played piano and violin until he was taken prisoner of war during World War II. He passed away when Dr Pathorn's father was 18. He had no other skills besides his musical ability. When his father passed away, he was forced to sell his saxophone collection in order to survive. He told Dr Pathorn not to pursue a career in music since it's not a stable job.

Dr Pathorn, however, discovered his talent for music and refused to give it up. With his passion and love of jazz, the late king took him in when he was 13 to play with the Au Sau Friday Band. Two years later he funded Dr Pathorn's musical studies. He went to the US and Europe to study classical music in order to build a solid foundation of musical knowledge as recommended by the late king.

He received a bachelor's degree in composition and saxophone performance from the Michigan University, a master's in composition from Yale University and a PhD in music composition from the University of Edinburgh. He managed to win multiple awards from many different institutes in many countries thanks to his musical talent. He then came back to Thailand and worked closely with the late king.

"The late king contributed massively to the popularity of jazz music in Thailand. Without him introducing jazz to Thai people through the music he composed, Thai people may have no idea what jazz is," Dr Pathorn explained.

"He used music to get closer to his people. When he was younger, he always took the Au Sau Friday Band to play with music students in many universities. The students were also invited to play in the band with him. It was the greatest honour for anyone can get to be able to get that close to the king."

Paz also thinks that all the bands that King Bhumibol brought to Thailand over the years made a huge impact on the Thai people.

"Everywhere we would go we would be stopped by people in the street and they thanked us very much for coming to Thailand and playing with and for His Majesty," Paz explained.

BACK IN TOWN

After the unfortunate passing of the king in October last year, the NOJAS once again heard from Thailand via the US embassy when their old friend Dr Pathorn asked the band to bring Wendell back to perform a memorial concert for the late king.

"Once again we will assemble a terrific band of all-star jazz musicians to perform a tribute to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. NOJAS will feature Wendell Brunious as band leader and on trumpet and vocals, Eileina Dennis on vocals, Mitchell Player on bass, Leslie Martin on piano, Todd Duke on guitar and Gerald French on drums," Paz said.

The band will perform a traditional New Orleans jazz repertoire as well as selections from the catalogue of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. They also plan to cover a selection written by the late king in his honour.

"We were deeply honoured to play for His Majesty and have deep respect for his musical talent and legacy. We are hoping to partner with the Kitarat Foundation to have a musical exchange and help perpetuate his music and legacy," Paz said.

"I had the chance to see him perform with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and he had a wonderful time and the band thought he was excellent, as we all did. Knowing of his love for New Orleans jazz, it was very gratifying playing for him live.

Paz said they are planning to play two compositions along with Dr Pathorn as part of their tribute for the late king. However, Dr Pathorn explained that he will have to select the songs carefully since jazz music is about celebration for all occasions, including funerals.

"The original New Orleans jazz is all about celebration. Even for death, they celebrate the person who died from their life achievement, but Thai tradition is completely opposite. We are in a mourning period and I will make sure that this concert is done in the appropriate manner but still keep the ambience of the jazz that the late king loved," Dr Pathorn said.

The Kitarat Foundation together with the US embassy will bring back King Bhumibol's favourite band, NOJAS, which was the last band that got to perform live for him in 2013. The Royal Legacy, 365 Days of Remembrance concert will be held from July 15–16 at Siam Pic-Ganesha Theatre on the seventh floor of Siam Square One shopping complex. For full details and tickets, please visit http://www.thaiticketmajor.com or any Thai Ticket Major outlet.

Photos: Supplied

ALL THAT JAZZ: The late king helped jazz to become popular in Thailand.

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