Jazz Music is Alive and Well in Thailand

Jazz music is alive and well in Bangkok, Thailand. I recently followed along with Don to the Jazz Workshop at Rangsit University where we saw 300 university jazz music students from several countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia, the city-state of Singapore, and of course, Thailand. They came together for the annual Jazz Music Workshop, developed and organized by our friend Dr. Gene Aitken.

Gene is the former Director of Jazz Studies at Northern Colorado and former Director of the Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore. Gene currently works with students throughout Asia and the Middle East, to rehearse and perform American Jazz Music along with traditional music, for the purpose of bringing cultures together. You can read more about this fascinating project at www.jazzeducationabroad.com, and I hope you will consider leaving a small donation for this work.

We arrived at Asias Boutique Club bed and breakfast in the late evening, and we were greeted by a beautiful Thai hostess who ended every sentence with Mam or Sir. We paid about $33 per night for the room and a small breakfast. What’s not to love? The place seemed to be an 1800s home of an aristocrat, with palatial ground-floor rooms used for dining; expansive, polished floors; 8’ wide hallways, high ceilings, and a vast staircase leading to the upper level. Our room was at the end of the second-floor hallway, with two double beds, two desks, a wardrobe, a view of the Olympic-sized swimming pool, and swan-crafted towels perched atop the comforters.

Since we had visited Bangkok once before, for a College Music Society international conference, we remembered sa wat dee kha (hello for a female) and sa wat dee khrap (hello for a male). The words also mean good afternoon, good evening, good-bye. Makes it easy on the tourists.  During our two-day adventure, we were greeted everywhere with respect and enthusiasm, and we heard cacophonies of “Sawatdee kha” all day long at the university, the most musical greeting I’ve ever experienced. Visiting professors from the US, Spain, and Thailand coached the students for this week-long event.

My favorite food during the trip was the Thai appetizer Miang kham (one bite wrap) from the Well Wished Kitchen Restaurant near Rangsit University. We  stuffed the kale leaves with a dried shrimp and peanut sauce, spicy peppers, and tiny lime slices, popped them in our mouths for a burst of flavor. My Malaysian cooking instructor, Ana, says, “That’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be like this!” And shows me a photograph showing each of the ingredients in separate bowls. I’ve included a photo of the “right way” and see the recipe here:  Import Food’s recipe for Miang Kham

On the second evening, we took part in a small slice of Thailand’s history by attending the concert “Music is in All of Us,” a tribute to the King of Thailand who died in October, 2016, after a 70-year reign.

The concert hall filled to hear the Thailand Jazz Workshop “All-Star Jazz Orchestra” perform the King’s compositions. These big band pieces were initially composed in the 1950s, when the King was in his early 30s and during his educational years in Europe.  Many photos of the beloved King were displayed during the event, showing him in his handsome youth, later as a distinguished and comfortable monarch, and still stately in his 80s. The Thai people will observe a year of mourning for King Bhumidol Adulyadej, said to be the world’s longest reigning monarch before he died. CNN has a short, poignant video of photographs at Thailand’s King Dies at 88.  CNN notes that President Obama described the King as a man of “grace and warmth.”

Our trip was too short, only for two days and two nights, and we can’t wait to visit Bangkok again, to enjoy the warmth of the people, and to hear the sounds of jazz floating through the night air.