Michael likes to rock

Michael likes to rock
Former diplomat Michael Tay is the man behind club and jazz festival SingJazz, which will return in 2015.

That Singapore's former ambassador to Russia, Mr Michael Tay, 56, is a big fan of jazz is well known.

He is, after all, one of the founders of the SingJazz club and the Singapore International Jazz Festival, also known as SingJazz, which returns for the second year from March 5 to 8 at Marina Bay Sands.

But as Life! finds out in a recent interview, his tastes in music are quite eclectic.

Not many former diplomats, for example, will profess a love for home-grown art-rock stalwarts The Observatory.

Says Mr Tay, who is also the executive director of the Foundation of the Arts & Social Enterprise charity: "I like to listen to new music, including avant-garde and a lot of experimental music.

"That's why I like the music of The Observatory. That is a group I am talking to now to see whether the foundation can do something with them.

"They're not jazz but the music is experimental and so amazing. Their music is so original."

Mr Tay is also deeply involved with local soul/jazz group The Steve McQueens.

His foundation, created in 2013 with the aim of building up the Singapore music scene, is helping the band record their upcoming album with British producer Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick from acid jazz pioneers Incognito.

It was the foundation that put the band in touch with Bluey and funded their trips to his London studio for the recording.

Both The Steve McQueens and Incognito, who played in the inaugural edition last year, will make a return to the SingJazz festival in March.

They join a mixed line-up of both acclaimed and popular local and international acts that include British pop singer-songwriter Jessie J., 10-time Grammy winner Bobby McFerrin, fusionjazz band Snarky Puppy, a collaboration between homegrown jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro and Italian jazz organist Alberto Marsico and local indie/soul singersongwriter Charlie Lim.

On Thursday, organisers Orbis Festival Productions also announced two new additions to the line-up - American soul/funk veteran Chaka Khan and Malaysian indie singer Yuna.

"What we are trying to do is, in one evening, we will have a balance of different kinds of acts. Some will appeal to the young, some will appeal to jazz fanatics," Mr Tay says.

He takes the same approach with the eight-month-old SingJazz club, which took over the premises of the defunct Sultan Jazz Club at The Sultan Hotel in May last year.

"There are people who will walk in and say, 'This is not jazz'. But you can't do that because jazz is an evolving art form. Jazz has incorporated string quartets, electronic music, rock and everything.

"It is an evolving form and we feel that it is a good art form for Singapore because we are also evolving."

He envisions the SingJazz club, the music festival and the foundation to be the three key elements of an eco-system that will help build Singapore as a regional jazz destination.

Mr Tay, who is also into classical music, says his love of music was sparked when his oldest brother bought him a hi-fi set when he was 16.

"He was a crazy jazz fan. He bought the records and I would listen to them. These were the old standards, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and some fusion jazz," he recalls.

"I don't know what disposition I had that made me like jazz. I guess I was always reading a lot and it opens your mind to different things."

Today, his CD and vinyl collection runs into the thousands, but the audiophile shuns music in digital formats as he feels that the quality is not good enough.

Music also played a big role in his tenure as Singapore ambassador to Russia from 2003 to 2008.

In 2005, he privately commissioned renowned Russian composer Vladimir Martynov to compose a symphony about Singapore. Titled Singapore. About Foreign Lands And People, it premiered in Moscow in October that year.

Mr Tay would also visit underground, experimental and jazz clubs in the Russian capital to check out the music.

A guitar player, he also took lessons on the clarinet during his time in Russia.

In fact, a major Russian television station managed to convince him to let them record him playing the instrument during an interview held at his house there.

"I thought they were just going to show me picking up the instrument and putting it together. To my horror, they actually aired footage of me playing.

"I thought it was terrible, I wasn't a good player. But they billed me as a clarinet-playing ambassador."

Book it

Where: Various venues within Marina Bay Sands

When: March 5 to 8

Admission: From $80 on the Gala Night on March 5, and $125 a night from March 6 to 8.

Tickets from Marina Bay Sands box offices, online at www.marinabaysands.com/ ticketing or call 6688-8826.

Also available from all Sistic outlets (www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555).

Info: For line-up and show times, go to http://sing-jazz.com/

This article was first published on January 17, 2015.
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