Penang’s jazz scene hit a setback back in 2018 when the long-running Penang Island Jazz Festival was cancelled. The current pandemic-related restrictions on live entertainment have made things extraordinarily difficult for all live performers, jazz musicians included. So it is incredibly exciting for starved live-music fans and performers alike that a mini-jazz festival will take place here from the 16th-20th September, fully compliant with all the RMCO SOPs.

Jazz on the Jetty is a long-weekend of jazz concerts, jams, films and documentaries. The three concerts and the jam take place at Jetty 35, 35 Weld Quay, and the films and documentaries will be show at Hikayat, 226 Beach Street.

The concerts feature the WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble. Formed in 2006, WVC is one of Southeast Asia’s leading contemporary jazz bands and won two awards at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards 2020. The group has toured extensively in the region, and are warmly welcomed back to Penang by those of us who have had the opportunity to see them play before. The WVC Trio participating in this jazz festival consists of band leader/composer/ arranger/music director/pianist Tay Cher Siang; bassist AJ Popshuvit; and drummer Adriel Wong.

The first concert, Swinging Sixty, on Friday 18th September at 8pm will be presented by Junji Delfino with WVC Trio. Junji Delfino is a vocalist of critical and popular acclaim, and a gifted songwriter, lyricist and composer, She has released two albums; her solo album Here I Am received rave reviews both locally and internationally. She will be singing jazz standards and more. Tickets cost RM 70 (RM 50 for concessions) or you can buy a package for all 3 concerts (RM 170/120). Buy tickets at Hikayat, or online here.

At 4pm on Saturday 19th, there will be a jazz jam with the WVC trio. Penang’s jazz musicians are invited to join WVC and make some music together. The jam is free of charge for musicians and listeners to attend. The second concert. Life Is a Cabaret, will take place that same day at 8pm. WVC will be joined by Janet Lee, who specialises in vintage music, regularly performing great songs from the 1920s to 1960s, Including American songbook standards, Broadway show tunes, operatic arias, art songs, bossa nova and Shanghai jazz. Tickets cost RM 70 (RM 50 for concessions) or you can buy a package for all 3 concerts (RM 170/120). Buy tickets at Hikayat, or online here

On Sunday 20th at 8pm, the grand finale of the mini-festival, Music of Words, will see the WVC Trio Back on stage with Junji Delfino, Janet Lee and Penang’s own Gareth Richards (editor, founder of Gerakbudaya Penang, intellectual and local personality). This unique concert will combine the worlds of music and words, of jazz and literature, together. Readings from Haruki Murakami, Geoff Dyer, William Shakespeare, Li Bai, W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas, with songs and music, will explore rhythmic propulsion, melodic contours and emotional charge. Tickets cost RM 70 (RM 50 for concessions) or you can buy a package for all 3 concerts (RM 170/120). Buy tickets at Hikayat, or online here

In the run up to the weekend concerts, you can get into the mood by watching some or all of the jazz films and documentaries being shown at Hikayat, inspired by the lives of some of the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived: Chet Baker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Thelonious Monk and Lee Morgan. As at the concerts, all the SOPs will be complied with: use of hand sanitiser, taking of temperatures and physical distancing.

The line-up is as follows:

BORN TO BE BLUE Wednesday 16th September 6.00pm
Feature film starring Ethan Hawke, Carmen Ejogo about jazz legend Chet Baker searching for love and redemption when he is approached to star in a film about his own troubled life in order to mount a comeback in the late 1960s.

MILES DAVIS: BIRTH OF THE COOL Wednesday 16th September 8.30pm
Documentary in which musicians, scholars, family and friends reflect on the life of Miles Davis to reveal the man behind the legend. Full access to Davis’s estate provides rare footage and photos, outtakes from recording sessions and new interviews.

CHASING TRANE Thursday 17th September 6.00pm

An exploration of the global power and impact of the music of John Coltrane where the passions, experiences and forces that shaped his life and revolutionary sounds are revealed.

ROUND MIDNIGHT Thursday 17th September 8.30pm
Feature film starring Dexter Gordon, François Cluzet about a French music lover who befriends a once-great American jazz artist and attempts to save him from self-destruction in this moody drama. Saxophonist Dexter Gordon portrays Dale Turner, a fictional musician inspired by a number of famed jazz figures, including Bud Powell and Lester Young.

Jazz master Thelonious Monk is the subject of this feature-length documentary Interviews with Monk’s friends, family and co-workers shed some light on his personal travails and political difficulties. The film is highlighted by precious clips of Monk in concert, on the road, and boppin’ and jammin’ during studio sessions.

I CALLED HIM MORGAN Sunday 20th September 4pm
Documentary about the 1972 murder of 33-year-old jazz trumpet star Lee Morgan by his common-law wife, Helen, during a gig at a club in New York City. The murder sent shockwaves through the jazz community, and the memory of the event still haunts the people who knew the Morgans. Helen’s revealing audio ‘testimony’ acts as a refrain throughout the film, which draws together a wealth of archival photographs and footage, and incredible jazz music to tell the ill-fated pair’s story.

Screenings and refreshments cost RM15 (RM20 for back-to-back screenings) and advanced booking is essential by email

Last but not least, don’t forget to check out the Jazz on the Jetty bookstall which will be open throughout the weekend at Jetty 35, and will showcase a selection of Gerakbudaya’s jazz titles.