Friday, January 07, 2011

Hello Pittsburgh..

Hi all..

I guess this is my once in a blue moon blog post... I haven't found much impetus to write a lot online these days...I guess it's also the inevitable result of fast social networks like Facebook and Twitter, right?

But anyway, greetings from Pittsburgh. I'm sitting on a rest area (with couches and TV) in a shopping mall, with Cher Siang reading a book, while waiting for fellow WVC TRiO member, Adam Osmianski, to finish teaching at a school and picking us up and taking us a club called CJ's for a jazz jam session.

Just in case you're in a blur of what's happening, this band is sort of in a small U.S. tour right now. This is in conjunction with Cher Siang coming to the US visiting New York City. What a good opportunity to do some gigs here in the US, right?  So, anyway, we did our first (of three) shows in NYC in a nice place called Spike Hill, located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  We played one 45 minute set, and basically got paid by tips.  Luckily there was still a small crowd that came, even though we were the first band to go up (of three bands that night) at 8pm.  I think some CDs were sold too... so that's always a nice thing.  The band kicked ass, and I think overall it went well.  I wished I played better though.. haha..

Anyway, we're now in Pittsburgh, and we are playing 3 sets at this place called Little E's tomorrow (Friday Jan 7th), and we're joined by a Pittsburgh bassist, called Tony DePaolis.  Quite a killer bass player, he basically sight-read the music, and pretty much nailed all of it during the 4-hour rehearsal we did.  I'm looking forward to playing tomorrow night.

Next stop after Pittsburgh is Morgantown, West Virgina, where we'll be playing at the Creative Arts Centre (CAC), in West Virginia University, Cher Siang's and Adam's alma mater.  There'll be some masterclasses/workshops as well I believe.  Can't wait to check out some new places.

Pittsburgh is a nice town, less urban density than in NYC, but still pretty urban in the downtown area.  It seems to me it's mostly located on a hillier expanse.

On another note, looks like things for me will be a'changing again soon.  Some of you already know what it is, but I will write about it next time. :)

Till then.. be safe everyone.

Later, peepz.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Delights of Dana

Hi everyone,

I would like to share this with all of you.  My friend David M sent it to me via email, and it's a great piece of teaching.  Even though this piece of teaching comes from a Buddhist monk, but its origins are much profound and divine, and it transcends any religions or modern self-help techniques.  To me, it is definitely one of the secrets to having a happy life.. to enable others to have the same.

So do enjoy reading this article, as much as I enjoy passing it to you.

The Delights of Dana 

By Venerable Ajahn Pasanno

On retreat a lot of emphasis is put on various insight practices, the goal and philosophy of meditation. We don’t think very much about the foundation that sustains the mind and the heart in a way that opens them to the way things truly are. Dana is that foundation.
Exactly what is dana? How do we cultivate this quality of giving, generosity, liberality and munificence? There are many different translations of the word dana. It is the quality of generosity that gives physically and from the heart. Hearts with dana are generous, open-handed, and liberal in terms of willingness to give, share, to be present and to help. All of those qualities take us away from me and my needsme and mynecessities, me and my demands, me and my expectations, 
me and my essential fixed residence in the middle of the universe. That me and mine position which demands that we be recognized and noted for our importance, takes over everything. It all gets very tiring.
Ajahn Sumedho has said, “Whenever I think of myself I feel depressed.” It’s such a great line. When dana is the center of life, instead of me and my needs, there is no need to be depressed. There is relief and release rather than anxiety and obsession. Dana is a dramatically different focal point. The perspective changes to “What can I give?”
In Thailand, generosity and giving are the first things you learn about Buddhism when you’re growing up. Pregnant women go to the temple, offer food and dedicate merit. “May my child be healthy and happy.” After birth, mothers continue to take their children to the temple, so giving becomes an integral part of their lives and continues through the lifespan.
          When children are little, they get up early with their family to make offerings to the monks on alms rounds. Even when they are quite young, children are encouraged to give. They don’t really know what they are doing because they’re only two or three years old or even younger. Someone helps the child put a spoonful of rice in the monk’s bowl. As the rice drops in the bowl, everyone claps and says “great.” Children get the idea, “wow, giving is good.” They grow up with that pleasant feeling associated with generosity. It’s very natural because there is a cultural value placed on generosity and sharing.
It’s not just giving to monks and to the monastery that is part of the Thai culture. I noticed how natural it is for Thais to share. When we’d go to a dana, for a blessing ceremony in a village, we would usually be offered a Pepsi or Coke. After taking a few sips, we’d give the rest of bottle to one of the kids. Even if the child was little, he or she always shared it with friends. The adults do the same. The kids see generosity in their every day lives, so it gets reinforced. To grab the bottle, go off in the corner and gulp it down on your own doesn’t really happen. The impulse is to share and to experience the joy and happiness that comes from generosity. As a result, a special sense of connection is created and sustained. 
A lot of the separation and isolation in Western society is not just because Westerners tend to have so many psychological problems. The basic values in the West are not oriented toward sharing or giving. There is an absence of habits and qualities which make a connection between people. It’s important to be attentive to that.
Just before coming into the hall I was telling Lance and Nick about going on alms round in the northeast of Thailand. Even though the area is very poor, people share what they have. You can get some pretty strange foods but it’s what they eat, and it’s what they are willing to share. There is always enough in that sense. The perception of lack is oftentimes just a perception. Giving is not about resources and materials.  In fact, you don’t need a lot in order to give. At the root of generosity is the perception that there is always something, and enough to share.
 During one of the first years that we were  establishing Wat Pah Nanachat, the forest monastery Ajahn Chah set up for foreigners, the villagers would come and help build the place and set things up. One of the main villagers who helped out said, “I really don’t have any money, but I’m not poor.” He was referring to the fact that poverty is a state of mind. It’s not about what we actually have in terms of material resources. Sometimes we have a lot but we feel it’s not enough so we have to protect what’s there. We don’t even think about sharing what we have. That’s a state of lack and of being poor. On the other hand, giving and sharing come from a place of wealth. There is always enough.
How does one measure what’s enough? Once again, that measurement is a state of mind. The desire mind never has enough. What you desire doesn’t really matter. Whether it is food, clothing, money or property, it’s never enough. That’s just the nature of desire. Its nature is to always be seeking more or something else. The quality of dana, of generosity cuts through that desire mind. It allows us to come to that place of openness and giving, the heart at ease because it has enough.
There are many ways we can come to that place. We can work on generosity and learn to appreciate what it offers. We can consciously go against the desire mind by generating more generosity in our lives. We focus on turning to giving, relying on it, appreciating and delighting in it. In terms of practice, we cultivate and sustain generosity so that we don’t get pulled back into the desire mind or the mind of jealousy and comparison. It is so satisfying to feel there is enough and take joy and delight in that.
The desire mind not only operates in wanting more material possessions, it operates in spiritual practice as well. When we’re meditating, do we ever feel there is enough concentration or enough peace? The desire mind seeks more concentration, more tranquility, more peacefulness, more whatever. When there is a lack of peacefulness, we feel we need more. The feeling is justified because the scriptures say there must be peaceful states of mind in order to have wisdom, for insight to arise. So we redouble our efforts to get more peace and the result is often frustration and misery. “Where is my peace of mind?”
Similarly, when do we ever have enough wisdom? The desire mind also needs more wisdom, more refined insight into anicca, dukkha, anatta, so “I can finally get rid of my defilements and experience freedom.” There is no end to the desire mind, needing more, getting more or having to have. Ajahn Chah described the mind and heart of tanha, as the mouth that never closes. The desire mind goes around with an open mouth looking to consume and gather things in. You can actually feel that in your mind. It is the feeling of leaning towards things, on the lookout for the next thing to consume, possess and experience. It’s not a restful place at all.
Generosity is the opposite of this misery. Giving provides a base of contentment, joy and delight. A few years ago, we put a little notice in the Abhayagiri newsletter before I went to Thailand. We announced that there is a tradition of offering gold, silver, jewelry and other valuables to melt down and put into the Buddha image. And since we were pouring a Buddha image for the monastery, we wanted the community to know about this opportunity to make offerings. From a completely materialistic, practical, utilitarian perspective, it’s really stupid to do this. What a waste. From the perspective of generosity, it’s a wonderful thing to do. To give something of value that’s put into an object of reverence and devotion is very precious and delightful. We received packages from all over the States. In some cases, we couldn’t figure out how some people heard about what we were doing. Even a Christian monk sent things for us. People not only sent jewelry, someone sent gold teeth!  I ended up carrying almost 8 pounds of gold and silver to Thailand. Explaining to customs officials and security guards why I had all of this was quite interesting.
At the actual ceremony, even more valuables were offered. It is hard to say exactly how much more. Those who were there said it was a lot. The day of the Buddha pouring was steeped in goodness and generosity. About a thousand people were present. There was such excitement that a Buddha image was being made and then shipped to America. People came to create goodness together which ultimately turned into a physical form that would be present in the world. Giving and delight lays a foundation. It’s the entry point into the Dhamma, before virtue, precepts and meditation. This is how Buddhism is taught in Thailand and in other Buddhist cultures. Generosity is the foundation, the place from which we begin the practice.
In the West, we start by learning how to meditate and after a while we think maybe “I’d better get some Precepts.” Then toward the end, especially at the end of a 10 day retreat, generosity and dana are mentioned. Actually, it doesn’t really matter when we pick it up. It is a matter of realizing that generosity is the foundation of the heart that feels free and unencumbered. One of the doorways out of suffering is generosity. As I said earlier, it’s important to realize that’s it’s not just about material giving. It also involves service and keeping ones eyes open for what needs to be done and asking “How can I help? Who is in need of assistance?”
There is a lot of weight given to individualism and self-sufficiency in the West. We shrink back from helping each other. But of course, nothing is absolutely black or white. For example, Thai and Western children are treated and raised very differently. I oftentimes tease Thais about this. I remember seeing my sister’s tiny children holding a spoon and going after their food with gusto. Before they learn to speak, they learn to use a spoon to get food into their mouths. In Thailand, you see six year old kids wandering around with a nanny or their mother trailing behind trying to feed them with a spoon. The kids haven’t figured out how to feed themselves yet.
In order to feel comfortable helping others, we have to leap over the hurdle of self, of me and mine. We put ourselves in a vulnerable position by helping others; it can be frightening or trigger our vulnerability. Acts of service invite us to step out of the boundaries that we set up for ourselves. Whenever those boundaries are jostled in any way, we feel uncomfortable or threatened. These boundaries are totally conditioned and part of the conventional realm. We need to be able to consciously stretch our boundaries from time to time. Helping others and offering service are ways of stepping beyond the boundaries of our imaginary self. This gives us a lot of confidence in negotiating the human realm instead of getting bogged down in the protected areas of our being that are easily threatened. A sense of ease and well-being in any situation is one of the best gifts we can offer to ourselves and to others.
Abhayadana is another traditional way of giving dana. Abhayais part of the name AbhayagiriIn Thai, abhaya is usually translated as forgiveness. We give forgiveness by not holding a grudge, ill-will or aversion. This kind of giving is considered a higher form of dana than material giving because it is a lot harder to forgive than it is to give material things.
 Opening the heart to forgiveness, kindness and acceptance are really quite exalted states of mind. A lot of joy enters the heart when forgiveness is cultivated. It becomes second nature. And even if one can’t offer forgiveness, at least there is recognition, “That’s a good thing to do. I’ve got to figure out a way to open my heart to this person who really bugs me.”
Fearless Mountain is the English translation of the name Abhayagiri. This fearlessness is an offering of security and trust when actions are motivated by goodness, generosity and virtue. We are not threatened, nor are we threatening. We don’t generate fear and suspicion. We feel at ease and secure with any one. To be able to consistently live this way and give that to other human beings is a wonderful gift. As we continue to practice and the mind becomes increasingly aware of what motivates us, we can see how much fear we carry. If we act this out, the human realm ends up filled with fear, competition and about getting what one can in a “dog eat dog” kind of way. 
In Thailand dogs are not treated like they are in the West. In one monastery where I lived, all of the leftovers were mixed together and then put in a tire which had been cut in half. Even though there was plenty of room for all of the dogs to eat, there was fighting, biting and chaos everyday. Every dog was out to get the most. The mind that is in a competitive fear realm is always worrying about getting “enough.” It’s a miserable state of mind. Our commitment is to create a human realm from within based on dana, trust and truth.
There’s an old story about the difference between heaven and hell. The hell realms are filled with people who sit at long banquet tables piled high with all sorts of delicious foods and drinks. But everyone is completely miserable and hungry, because the utensils are too long to maneuver. No matter how hard they try, they can’t put the food in their mouths. The nourishment is there, but nobody can get to it. The heavenly realm is the same: the tables are laden with the same delicious food and with the identical utensils that look impossible to maneuver. But the people are happy and bright because they are using the utensils to feed one another. There is no hunger or frustration, only fullness and well-being, within the identical conditions. Giving and sharing is what turns a hell realm into a heavenly one. There is a sense of security and trust that people are there to help one another, which is why abhayadana is a higher form of dana. With practice and spiritual maturity, different forms of dana become integrated and ultimately, inform each other.
The highest form of dana is Dhammadana, which means the giving of Dhamma and of the teachings. Traditionally, making teachings available to others by helping to print Dhamma books is one of the highest forms of giving. There are many other ways that Dhammadana can be offered in daily life. People think they need to be a monastic or an Ajahn to give teachings. But this is not so. Any kind of advice that is grounded in Right View and Right Understanding that is given with an open heart and good intentions is Dhammadana.
The offering of Dhammadana is so powerful that even if it’s ignored or trashed, it is still the highest form of dana. Dhamma books used as doorstops or coasters cannot destroy or diminish this pure and priceless gift.
Ajahn Chah encouraged people to share their experiences. They didn’t have to be anything exalted or obtuse. Helping people be more at ease and to suffer less was one of his basic teachings. In fact, Ajahn Chah said that to practice Dhammadana, you didn’t have to teach or to say anything at all. “It’s enough to set good examples and follow the Precepts.”
 Ajahn Chah frequently referred to Sariputta’s introduction to the Buddha’s teaching. He emphasized the essence of the story to monks and to anybody who practiced Dhamma: the way we live gives more weight than spoken words. Sariputta became interested in the Holy Life when he saw one of the first disciples of the Buddha walking on alms-round. The dignity, composure and the clarity that was involved in the simple activity of walking inspired a lot of faith in Sariputta. He then requested teachings from this monk who humbly replied, “I’m newly ordained and don’t know much.” But Sariputta insisted on hearing the Dhamma from him. The monk, Assaji said, “All things that arise, arise from a cause, and all things end because the causes have ended.” Although he offered the gift of Dhamma through words and deeds, it was the monk’s noble presence that first inspired Sariputta. So Ajahn Chah always reminded us that actions speak louder than words. 
Parents often asked Ajahn Chah what they should teach their children. Ajahn Chah would turn the question right back to the parents. “It doesn’t matter what I say, what do you say? What doyou do?” If there is a tree way over there and a tree close by and a vine starts growing which tree will it climb? The closest one, of course. It’s the same with parents. Their example has a bigger effect than anyone else. The examples we set in the monastery, within society or within families are all aspects of Dhammadana. The gift of giving virtuous conduct and of living a life with Dhamma at its center has an extraordinarily powerful effect.
When you think of the people who have had the biggest positive impact in our life, they embody integrity in some way. It’s not because of the kind of cars they own or the vacations they’ve taken. We value them because they have been trustworthy, kind and patient with us. They’ve made us feel good, no matter how badly we feel about ourselves. This kind of giving is not beyond the capacity of anybody. Increasing well-being and decreasing dukkha are gifts we can all give.
Generosity feeds and flows into everything we do. We can even bring an attitude of sharing into our meditation practice while sitting alone in our kutis. Meditation is not just about me. Sharing it with those we care about and with all beings has a different effect. This kind of giving transforms the heart by taking us out of the capsule of self and of me. We quickly realize that the me and mineuniverse is terribly cramped and crowded. When we can turn our attention to the world that is outside of that, we realize the world is spacious and expansive. There are so many opportunities for sharing, giving, and for living in accordance with Dhamma. Embracing these opportunities allows petty concerns and ways we perpetuate suffering to drop away.
I offer these reflections to you this evening.

This talk is taken from the book

A Dhamma Compass
By Ajahn Pasanno

Abbot of Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery
16201 Tomki Road
Redwood ValleyCA 95470
USA(707) 485-1630

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Charlie Parker Jazz Fest @ Marcus Garvey Park

Hello peepz,

I just got back not long ago from Marcus Garvey Park up on East 124th St in Harlem, where the Summerstage Charlie Parker Jazz Festival took place.  It's an annual event organized by City Parks Foundation, in tribute to Charlie Parker.. and this year it's also held in conjunction with the birthdays of Charlie Parker and Lester Young.. two great saxophone players that revolutionized the voice of the saxophone and jazz.

This free concert had three acts - Revive Da Live, JD Allen Trio, Jason Moran and the Bandwagon, and finally the headline of the evening, the great McCoy Tyner!

I only managed to get there in time to watch the start of JD Allen Trio's set (Revive Da Live was the first band to play), and like the set I watched once in Fat Cat, JD's trio was a powerhouse trio in his own right, calling upon some of the greatest tenor saxophone influences, such as Sonny Rollins as well as John Coltrane.  What was amazing was that JD didn't even stop to talk, but segued from one piece to the next, and he doesn't seem to run out of energy even after all that (virtually non-stop) playing! This is what one would describe as "letting the music speak for itself".  Being a saxophone trio, one cannot help but expect a somewhat evocative spiritual trio sound, very much in the vein of Coltrane, and perhaps some of the later tenor sax greats such as David S. Ware, David Murray, etc.  The approach focus seemed less on trying to give out as much jazz vocabulary, but more on spontaneity, melodic and rhythmic intensity, expression based on color and shapes, as well as group dialogue.  Since there was no verbal interaction with the audience, no one would know what tunes JD played, leaving us to immerse one's self in the heat of the summer sun, and the evocative nature of the music, which seemed adequate anyhow.

The second band to play was pianist Jason Moran, and his Bandwagon, with Tarus Mateen on electric bass and Nasheet Waits on drums!  This is one of the few times I actually get to see a piano trio with electric bass.  It's unusual, I think, but in this case, it was more than an exception!  The nature of Moran's playing and his music, seemed to allow non-acoustic temperament of the electric bass to enhance the sound of the trio.  Of course, it's done with absolute taste by Tarus Mateen, who used it the way it should in this set up.  It's my first time watching Nasheet Waits play, and boy was I in for a treat.  How I would describe it? Amazingly tasteful!  Rhythmic complexity and flexibility is a given, as that is Moran's style from the little I've heard of Moran's music.  But all done with great taste and precision.  This show he did something interesting, by inserting a full audio sample of recorded jazz standards of old, and had the band play along with it.  In one song, he basically played back the track of Eddie Jefferson singing the vocalese version of Coleman Hawkin's solo of Body & Soul, and the band basically played over it, like they were the musicians on that record date, but in a contemporary fashion!  This was my first time watching piano powerhouse Jason Moran live, and I hope it won't be the last!

The highlight of the evening was the solo piano performance of the great Mr. McCoy Tyner.  Before Mr. Tyner even played a single note on the piano, everyone was already standing in ovation, cheering for the legend that he is.  Mr. Tyner performed a bunch of originals such as Fly With The Wind, and also Blues on the Corner, and even played his former saxophonist bandleader's original, Mr. PC.  From this performance, one could already see the effects of old age, in Mr. Tyner's playing..  he hardly played anything at breakneck tempos, and that is to be expected... but the intensity and the soulfulness that shone brighter than the evening sun nevertheless maintained in his playing.  Oh what a blessing it was to be able to catch one performance by this jazz and piano legend!

Tomorrow's concert (Sunday 29/8) will be at Tompkins Square Park.  Not entirely sure if I'll be able to catch that one.  But if I do, I'll try to write about it.

Later, y'all.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Back in NYC, again...and a summary of summer! Part One.

Hello again,

I guess I can get the first prize for being a blog-slacker, no? LOL!  Well, all with good reason.  As the title of this post suggests, I'm back again in the Big Apple.  My last post was basically about my graduation, and basically the end of my school life.. officially, at least.

Since my last post, I had been busy hanging out with my folks during their stay in New York, then flew back to Malaysia for 2.5 months for the summer break, and now I'm back here in NYC, again.  And of course, my pilgrimage home was well-needed one, and it was not without its interesting slew of events and experiences!  But I was most pleased that I got more time to spend with my folks and with my friends, although I wished that I had more... LOL!  At least I don't hear my mom complaining too much this time 'round!

So here's a little summary of my summer break music events:

June 2010:

MPO Happy Hour - "The Duke Live in KL"

A performance of Duke Ellington's small group works led by MPO co-principal trombonist Marques Young.  This ensemble featured Marques, myself on saxophone, John Thomas (drums), Gabriel Evens (piano), and Fly (bass) featuring guest artistes Elvira Arul (vocals), Scott Thimble (tuba) and Yow Weng Wai (alto sax).  This was my debut performance in Malaysia's prestigious Philharmonic Hall, so it was quite a thrill and a small dream realized.  We performed pieces such as Cottontail, In A Sentimental Mood, Take The A Train, C Jam Blues, Just Squeeze Me, and some others.

MPYO Plays Jazz (featuring Fritz Renold & The Bostonian Friends, and the Encounter Jazz Programme)

This was definitely one of the most interesting shows I've done in a while, and also during this summer break.  I was enlisted to join the Encounter Jazz Programme (a side project of the M'sian Philharmonic Orchestra, led by MPO co-principal trombonist Marques Young), to be part of the Malaysian Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (MPYO) along with Swiss saxophonist/composer/arranger Fritz Renold and his group, The Bostonian Friends.  The Bostonian Friends consists of Randy Brecker (trumpet), Christian Jacob (piano), Reggie Hamilton (bass), Danny Gottlieb (drums) and Steve Reid (lead trumpet).  What a splendid line-up, and a dream come true for some of us jazz cats from half the world away!

After a one-and-a-half-weeks rehearsal session (one week for the EJP and the Bostonian Friends), we played at the Petronas Philharmonic Hall for two nights, presenting 3 suites: Fritz Renold's 5-movement Nusantara Suite (a world-premiere performance), and two Duke Ellington tone poems - Night Creatures and Harlem.  This concert was definitely one of the most challenging musical performance that I've done to date, playing a world premiere piece (the music was VERY challenging, to say the least!), and also trying to call the spirit of alto sax master Johnny Hodges in the Ellington pieces.  But it was an amazing and unforgettable experience, having to play great music, as well as being on the same stage with jazz greats!

July 2010:

Claude Diallo Situation Live @ No Black Tie

An amazing trio from Switzerland and France! Pianist Claude Diallo is a fellow Queens College coursemate, who graduated the semester I first got into QC.  Oddly enough we never really played together (except once when I was subbing another friend for a recital rehearsal, and a big band reading) until this two-night performance at KL jazz club No Black Tie.  Playing with Claude was bassist Laurent Salzard and drummer Massimo Buonanno.  They stayed over for the weekend and we played a lot of Claude's original compositions and arrangements and a few jazz standards.. and it was also an exciting and challenging musical experience for me, like I would always tell some of my Malaysian musician close friends: I'm totally spoiled with playing with seriously good rhythm section musicians in the US!  And needless to say, a visit to Malaysia would not be a good one without the Malaysian hospitality, we got to hang out and have some awesome Malaysian food! Nothing beats the real thing!

Junji Delfino's 50th Year Celebration Concert and "HERE I AM" Album Launch

This event was a double landmark for jazz songstress Junji "Jazzmamma" Delfino.  It's her 50th year of life, and also the release of her debut solo album "HERE I AM".

Junji booked me to play this concert with her, along with some of her closest friends and music colleagues - her husband and Malaysian jazz piano luminary David Gomes, another Malaysian jazz legend/pianist Michael Veerapen, guitarist Jordan Rivers, and the juniors Hiro Maekawa on bass, Steve Nanda on drums, Eddie Wen on trumpet/flugelhorn, and myself on saxophones.  Guest appearances include Edwin Sumun (with his alter-ego SHELAH on one of the shows), Instant Cafe Theatre founder comedienne Jo Kukathas, the "voice of Malaysia" Patrick Teoh, veteran songstress (and one of my musical "mamas") Salamiah Hassan, and up-and-coming young stand-up comedian Kuah Jenhan.

This three-nights concert was one of the most emotional concerts I've ever done, I have to say... and I really seldom get something like that.  I guess this was more than just an ordinary concert, it was a celebration of life... and it was with a group of people I would also consider as a second family.  Of course, the music also spoke for itself, and Junji definitely shone all three nights, and I was proud and blessed to be part of it.

PS: Just a plug.. GET THE ALBUM, it's a truly beautiful album! Send an email to Junji Delfino by clicking here, or on her Facebook public page to request an order from her.

August 2010:

Fung Chern Hwei "From The Heart" CD Release @ No Black Tie

This was also another musical highlight for me.  This is my 'gugu' brother, violinist/composer Fung Chern Hwei's debut CD release, called "FROM THE HEART".  We recorded this in mid-December 2009, and I played three tracks on it, as well as co-produced it.  My being a producer was a rather incidental occurence, but nevertheless, I took it on like it would be my own personal project.  As such, it was also a labour of love on my part as well, and I am blessed and proud to be part of this.  This album consist of five piano duo tracks (with Chern Hwei and Francesca Han on piano), two jazz ensemble tracks (with the addition of myself on saxophones, Jeremy Harman on cello, and Jens Ellerhold on drums), and one classical quartet piece (with Chern Hwei, myself, Francesca, and Jeremy) - a Robert Schumann piece Andante Cantabile re-arranged by Chern Hwei.  With exception of the Schumann piece, everything else were original compositions by Chern Hwei and one original by Francesca.

The CD release concert at No Black Tie featured Chern Hwei, myself, the inimitably tasteful Justin Lim on piano (one of the best musical pianists in Malaysia, if not the best), John Thomas on drums, Fly on double bass, and featuring Elizabeth Tan on cello.  It was probably also my first performance playing a classical piece, as we also played the Schumann piece we recorded!  Definitely a memorable musical highlight of the summer.

PS: Another plug... if you're interested in getting Fung Chern Hwei "FROM THE HEART" CD, send Chern Hwei an email here! Do get it, it's an amazing album, that showcases a truly Malaysian talent!

That's it for now, stay tuned for the second instalment of my summer break.

Part Two.. coming soon!

Friday, May 28, 2010


That's it.. I'm officially done.

I just got back from my graduation commencement at Queens College, and I'm happy to announce that I am officially a Master of Arts (although I'm really.... REALLY.... far from being a real master!).  It only felt like not long ago I had just come to New York, and to Queens College to study with not only great teachers, but also with great people in the school.  I know that for a lot of us who live half the planet away, to be able to study with people that we want to study with badly is one heck of a big dream.  For some, that dream does come true, and I must say that was the case for me.  And I'm so eternally grateful for that opportunity.

I had a blast studying in QC, and to say I have learnt a lot is both and under-and-over-statement.  There's so much I've gained from my short time here, but there's so much TO learn that I know I've not learned enough.  And I've not yet fully applied what I got to learn to the best I can (yet!).  Well, I'm definitely gonna take advantage of the extra time I have to get some more knowledge, and learn to apply them!

One of the biggest thing about what I enjoyed about QC is getting to know a lot of cool cats, and they come from ALL over the world...and that is NOT an overstatement.  I was tempted to name everyone (or at least as far as I can remember) but I don't think I will.. I'm still a lazy person at heart! LOL!

But I'd like to extend my congratulations to the graduating class (of the Masters Jazz program) of 2010.. I'm so happy to be able to join you guys and gals in this momentous occasion!

CONGRATULATIONS to Rafal Sarnecki, Willie Harvey, Eric Teichman, Anthony Vanacore, Spiro Sinigos, Eun-jin Lee, Le Zhang, Dean Sagafiez, Keith Yaun, Carlos Mena, Janis Goerlich, Masayuki Negoro, Jungmin Lee, C.J. Glass, Ryan Weisheit, Adia Leadbetter, Majid Khaliq, Trevor Long, Lola Danza, and Russ Flynn!  I hope I didn't miss anyone out...

... and good luck!


Friday, May 07, 2010

Recital is DONE!!

It's done... over! I've finally finished my graduation recital!!

Well, I'm not going to do a post-mortem of it.. well, not right now anyway (my dad took videos, so if it's good I'll post it up youtube, if not, it's going into my archives! LOL!).  I'm not sure how it went really, but I had a great time playing, anyhow.  It was a thrill no doubt.

But I'd like to take this opportunity to give thanks to a few important people, not just for the recital, but for a whole lot of other things that made my New York experience a special one:
My parents - for their unending support, love and guidance! No words can express my gratitude for you.

My professors - Pr. Antonio Hart, Pr. Michael Mossman, Pr. Howard Brofsky, Pr. David Berkman.  Your guidance, knowledge, wisdom, and friendship is something I don't think I could get anywhere else.  I feel eternally blessed that I've been given the opportunity to study with all of you, there is no replacement for the experience I've had with all of you!  There are lots more to learn, and I hope I can still continue to learn from you, even after graduation.

My teachers/seniors back in Malaysia: Greg Lyons, Thomas Theseira, David Gomes, Junji Delfino, Michael Veerapen, Jose Thomas, Farid Ali, Mac Chew, and many others.  Thanks for giving me a big head start on something that I wouldn't have thought I had any chance or talent to be in.  Your friendship and guidance is also something that could not be replace by anything in this world.

All my Malaysian mates, both musicians and non-musicians - your support, friendship, and talent is something which has lighted my way in more ways than one.  You all are part of who I am today.

My QC mates - thanks for your friendship, and your musical knowledge! I've learnt so much from playing and hanging out with of you!  Looking forward for more!!

Fung Chern Hwei - thanks brother... 'nuff said! "Raisins"? ;)

My bandmates for my recital: Jens Ellerhold, Michelle Marie, Ayako Sato, Rozhan Razman, Carlos Mena, Fung Chern Hwei, Yu-Chen Han, Chi-Jui Lee, Muneyoshi Takahashi, Rob Mosher, Jackson Hardaker, Sengkook Ha - Thanks for making it happen!!  Whatever happened (or didn't happen) in the recital, it doesn't matter.. I just hoped you guys had fun as much as I did! BIG THANKS!!

I'm DONE!!


Now, the future beckons...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Major neglect...!!

I can't believe how much I've neglected this blog. I guess with Facebook and Twitter and whatsnot.. I guess it's almost inevitable blogging might face a downturn in activity, or at least in my case. I know there have been readers of my blog (including my parents) that I would've updated it more often, so to you all, I offer my sincerest apologies.

It's 4 months close to a year since I last posted something here.. that's a pretty long hiatus, I must say. The longest I've ever really taken on my blog. To cut to the chase, I've just been pretty involved with music and school here in New York, and since it's much faster to be networking around on Facebook/Twitter, most of my networking activities have been scaled down to that. In effect, I think I probably have lost a lot of thoughts I could have written down for you to read, hopefully I may get some of them, and write down some new ones.

Anyway, to cut the big story short, this few weeks would be a pretty interesting juncture for me. As most of you know, I'm here in NYC studying for my Masters in Queens College. And guess what, after 2+ years being here... I'm graduating!!

YES... I'm graduating!! I'm almost done with school! But wait.. it almost feels like I just got here! I bet a lot of you may have a similar kind of feeling for different or similar situations.

Well, I've got a lot of thoughts.. some of you say I may be thinking too much.. yeah, I am, can't help it. Anyhow, the interesting thing is that after my graduation, real life begins.. both musical and personal. I'm really intrigued, excited, and scared to see where I'll be heading the next few years. Interestingly, I am unable to see what's ahead... I used to be able to, at least while I was still in Malaysia. I was able to more-or-less know where I'm gonna head (question is always WHEN). But this time, I just could not. It's like standing on a cliff, with fog all around.. no turning back.. only forward. I definitely will jump... but where will I end up?

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend, who is also very spiritual, and he made an interesting observation about those thoughts I've had - Malaysia is so small, that I could see pretty much all possibilities. But now that I'm out here, in the big ocean, and it's fogged up, it's quite intimidating nonetheless. I still got to move on... so yeah... time to move on!

I'll be performing my graduation recital in 2 weeks, I'm looking forward to it. But it's also been pretty busy trying to prepare for it, too. I pray that I'll do well at it.. and I'll put in my best. That's always been my motto... although I always feel I never put in enough.

I hope to be able to write up here more, too.

Till next time.. look forward to hear from any of you, any thoughts to share.