Hyatt fringe taster is a blast! 2010 KKJazzFest is sure to be a winner

When I arrived at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, on Sunday afternoon, there was no need to ask the doorman where the Atrium Lounge was, or where the first of the 2010 KKJazzFest’s fringe events was taking place.

Music filled the foyer, all tables were filled (Panic: Where am I gonna sit?) and people were milling around taking photos, or just standing chatting and tapping their feet.

The second act was on when I got there – Rizal Banjar and Amrullah from the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu – a guitarist and singer making some very pretty sounds as I walked around looking for a vacant table.

I saw a young kid with a familiar face holding a guitar. I was wondering where I had seen him, when Asif Pishori introduced this guy as his bass player, SHAHRI. Shahri is a Sabahan from Bongawan who plays with UMS, Agung Beat and Dayaing Noraini.

Sabahan bass player Shahri play jazz at Hyatt Kota Kinabalu. He also plays with UMS, Agung Beat, Dayaing NorainiIt got better.

Asif said: “Have you met Mat Rock?”

THE Mat Rock? The one Moses de Silva said plays like four people in a drum ensemble, and whom he credits as THE person who inspired him to find out “what is this jazz thing”? The teacher Zulkhaliff Bin Mohammad said showed him how to make his drumming technique fluid and more expressive? The drummer playing “Smoke On The Water” with Oswald Perera in Halo Cafe last year?

No. I obviously hadn’t met him. So I shook his hand and said it was really an honour.

What a good start to the afternoon!

Anyway, still looking for a place to sit, Cheong Kok Ann signalled me to come over. Kok Ann is an accomplished pianist and composer, an architect and he recently became President of SPArKS in a rotational change of leadership during the recent AGM. SPArKS stands for the Society of Performing Arts, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

With Kok Ann at the helm, and music luminary Roger Wang as Vice President, this organisation is really coming into its own. Clearly the KK Jazz Festival (KKJF) – in its fourth year in 2010 – is gaining traction and becoming a brand name in its own right. I can only imagine the hard work and dedication which must go behind an achievement like that.

Young leaders in the local music community Jessel Yansalang and Moses De Silva became SPArKs committee members at the AGM. So it’s all shaping up nicely, and so positive for music lovers in KK, I think.

Kok Ann went on stage and thanked various people, including GLORY YEW, who was taking photos of the event. SabahSongs gratefully thanks Glory for the use of his photos in this blog, too.

Kok Ann’s table had many people sitting at it, and I looked for somewhere less crowded. At the back were some comfortable sofa chairs which I liked. A friendly, older English couple occupied two chairs, but there were two more. I dragged one to where I could see the stage.

Datuk Adeline Leong speaks at KKJazz Fest 2010 Hyatt eventAs I opened my laptop, Datuk Adeline Leong had taken the mic and was giving an overview of the upcoming events. The Datuk is one of the main advisors to the KKJF 2010 Organising Committee, and became a consultant to SPArKS after stepping aside for Kok Ann to succeed as President.

A new singer came on stage with a guitar. Rene Barrow. The English couple sitting next to me told me they’re friends of his dad.

Rene was joined by drummer Michael Cheong, who runs Michael Drum Planet school, and the bass player I see everywhere, Leo Liew! I didn’t know his last name until then, having seen him at City Mall during Jon Tse’s Christmas Edition, “My Story” and with Tian Long, on tour everywhere. But everyone just calls him LEO!

Leo looked kinda fun, wearing a check cap, and he played an acoustic bass. There’s nothing as cool as a walking acoustic bass line! So Michael opened up the set with shimmering cymbals, and Rene sang tender versions of “Autumn Leaves” (in English and French) and “Mona Lisa”. I caught my chin jutting out to Leo’s bass… thump thump! Love it 😀 and Michael provided a reassuring backdrop for Rene.

Leo and Michael are part of Cheong Kok Ann’s own group – Jackfruit.  Kok Ann then sat at the piano, and Daniel Mojina joined them. Finger-style guitarist Daniel delivered a beautiful intro for the Billie Holliday song, “Don’t Explain”, and the musicians had a fine jam to this one.

Kok Ann pointed out that this song was first released in 1946, (recorded in 1944) and in contrast, the next song up was a new composition called “Valerie.”

Valerie? Like the photographer Valerie Lo? Yep! It was a song written for her! Kok Ann told me later he composed a song especially for her new photography website, and he didn’t want to charge her, knowing that she will take beautiful photographs of the KK music events anyway.

Here’s the lovely Valerie. A lot of her work is on SabahSongs too, including pics of my melodica.

Who was next? It was the AP Jazz Trio. A tidal wave of Latin rhythms hit Hyatt lobby. I’m sure anyone standing there with a wig would have had it blown away in a gust of Latino magic. Whoosh.

Mr. Mat was everything at once: he was Gentleness; he was Strength. He held the pulse framework, while little sounds also hung in the air like “percussion mist”.  I have to describe it like this because I don’t have any drumming vocabulary.  I will take lessons with a drummer, so I know how to write about drumming more accurately.  A musical conversation of piano and drums went back and forth across “Blue Bossa” and “Autumn Leaves”, swapping solos over a shorter and shorter number of bars: drum, piano, drum, piano. It was so quick. It was a show of Experience.

And Shahri got to solo too, looking like he was thoroughly enjoyed himself. Haha!

Cheong Kok Ann wrapped things up in the classiest of ways. He presented his new composition, aptly titled “FRINGE”, and asked the musicians to play it, “to make it sound even better”. Leo, Michael, Rene and Daniel all came back on, Kok Ann played keyboards, and the Hyatt’s house saxophonist – Conran – joined the session.

Okay. It’s time to wind down now, right? No way! That saxophonist Conran was awesome! How many more surprises could there be? He was both cool and energetic, and about as pro as you can get. Then I remembered hubby Mike telling me about this guy about a year ago, and we went to Shenanigan’s to listen to him, but he wasn’t around. Conran told me later that his band — Live 8 — went to Japan about then.

Conran’s band took over after the Fringe event finished, and I closed my laptop listening to Live 8 performing Lee Ritenour’s song “Night Rhythms”. They are a seriously funky band! Eric Marienthal, eat your heart out.

So, how many more surprises? Lots more, I bet! At the two other fringe events happening at Shenanigan’s, and then the KKJAZZFEST 2010 in June, to be held at the most beautiful of venues, Sutera Harbour.  Woo Hoo! It is great to love music and live in KK.

SabahSongs also said hello to: Gina Mojina, Jon Tse and his friend Samantha, Kurt Chong Lim (who is checking out jazz drumming! WAH!)  and Jessel Yansalang.

Click the links below for information about the upcoming events.

Thumbs up to the Hyatt Regency for hosting the Fringe nights.

The KK Jazz Festival is sponsored by SPArKS, and the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu.

Thanks once again to GLORY YEW for these beautiful photos, and many more on his website and Facebook site.



  1. Wow!!! what a wonderful event… so many old friends & musician are there!!!hmm!!! sometimes I wish I got a pair a wing just to fly down to KK & joint the fun!!!haha! that’s a real good story!! I really enjoy reading it!!!

    1. Thanks Peter. Lots of drumming and drummers at that event. Now our 4AG drummer Kurt wants to learn a few jazz/Latin techniques. Fantastic. We will talk more later, for sure. Take care

  2. Hi Joanna,
    Really enjoyed going through your blog. You are such a prolific writer and truly amazed at how you describe the music – simply mesmerizing! We are so blessed in Sabah to have you here putting into words all the feelings when one listens to beautiful music. Thank you for writing so well about the KK Jazz Festival. The organizers worked hard and are so glad that it went off successfully. Let’s look forward to the 5th Edition of KK Jazz Festival on 17 & 18 June 2011 which will be our 5th Anniversary! Regards, Adeline

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