Festival mania: Penang Jazz Festival

Updated: 8 May 2012

This inimitable island has become the go-to-place for festival lovers over the last few years and James Lochhead clues you in on the ones that you should make time for

If you want magical evenings sitting under the night sky wrapped in wonderful music and soothed by the sounds of the sea behind you, get yourself to the Penang Island Jazz Festival. This is a gem of a Festival.

Spread over four days, it combines mainstage performances with a plethora of wrap-around events, including (as of 2011) five fringe stages, creative showcases, jazz jamming till the early hours, workshops, forums, a gallery and a charity dinner. If you had a mind for it, you could revel in the music from early morning almost non-stop until 2am. Countdown events start in Penang from a couple of months before so you could catch those too.

Don’t be put off by the word ‘jazz’. The music on offer crosses a multitude of genres, styles and rhythms. Musicians have included world-famous performers such as Tommy Emmanuel, Randy Bernsen, John Kaizan Neptune, Shakatak, Ulf Wakenius, Steve Hackett and Jojo Mayer; leading regional stars such as Nah Youn Son and Louis Soliano; and of course the range of our Malaysia and Penang own: Andy Peterson, Lewis Pragasam, Mac Chew, Paul Ponnudorai, Mr Gambus, Aseana Percussion Unit, David Gomes, Ray Rozells, Wilson Quah, The Jeep Trio, James Boyle … the list is extensive. Workshops bring you up close and personal to these amazing musicians, as they share experiences, techniques and secrets. Also, the jazz jams in the Bayview Beach Resort club after hours is an experience not to be missed.

The fringe demonstrates the commitment of the organisers to nurturing our local musicians and offers an opportunity for younger Malaysian and Penangite performers to showcase their talents. As organiser Paul Augustin of The Capricorn Connection says, ‘The festival is all about creativity. We want to continue to bring good and new music to more and more people. We want to continue to support the development of musicianship among younger and more established Malaysian musicians. We want to find new ways of bringing audiences and musicians together. And of course we will continue to raise the profile of Penang regionally and internationally.’

The fact that this year is the ninth edition of this extraordinary independent festival is testament to the hard work and ability of Paul’s small organising team who have defied predictions of insanity and bankruptcy. It is probably the passion and commitment that explains the intimacy and warm ambience to be found at this festival like no other. And the festival is ever expanding. You can see some of the biggest names in jazz festival organising, milling around, checking out the talent and participating in the Island Jazz Forum. In 2011, you could see top musicians showcased in the Creative Malaysia slot. A 10-minute open mike’ session was a successful part of the fringe why don’t you join in?) and in the gallery area, an exhibition on Penang’s musical heritage was added to fabulous photographs of internationallyestablished jazz photographers.

So book yourself into a beach hotel, get your mat dusted, and prepare yourself for four days of uninterrupted bliss. You won’t regret it.

When Nov 29 – Dec 2
Where Main venue: Bayview Beach Resort, Batu Ferringhi / Fringe stages: To be confirmed
Cost Mainstage (Saturday and Sunday, 6.30pm-11.30pm): RM68 per evening; Fringe, workshops, forums, gallery: free
Website penangjazz.com