The Freedom to Improvise

Translation By: 
英譯 English Translation Tanja Wessels 中譯 Chinese Translation ALICE kok
圖 Photos Eduardo Martins
There is a new Jazz event in Macau and it’s changing the city’s musical itinerary.
There is a new Jazz event in Macau and it’s changing the city’s musical itinerary. On Sundays, the Live Music Association (LMA) space is home to concerts and improvisation sessions hosted by three Jazz lovers: Henrique Silva (Bibito), Cristina Ferreira and Rui Simões. The initiative is attracting musicians, professionals and amateurs, all eager to play, but who previously lacked a space with the freedom to improvise and interact. The initiative has even brought one of the most iconic musicians in the territory’s Jazz scene back on stage, drummer Armando Araújo. A passion for Jazz is what drives them all!
It’s a few minutes past seven on a Sunday afternoon, and on the Live Music Association (LMA) stage, funky Jazz beats are being rehearsed - Superstition by Stevie Wonder and Fragile by Jorge Palma, to be more precise. From the back of the room, a voice can be heard singing the chorus of one of the Portuguese musician and composer’s most famous songs: “Frágil, sinto-me frágil”. Later, much later, when the jam session peaks, classics such as How High the Moon and other inescapable themes of the Jazz universe emanate from the stage.
The support band on this given night come in the form of Groove Ensemble. On stage, Portuguese saxophone player Paulo Pereira belts out a tune, while on bass, Mozambique-born and Macau-based José Chan, plucks the strings, foot tapping to the rhythm, his wavy gray hair crowning his presence. The drums resonate with the talent of Matthew Li - born in Brazil, the Chinese musician has been living in Macau since the age of ten.
“Do you want a beer? A sandwich?” Henrique Silva, known to his friends as Bibito, asks the arriving musicians. Together with Cristina Ferreira and Rui Simões, he promotes the Jazz nights, held on the 11th floor of an industrial building on Avenida do Coronel Mesquita. Jazz Sundays kicked off on April 2, and since then, whenever the musicians are free of other commitments, the Live Music Association (LMA) - founded and led by Macau musician and fashion designer Vincent Cheang – turns into a free space for musicians and Jazz lovers.
 “We started these sessions two months ago and word spread quickly and everybody is talking about it,” Bibito, an advertising professional, says. “Another phenomenon that happened is that this turned out to be a meeting point for great musicians,” he adds. To the extent that it “surpassed all expectations”.
“I had an idea that there were good musicians in Macau and that they would be available to jam and play with each other. But I never thought there were such good musicians and with such great desire to have a space like this to play in.”
Seated around a table covered in newspaper clippings, are three other musicians. Joining José Chan, who divides his time between resident bands The Bridge and Groove Ensemble, are Wilson Chan, Humphrey Cheong, and Ray Elma – with saxophone and trumpet cases on their backs. 
Brazilian Armando Araújo, the “legendary” and “the most talented” drummer from Macau, announces his presence with a gravelly “good afternoon”. His accolades come courtesy of saxophonist Wilson Chan and drummer and bassist Jun Kung, a half Filipino-half Macanese musician, who later joined the “jam session” with Vincent Cheang.
Today, at the age of 68, Armando, who left Brazil for Asia nearly four decades ago, moves slowly, one step at a time, weakened by frail health, drumsticks in hand, ready to play for hours on end. José Chan highlights Armando’s position as the oldest member of The Bridge, already venerated back when the Jazz Club of Macau was located at Rua das Alabardas, near São Lourenço Market.
“I think he started doing shows in the 1970s, in 1973 or 1974. He bridged the gap between Macau and Japan. His career was in Japan and he would come here to spend six months off,” José explains.
Brazilian musician João Mascarenhas, who has been living between Macau and Hong Kong for more than 10 years, says he started going to the Jazz nights at LMA because of Armando.
“It was Humphrey [Cheong] who, at a ‘function’ with me [a private event the musicians were hired for] said, ‘there is a jam session here in Macau starting this Sunday and you know who will be there? Armando!’ I didn’t even know he was still alive. I came to catch up with ‘Armando Confusão’, Armando Araújo, the Brazilian drummer, an icon and a folk figure in Macau. I knew him many years ago, but we had lost contact,” Mascarenhas recalls.
Saxophonist Humphrey Cheong, for his part, says he has known Armando personally for more than 20 years. 
“He’s a longtime friend.” Mascarenhas goes on to say that he was at a Jazz festival in Jakarta, Indonesia, where he met the half-Japanese half-Brazilian Jazz and Bossa Nova singer, Lisa Ono and asked her: “Where’s Armando? He left Japan for that woman from Macau and I never heard of him again”.
Armando Araújo
A passion for jazz
Armando Araújo says that he feels at home at LMA. 
“We didn’t have anywhere to play and this place came up. We are trying to bring the Jazz club back, we are playing together again, we are lucky,” says the musician, who was also a drummer in various dragon boat races in the 1980s. Music has always been a part of Armando’s life. 
“My father was also a musician. He played guitar, he was an orchestra musician. He didn’t play Jazz, I’m the one who got into that,” he says. “I liked Jazz early on. Jazz has a very strong connection with the musician. It gives you a certain freedom, improvisation, harmony. It stirs everything, it’s from the heart. I like all kinds of music; as for what I prefer, that would be Jazz, Bossa Nova, the sounds of Brazil. In Japan I played a lot of Jazz. There are lots of Jazz clubs, American influence, after the war the Japanese developed good Jazz bands,” he says. 
Looking around at the audience - who stand up and cheer and clap after his solo - Armando smiles and reflects: “Now here in Macau, we are elevating Jazz again, in a place like this nobody can believe it.”
The idea of ​​launching “Macau Jazz - Sunday Sessions” emerged from conversations with LMA founder and owner Vincent Cheang, who was willing to lend the space for live music events. Rui Simões spoke to Bibito, who wanted to transform LMA into a Jazz bar, an idea supported by Cristina Ferreira, who is also part of the Macau Jazz Club, chaired by José Luís de Sales Marques, who gives the project financial support. Far from imagining the success the initiative would have, the organizers set themselves a test-phase deadline.
“We gave ourselves a deadline. We’ll do this for four months and see what happens, but we still don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Bibito.
For the time being, “it’s all for the love of the art, everyone supports the project. It’s the musicians themselves wanting it to continue, for this not to die, and stay on as a space where they can meet and play,” Bibito explains.
The doors are open to everyone and there is no admission price: “This is not a business for us, it is not business for anyone,” adds Bibito.
With the exception of guitarist Ka Hou Cheong, who has a career as a musician in Hong Kong and came to replace Filipino Ramón Joaquín on the night of this story, all the other members of The Bridge just play music as a hobby.
“We have our day jobs”, explains José Chan, a systems engineer for CCTV. “This is a passion. We really love to play, that’s why we come. They gave us a space that is hard to find in Macau, where we can play live in front of an audience, instead of playing a ‘function’, which is kind of ‘background music’. Here we have a captivated audience, who listen and enjoy what we do, because up on stage we are not just playing notes, but transmitting our passion out here,” José explains.
Saxophonists Humphrey Cheong and civil servant Wilson Chan began playing at the original club in 1995. “We were very young.” They are here to support the Jazz Club. 
“We grew up with the club, we learned everything from the club, we are here to offer support,” says Humphrey. 
Underground space
“Underground” and “cozy” with “warm” people, is how young singer Amanda Chan describes the Sunday night sessions. This is her fourth jam session. It’s almost 1:30 in the morning and she is still on stage, playing a drum solo, in a lively interaction with Mascarenhas on piano and David Zieher on guitar. The next act on stage is Annie Wang, a student from the University of Macau. She performs the Frank Sinatra classic, Fly Me to the Moon.
LMA also wants to “give kids in Macau a place to play,” Bibito says. “Sometimes the spaces are a bit too formal for them to feel at ease playing with other musicians, and one of the premises of this project was to create a space that would also allow these young musicians who like Jazz to have a space where they could share the stage with other people and an audience who really appreciate Jazz and who are here to listen to more discerning and selective Jazz. I think we’re succeeding.”
Cristina Ferreira adds, “people are tired of what the city is offering them, fireworks and completely artificial things, which is what casinos have to offer. Live music has practically disappeared from Macau, at this moment there is nothing available,” says the lawyer who has been connected to the Macau Jazz scene for many years.
José Luís Sales Marques, president of the Macau Jazz Club, who has been a regular presence at LMA since the opening night, sees the success of this event “as an opportunity to re-launch Jazz” in the territory.
“Let’s see if we can still organize a festival this year. Perhaps it’s now possible to convince the authorities, possibly private entities, that there is room for Jazz. This is a dynamic space and one that is growing. It attracts people and they need it because it is a space of ​​freedom, above all, of creativity and expression,” he says.
From gondolas to the jam session
Sundays at LMA have become a meeting point for audiences and musicians of all nationalities: Portuguese, Australian, American, Brazilian, Chinese, Filipino and even Indonesian, as is the case of Irawan, Eka and Retno. During the day they are gondoliers at the Venetian hotel, taking tourists on gondola rides on the artificial canals of the world’s largest casino. On Tuesdays, they play at Sands casino, and they heard about these Jazz nights through Facebook. Erwan on the piano and Retno on bass joined the jam session with drummer Mario Venditti, musical director and ‘band leader’ at The House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams, together with Macau drummer and bassist, Jun Kung.
The previous Sunday there was a surprise when Portuguese bassist Carlos Barreto appeared, having come to Macau to play in the concert of Cape Verdean musician Tété Alhinho. The most vibrant jam moments on stage brought together Barreto, pianist João Mascarenhas, drummer Mario Venditti and guitarist David Zieher, both musicians from The House of Dancing Water, Mascarenhas recounts.
João Mascarenhas thinks it is important that LMA be consolidated as a meeting point for visiting musicians.
“It will be good for the students and for the professionals, because if this works here, as happens in Hong Kong and other places, local musicians will jam and when someone is looking for work or someone to play, they will come to these sessions, and this can start to happen in Macau.”
The problem in Macau, says Mascarenhas, is that the professional level of the musicians is still very amateur: “This is something that has to change,” he says.
Mario Venditti explains that he always comes to LMA “without any expectations, and it’s always good”.
“Here I can play a totally different kind of music. It’s free, I can improvise, interact with other musicians. It’s a dialogue. João Mascarenhas, and I became friends. Every week is different, you never know what is waiting for you, and I like that,” says the Canadian musician, who says he has Italian, French and Amerindian blood and started playing piano at age five, drums at 14, and came to Macau in 2010 for The House of Dancing Water.
Playing with other musicians is a “moment of liberation” for someone who has 10 shows a week, which demands a lot of concentration, he explains. Venditti thinks its “great” to play with less experienced musicians.
“It’s good to play with great musicians because we can play more complicated things, the interaction is different. But the beauty of playing with non-professionals is that we have to merge with them, support them, make them play better. It’s not about putting on a show, it’s about how to make music together, that’s very beautiful. In the end, the important thing is to see the people in front of us having fun,” Venditti concludes.