The Jazz Singer

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Three years ago we went to Pusan National University to see Jeon Jeduk (전제덕), a famous Korean harmonica player who was making an all-too-rare foray down to Korea’s second city. He was back in town yesterday – for one day only – holding a concert with a woman regarded as one of this country’s most famous jazz singers, who has been described as Korea’s Ella Fitzgerald – perhaps in reference to her ability with scat singing. She’s simply known as ‘Malo‘ (말로). This time it was no mere university campus the concert would be held at, but rather Busan’s Citizen’s Hall in Beomildong.

Three years ago we went to Pusan National University to see Jeon Jeduk (전제덕), a famous Korean harmonica player who was making an all-too-rare foray down to Korea’s second city. He was back in town yesterday – for one day only – holding a concert with a woman regarded as one of this country’s most famous jazz singers, who has been described as Korea’s Ella Fitzgerald – perhaps in reference to her ability with scat singing. She’s simply known as ‘Malo‘ (말로). This time it was no mere university campus the concert would be held at, but rather Busan’s Citizen’s Hall in Beomildong.

I’d seen a clip of the two artistes performing together in a piece on our video-on-demand service, and while I knew what to expect with Jeon Jeduk, I was impressed with what I saw of Malo. But, I do like Jazz, and while I’m not sure about the Ella Fitzgerald reference, she certainly seemed to compare favourably with the likes of Diana Krall. Here’s a video from Korean TV – featuring Malo and Jeduk performing Devil May Care with Malo’s scat singing, followed by a less frenetic piece:

If you’re not like me and you don’t like rain then the weather was atrocious. By yesterday evening the downpour had turned into a deluge and while Jeon Jeduk thanked the audience for turning up in such conditions, even though his blindness meant that he couldn’t have seen just how bedraggled we might have all looked.

To call it a joint concert between Jeduk and Malo would not really be correct, because the emphasis was more on the former than the latter. This imbalance was not what my wife felt had been advertised – I noticed that on the poster for the event at the venue it mentioned Jeduk with Malo in much smaller writing as a ‘guest’, but I gather that was the only place that this was actually stated. The flyer for example tends to imply a much more equal rating. Well, that’s Korean advertising for you. A more difficult issue is what you define as jazz. The concert was advertised as a jazz concert and while my wife was happy enough that most of the content fell within definition I wasn’t so sure. I may be old fashioned.

At least when Malo eventually took to the stage she was everything promised. A couple of songs were in English, which I had some mixed feelings about. I’ve heard the classics sung by native English speakers of most nationalities, but there’s something about hearing them sung with a non-native accent which always feels ever-so-slightly off to me – I’d be remiss in relating the experience if I wasn’t honest about it. I can easily lose myself in a truly mesmerising song but finding that moment of perfection can be harder when I’m hearing the pronunciation. I expect the longer I’m here the more I’ll get used to it.

We ranged through Jazz music to Soul and Korean pop classics of the 1970s and 80s which were not jarring at all even if I’d have preferred to stay firmly fixed within the jazz genre. I wasn’t really able to take any photos and videos until the encores when it became acceptable to do so.

The rarity of the trip to Busan had prompted one of the guitarists into something special – Jeon Jeduk had persuaded him to propose to his girlfriend – who was in the audience – on stage in the middle of the concert. However, this is not quite what you might think – they have arranged to get married in two weeks anyway, but such is the way things are done in Korea that he technically hasn’t proposed yet. Well, it seems to me that it’s a done deal now and far too late for her to say ‘no’ – Koreans don’t have the same tradition of backing out of weddings as we do in the West (the loss of family face would be extraordinary) – but it was probably the most awkward proposal I’ve ever seen, with neither of them saying anything in the end and Jeon Jeduk gently chastising them for it afterwards.

The unscheduled diversion took the concert beyond its slated 90-minute running time and with the encore we were pushing 10pm when things finally came to a close, having started at 8pm. At 50,000 won per ticket (£29/$44) I’m not sure it was that cheap by Korean standards. To my mind it was worth it despite the minor disappointments, but then sometimes in Busan it feels like you have to take what you can get. Apparently, we’re a long way from Seoul.



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