View from aloft at the Sax’ n Art

Vietnam Heritage, July-August 2011 — Aged 63, Ho Chi Minh City-based Tuyet Loan is recognized as the Jazz Queen of Vietnam. She has been singing jazz for    _over 20 years.
‘No one before me nor after me. So stop calling me No 1,’ Tuyet Loan said, puffing on a cigarette.
Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Japan, China and even Myanmar have witnessed encouraging progress for jazz. National jazz festivals are held annually. There are jazz stars, who have successors. The genre has its own audience; artists can make a living performing jazz, and their CDs go beyond the country’s borders.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened in Vietnam.
Actually, before Tuyet Lan there were Kim Bang and Ngoc My, yet they quit too soon. Now, except for Tuyet Loan, there is almost no jazz singer. ‘In Jazz, only passion can lead you through,’ Loan said. She makes about VND5-7 million per month, performing four nights a week, at two places per night. She gets roughly VND400,000 per performing night, one twentieth of what an average pop singer  would earn. ‘I will sing until my last breath. But who will take over it? What’s the future of jazz singing?’ she said.
In the opinion of saxophonist Tran Manh Tuan, jazz faded because there was no market for it, opportunities for the artists were small. Artists can barely make ends meet just by performing jazz. Tuan’s Sax’ n Art and a spot in the Sheraton Hotel are the only jazz clubs in HCMC. Hanoi has only one, which is run by Quyen Van Minh: Jazz Club. Established over 10 years ago, Sax’ n Art and Jazz Club are still struggling for survival, and the audiences are mainly tourists. ‘The only way to continue with Jazz is to run this club, only that way can I stay with my passion, and my friends. I can’t live without Jazz,’ Tuan said.
‘There are at least 20 music shows on TV every day, yet you only hear Jazz once or twice a year, if you are lucky enough. I would be more than happy to participate in conferences, or talk shows to tell youngsters about jazz, about its beauty and its values. But, not many are interested.’ .
Father and son Quyen Van Minh and Quyen Thien Dac are no better off. A couple of years back, the duo made a trip south; despite all their talent, very few people showed up.

By Cung tuy; pictures by Ba Han