Life History

New inspiration, a bright future

On Aug. 3 ’97, I led a six piece band comprised of one Eurasian, one Filipino, one Malay, one Indian, one Black American, and myself (Greek American), in an outdoor jazz concert in the beautiful Botanic Garden. My 3rd CD, “Live at Raffles”, was recorded just days later. Half of that CD is a vocal trio featuring the singing of my bassist Billy Martinez, (alias Frank “Sumatra”), but the other half is the union of my regular jazz group with the all-local percussion group called Tribal Tide (in total 7 pieces: four percussionists, one sax, bass & guitar). This new band format I have named ‘World Beat’. Much of the outdoor concert as well as the live recording mentioned above was video-taped on beta to be included as part of a documentary film release and music video. The music video part has the 7 piece band, ‘World Beat’ playing an original composition of mine called “Samba Sigh”. The documentary portion is about my life as an American artist in Asia, describing the positive and negative aspects of being an artist here, why one would choose the profession, the challenge of earning a living from it, the multi-cultural aspects and in general, the state of the art scene in Asia.

The experience of working with so many drummers of such varied ethnic background has inspired me to write music for World Beat, featuring the various percussion instruments and styles of Africa, Cuba, Brazil, India, and Asia, fused with American Jazz. My goal for mid to late ’98, is to compose an entire CD (the 4th) of all original music expressing in my own way the varied cultural influences of Asia/Singapore, and the personal spiritual development I have achieved during my 6 years in Asia.

I can honestly say that my most valuable training as a player, (and as a person), was achieved during my last 6 years in Asia. It is where I have worked the most as a performer (learning on the bandstand), where my recording career began, and where I learned the most about myself.

Integration

In 2000 I released “Integration”, my first cd containing all original material, and in 2001, “Integration II”, its partner. These I consider to be the proud culmination and ‘integration’ of all my musical and personal development after almost 7 years in Singapore and almost 10 years in Asia. The reviews were outstanding. In 2000, I also got married for the second time to the perfect wife, Takako Saito, and had a wonderful celebration (on July 29th, 2000) at the Raffles Bar and Billiard Room where I had been playing for years. Our so called ‘spiritual’ wedding was performed by her Holiness Amritanandamaya, Holy Mother of Heavenly Bliss, early morning April 4th, 2000, in an Indian temple. After the formal wedding by the Singapore government on Aug. 1st, 2000, we took a wonderful honeymoon in New Caledonia and Australia, scuba diving the Coral Sea and Ribbon Reefs there. It was during this holiday that much of the material for Integration II was composed.

Upon our return to Singapore my 10 piece band headlined for the American Associations’ Jazz at Night in the park, and it was a very happy and successful time. One of my more notable ‘corporate’ achievements was to organize all the entertainment for Peter Knipps World Gourmet Food Summit two years in a row, a very prestigious event.

But in the years leading up to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11th, the economy had taken a downturn and the music business had been becoming tougher and tougher. By the way, on the day of the Sept. 11th attack Takako and I were scuba diving at Puerto Gualera in the Philippines. That was to be my last scuba diving trip for a long, long time (to the present in fact!). Within weeks after the Sept. 11th terrorist attack I lost a few major contracts, and most parties were being cancelled. The annual Navy Ball which I had been organizing for 3 years in a row was particularly somber that year.

Then, only a few months later I received a fax! The fax was from Skefke Jenson, one of the Food and Beverage Managers of Raffles Hotel. I was being not renewed, let go, fired, by fax, after 7 years of loyal and successful service to Raffles. I wondered why nobody in that so called revered establishment had the decency to call, but such is life in the F & B business. That steady nightly gig being severed, I went across the street to join the band at Somersets. I had been booking that room for a couple years, and it had become very good, with great singers like Alice Day and Coco York. I joined the quintet I had put together with pianist Michael Stanton and singer Coco York. During the same period I traveled to Kuala Lumpar, the capital of Malaysia, to play the Heineken Jazz Festival and do a couple nights at one of the small jazz clubs there. These gigs were to be my swan song to that region so to speak.

Stars and Sars, Shanghaid’

By this time the Westin Hotels’ lease had expired and Raffles International had taken over those two Singapore hotel properties. Some of the former management of the Westin were now in Shanghai preparing to open their new 5 star hotel in Shanghai. They asked me to organize their band and I did. I went there in Sept. 2002 and performed in their “Niche Bar” until SARS shut us down in June of 2003. I was playing with Donald Jackson on bass, Jack Holland on piano, and Dee Dee McNeil singing. We were the ‘talk of the town’, and were dubbed by the local press “the best jazz band in all of China”. I dare say it may have been true. I had superlative musicians surrounding me, and we were becoming stars there. But, the SARS scare and China government warnings to stay home emptied the bar over one weekend, and the hotel had no choice but to reluctantly let us go, and my wife and I headed for Japan in June of 2003.

Japan Jazz

Only weeks after our arrival in Japan my wife was diagnosed with late stage cancer. She lasted another one year +, but on July 29th 2004, EXACTLY 4 years to the day after our wedding celebration at Raffles, she died. Then on Aug 1st 2004, EXACTLY 4 years to the day after our formal government wedding in Singapore, she was cremated in a traditional Bhuddist ceremony. I wrote at length about this ceremony and have included the story on this site. I hope you will take the time to read it. English / Japanese

This time in Japan, dealing with my wife’s cancer and trying to survive despite it, has been the biggest challenge of my life, and by far, the biggest sadness. Now I look forward to making the best of the situation, and this website update is but a start.

The newest musical development for me in Japan is that I have finished a new CD, my 6th to date, and my first official release in Japan, called “Where We Find Ourselves”. The background story of the CD can be found here.

I have formed a new group called “Bossa Nouveau”, a duo or trio of flute, classical guitar, and hand held percussion. It features, and is managed by two of the finest musicians I know, Andy Bevan on flute, and Mark DeRose on percussion. Our first formal gig will be at the French Chateau, “Joel Robuchon”, the award winning French restaurant in Ebisu Garden Place. We will be entertaining the European financial group, “Permira”, with authentic Bossa Nova!

Other interests

I once read an article on the music business, and Dave Liebman was quoted as saying he spends the majority of his time arranging for gigs, rather than actually playing. I think he’s right, a lot of time is spent making phone calls, going over contracts, invoicing/billing, etc… Because I have my own agency and produce my own recordings, the office work is even worse. Most relatively unknown musicians need to get involved in the ‘behind the scenes’ work of promoting and marketing if they want to improve their exposure. All that daytime work does make improvising guitar at night all the more enjoyable.

As far as recreation and my other interests are concerned, I love the outdoors and nature in general. I am a PADI Rescue Scuba diver, and love the sport. I may continue my training to increase my certification level. It’s a great way to ‘unwind’ and appreciate nature as well. I’ve also taken up swimming. I enjoy riding my bicycle around the parks and beaches of Singapore, and sometimes hike through the Nature Preserve (Singapore is one of two cities in the entire world with a tropical rain forest within city limits). I still love food and cooking, though I don’t cook much anymore due to my schedule. A good meal with wine and conversation is a favorite of mine.

I have been involved in organizing support groups for Hoffman Process Graduates, and Adult Children Of Alcoholics. I have a business partner who specializes in ‘stress management’ by portable chair massage. I’m interested in the ‘healing arts’, counseling and psychology. I have practiced Tai-Chi, meditation, and yoga. I am pro-environment and pro-business at the same time.

I like to read and learn from books. Of course, I appreciate art, whether it’s writing, painting, whatever. I don’t care for bureaucracy, or dogma. I avoid waiting in lines and usually don’t like crowds. I love a lively conversation, and enjoy listening to people who are passionate about what they’re speaking of.

What’s in a name?

I am often asked about the name Chako and it’s origins. What better place than through the Internet to explain? Here goes

My Grandfather was a Greek from the island of Corfu. His name was Paraskevas. But he was living in Istanbul, Turkey. When the Turks wanted to draft him in their army he immigrated to the USA. In order to get out of the country incognito, he borrowed the name of a cousin, Chapopoulo. But when he arrived in New York, he told the immigration officer there his borrowed name rather than he real name, so both my father and I were born Chapopoulo. When my mother re-married I used the name of my stepfather, Jennings, while in high school. So although the formal school records had Chapopoulo, my friends knew me as Jennings!

Meanwhile, my ex-wife’s family were Chinese living in Indonesia. Just like the Turks and Greeks, the Indonesians and Chinese have had a strained political relationship. The Indonesian government strongly suggested that ethnic Chinese living there take on an Indonesian name. Their Chinese name was Khouw (pronounced Ko), the name they changed to was Komala. So when I met her she was Komala. Her name was further complicated by the fact that she grew up in Cantonese speaking Hong Kong, but her father spoke only Mandarin, and she was encouraged to speak English, etc…(it gets worse!)

When we married we solved our confusing background as far as family name, by combining the first syllables of our last names and creating a new name. The (Cha) from Chapopoulo and the (Ko) from Komala become Chako. Voila!