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Blog #6 - Singapore Integration 


Living and playing music nightly for years in the tropical island city/state/country of Singapore was a life-changing experience on so many levels, personally and professionally. It permanently molded my current world-view and played a huge part in my maturity as a man and as a working musician. 

On a personal level, I got divorced from a 14 year marriage; fell in love with the girl next door; got my heart broken and sought therapy to mend my wounds; began a long and deep inner quest for peace and purpose; resumed in earnest a life-long search for knowledge of Asian culture and philosophy; remarried a Japanese woman; bought the best dog in the world, the late JoJo, Golden Retriever; developed a far keener sense of self-identity and acceptance of others; learned to scuba-dive (over 200 dives in 6 countries and 2 continents); and greatly broadened my love and appreciation for all things Asian!

On a professional level, I obtained my 1st 6-night a week jazz gig; I incorporated my entertainment company for the 1st time; I played and often led as much as 500 gigs a year for consecutive years; I recorded original music for the 1st time, starting a successful and prolific trend of composing, arranging, and recording; I performed in front of hundreds of people and more at Jazz festivals; I made more income as a musician than I have ever in my 65-year life to-date; I kept up to 50 different musicians of all genres working and getting paid regularly; I hired my 1st publicist; I played on national TV; I took my show on-the-road to different countries; I established myself as a first-rate bandleader and event manager, and became known on a first-name basis to corporate-level V.I.P's.

I think of Singapore as a ‘melting pot’ in the same way that New York City is. It's the melting pot of Asia because of its huge diversity of peoples, food, and culture, unlike any other Asian city. Like NYC, it's a city that never sleeps and it's a picturesque walking city. While it's not the center of the international jazz world the way NYC might be, there are more jazz clubs in tiny, little Singapore than there are in my hometown of Cincinnati, a medium size American city. It's the only place in the world besides Rio de Janeiro with a tropical rain forest within city limits. I have lived in some of the best cities on Earth: New York City, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo . . . but for exceptional and overall quality of life, there is no place better, in my opinion, than Singapore!

Cooperating and collaborating with the musicians living on this exotic sub-tropical island was always exciting and enriching. My Integration band featured players who identified culturally as Chinese, Filipino, EuroAsian, British, African-American, Australian, Malaysian & Indian, an impressive swathe of Singapore's melting pot!

Perhaps the crown jewel of my time in Singapore can best be exemplified musically by what was originally a 2-CD set called Integration & Integration II, recorded in 2000 and re-issued by Mint400 Records and Raining Music in April of 2022 as one album titled “Integration.” As I explained in the liner notes of the original Integration CD, 

“I think of ”Integration" in terms of the Self; the awareness and reconciliation of the four aspects of our being: spirit, intellect, emotion, & body. This CD represents the integration I have achieved within myself during the past few years. On another level our band, comprised of individuals from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, is integrated by the music which draws us together. I believe it is unity of people and integration of Self, which is the overriding theme of the new millennium. Greg Chako - June 2000"

As I read those words above, written almost a quarter of a century ago, I feel in my heart the immediate and timely nature of them. When I listen to the 130+ minutes of music presented on Integration, the words I wrote ring true, and the music sounds as fresh and remarkably contemporary as ever. I believe the reviewers got it right: 

"Guitarist Greg Chako is a forward thinker and this two disc set presents his vision, serving as a musical road map. The combination of Chako's acoustic guitar with horns, percussion, keyboards, and acoustic bass lends his group a wholly original sound, with sweet surprises all over this set. These songs move through swing, the blues, and ballads. Sonically speaking, this set is outstanding. The cymbals are bright, the drums pop, and each instrument comes out sparkling and clear In this age of reissues and alternate takes, it's refreshing to hear jazz that takes some chances and looks the future right in the eye" - All About

"His guitar shines and he creates a new style, breathing exotic jazz-ethno music full of spirit and solid musical foundation" - Jazz Dimensions, Germany

"With a vibrant recorded presence, this is HUGELY enjoyable stuff!" - Cadence, New York

"...This is music that transcends geographic boundaries and cultures, and communicates the happiness and friendship that all music should provide... well-crafted, harmonically strong, with catchy, memorable melodies... Chakos' tone and phrasing are exceptional!" - Professor Vince Lewis, for Just Jazz Guitar, USA

"...a trip around the jazz galaxy... I think it's safe to say that Greg Chako and his magnificent band are one of the world's best kept secrets... don't hesitate in seeking out this essential jazz experience." - Keith 'MuzikMan' Hannaleck, JazzReviews

"Hard Bop is the focus of most cuts often mixed with rhythms and sounds of the Far East. All show flair, imaginative application of tempo and harmony, and unexpected jagged rhythmic diversions guaranteed to keep listener attention. Integration is recommended!” All Music Guide, USA

"Chako, the composer, takes his inspiration from the rich Blue Note lode. Echoes of Shorter, Hancock,and Dorham reverberate through these tunes, which all sound like they could have found a home in the Jazz Messengers' book."Cadence Magazine, USA

"A blend of musicians and music of different cultures. His jazzy playing is relaxed and confident. Most of the upbeat tunes share a groove that will make your head bounce... solid and entertaining!” - Jazz Newsletter O's Place, USA 

I hope you will check out this music for yourself, and/or leave a comment about living abroad, playing abroad, or ask me questions about any of the aforementioned, yours truly, Greg Chako

Blog #4: Hometown Disadvantage 

I have learned that musicians can often be neglected in their hometown, regardless of whether their hometown is Cincinnati, Ohio like mine, or a jazz mecca like New York City, New York. After returning to the USA for the first time in 7 years abroad, (2 years in Hong Kong and 5 in Singapore), I returned to Cincinnati with a Japanese girlfriend to visit my parents in Cincy, via NYC where my international flight had landed. Before coming to Cincy we hung out in NYC for a couple nights. I went to a jazz club in NYC to see some jazz and as I walked into the club, I heard someone shout out: “Greg Chako! How ya doing' Come here!” I was really taken aback, because this was my first time back in 7 years and I knew virtually nobody in NYC. It was the publisher of a jazz magazine in NYC who had called me over. I asked him how he knew my name? He said he recognized my face from media advertisements of my work and . . . “of course” he knew who I was! 

Similarly, after leaving Singapore where I led my trio for years and was well known as a jazzman there in the late 1990's, I returned in Jan. 2023 for some concerts. I was amazed at how many people recognized me and came up to talk to me about my music, even though almost 30 years had passed since I'd last played in Singapore. 

Recently, I saw Russell Malone play at Cafe Vivace in Cincy. I approached him and said, “you probably won't remember me . . . ” and before I could finish the sentence, he said, “Greg Chako, Tokyo Blue Note, right?” He was right! That was almost 20 years ago. We'd only met that once in Tokyo, and even back then, he told that he'd heard about me from NYC . . .

Yet, in my own home town this sort of thing never happens. Nobody recognizes me. Nobody in public comes up to chat about the old days or asks me about my music. For a year, just before I finally moved from Cincinnati to New York City in 1987, I booked a regular jazz series showcasing a multitude of locally-based talent as well as internationally-known jazz stars. When I returned to Cincy in 2017, even people whom I had hired to play there regularly didn't remember who I was or that I had hired them back in the day. One guitarist(!) even thought that another top local player/bandleader booked that club when in fact, I managed the 4-nights a week of jazz there in 1986. I hired his bandleader on a regular basis, to play with his own group as well as my own as a sideman. I hired everybody on a local level who was anybody, as long as they could play, a veritable who's who on the Cincy jazz scene at the time. I did not hire only my inner circle of friends . . . no, I didn't do that. 

Unfortunately, none of the local players I hired repeatedly then, guys who are still on the scene today in fact, ever actually returned the favor and hired me at any point during my 65-year life. I don't even get friendly phone calls, unless it's from someone I played with while touring the Far East back in the day. I have noticed that musicians who have played internationally do tend to stay in touch with each other. In fact, the first musician who gave me my first gig in the Cincy area after I moved back in 2017 was not any of the local players I'd hired time after time at Doc's Place, but rather now locally-based saxman Brooks Giles, who I'd met whilst we were both gigging in Asia. Despite my impressive resume and 16 albums to my credit, I struggle to get good gigs in my own hometown. The local scene is somewhat clique-ish. The best pay and response usually comes when playing out of town. For instance , the reception I got in Miami, Florida where I performed a month ago, was outstanding and highly validating for me. I am looking forward to upcoming gigs in Cleveland, New York, and a return to Miami later this year.

We artists long for more acclaim and recognition, to be sure. But I believe that in order to achieve the recognition many of us desire, we must leave our hometowns for greener pastures beyond. As an example, two of the most skillful jazz guitarists to have ever lived anywhere(!) were from my hometown area: Cal Collins and Kenny Poole. Cal accepted road tours with Benny Goodman, left Cincy and achieved an international reputation; Kenny preferred to stay in Cincy close to his family. Having never left, he never achieved the world-wide recognition that Cal did, despite his high worth and value as an artist.

As far as I know, my booking 4-nights a week of authentic jazz in Cincy featuring such a varied roster of quality local and internationally known artists, is quite unique in any decade and any city. I'm sharing for those who either have forgotten, or never realized that this scene existing for a hot minute, and to say that I take immense pride in what I accomplished in my hometown. I will continue to share and promote this music that I love for the rest of my life, regardless of where I am and whether or not it's appreciated. 

There's not room here to list all the amazing musicians I hired to perform at Doc's Place back in the day, some of whom are no longer with us, but this is just a sample of what Cincinnati's jazz scene looked like when I was doing the weekly booking at Doc's:

During this time, I brought singer Francine Griffin out of retirement. She'd given up on the scene here until she met me. I'm happy to say that she moved to Chicago after I left Cincy and ended up recording with pianist Willie Pickens and a stellar cast on Delmark, a fantastic album called, The Songbird. But before then, while we both lived in Cincinnati, we talked on the phone daily . . . and I convinced her not to give it up entirely just yet . . . I hired her for my ‘house' band of Wayne Yeager-B3 organ, Bobby Scott-drums, Dave Blinkenstaff-ten sax, and myself on guitar. I also featured her with Cal Collins and others at Docs. I miss her dearly . . . she passed away some years ago in Chicago. She felt over-looked here in Cincy too - I know because we talked about it all the time. Check out her album The Songbird. In Chicago, she found some of the attention she deserved as an artist. When I visited Chicago on one of my trips back from Asia, she had me sit in with her amazing band at some club in Chicago and we had a great time.

Parochialism and cliquishness is antithetical to my artistic vision for the future. But when you encounter it, as I have, you must stand firm in your commitment to the music. Please feel free to comment - I welcome a civil exchange of thoughts and ideas!