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

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