Despite his advancing age, legendary bassist Eddie Gomez packs a punch in his performances. Thai audiences were privileged to catch the musician, who has been on the cutting edge of music for over four decades, strut his stuff at the 5th International Jazz Conference at Mahidol University's Salaya campus.
During a one-on-one with Gomez, he spoke highly of Thailand's rich jazz culture, as well as the talent of local performers. His fond encounters with both students and teachers of Mahidol left him optimistic about the future of jazz music in Thailand.
He is also confident that the opening of the Prince Mahidol Hall at the Salaya campus next year will create a fruitful jazz learning and performance venue for the kingdom, and become an acclaimed music hub for Southeast Asia in the near future.
Gomez's passion for jazz blossomed at a very young age. By the age of 18, he had already performed with celebrated US trumpet player Buck Clayton and Canadian-born pianist Paul Bley. Gomez now spends a lot of his time mentoring aspiring musicians. He is the Artistic Director of the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico, where its founder, Don Pablo Casals, forged a legacy to provide quality education and support for the arts.
One might think that Gomez was just being polite about the future of Thailand's jazz scene, and that his first, brief trip to the country (a mere four days) could not possibly have got him as excited as he claims. However, the jazz conference allowed Gomez to talk and listen to young people during various workshops. Here, he was able to witness the drive behind their performances.
"The students are not only talented, but are also curious to learn," said Gomez. "They are quite young, but fairly mature for their age. They need what most young players need, which is experience and more listening, but this programme at the college is wonderful as they bring in musicians from different parts of the world."
It's this diverse and worldly approach to jazz education found at Mahidol University which is propelling the success of Thailand's future performers, he said.
At 21, Gomez became the bass player for the Bill Evans Trio, which offered him the chance to perform around the world. With such a successful career, just what do the students at Mahidol want to learn from maestros like him? Well, Gomez puts it simply: "They all want to know how we got to where we got!"
So how does Gomez believe his career took off? Why did he become lucky enough to play alongside his own childhood idols, including Miles Davis and Marian McPartland?
"It's a matter of following your heart," Gomez said. "It's about having that blessing, of finding one or two teachers that resonate with you and make you believe in yourself; to be open to new situations, and prepare yourself for the surprises that will come your way _ that is what will lead you to newer and higher goals."
While observing him interact with students, one thing becomes obvious, and that is Gomez loves providing support and inspiration for young musicians around the world, particularly when he commented about the undesirable role of playing adjudicator at a solo competition at the conference.
"I don't like competitions," said Gomez in a matter-of-fact tone. "But I guess it's a reality of life. Unfortunately we could only pick one!" All the finalists in the Junior and Open Divisions received an adjudicator's comment and a CD of their performance.
In our ever-growing global village Gomez doesn't see why the internet cannot contribute to the increased exposure and success of Thai performers. Perhaps it already has. For the first time since the jazz conference's beginnings, a three-day jazz camp was also held. The camp wasn't expected to attract more than 30 attendees, but ended up drawing in almost 80. The camp also involved workshops by world-class jazz musicians.
Who were his jazz idols when he was growing up? It didn't take long for him to say: "I had a few. Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and the local music in Puerto Rico. My tastes run pretty wide _ I like anything that really has motion, that makes you want to dance and sing."
Gomez admires and praises the founders of jazz institutions. He also feels that institution-based mentorship by jazz professionals is a relatively new concept, and gives students the confidence to perform, compose and refine their skills. He believes Mahidol's jazz faculty is a good start to refining local talent.
It's clear the spark Gomez needed to achieve so much during his career is still there, and he continues to travel the world to educate and perform at a rapid pace. The months ahead will see him perform in a host of capitals across the globe.
For Gomez, there's one mystery in life for all people, and it's one that never goes away. "It's a quest to find something in our lives that makes us happy and sustains us," he explained.
If only all of us could find it within the beautiful sound of strings, and the joy of giving knowledge and hope to others.
About the author
Writer: Bernadette Morabito