Ekachai "Bird" Jearakul always knew he wanted to be a musician, but it was HM Blues that made him pick up a guitar at the age of 13.
Music man: HM King Bhumibol was a talented musician and composer, who played jazz and blues music, the style used in his own song 'Chata Cheewit'. PHOTOS: BANGKOK POST ARCHIVE
Ekachai, 29, is now a professional classical guitarist who has performed around the world, but he remembers his inspiration distinctly.
- Video: Inspired by the King
A member of the marching band at Benjama Maharat School in Ubon Ratchathani, he was being trained in the trumpet and learned to play some basic songs as part of the routine. On top of school lessons, the young Ekachai also went to a music school in the province to strengthen his skills.
One day, his teacher played the royal composition Chata Cheewit, aka HM Blues, for the class to listen to a different type of music. Ekachai realised he had finally found his beat, but at the time he had no idea who had composed the song.
To his surprise, Ekachai soon learned that it was His Majesty King Bhumibol who had written the song. He hadn't known that the King was a talented musician and composer.
Ekachai felt inspired to learn HM Blues precisely as it had been composed. He decided to study all the King's songs, and asked his teacher to teach him classical guitar.
Ekachai believed that whoever wanted to play His Majesty the King's songs needed to be the best of the best. For six months, he practised hard to master the basics of classical guitar. He spent three years improving his skill, and finally came to the point where he felt good enough to perform and compete. With his teacher's encouragement, he began to enter different competitions. He managed to bring home many trophies in high school.
Later, he was admitted to one of Thailand's best music schools: Mahidol University's College of Music. He graduated with first-class honours in 2010, and collected many awards along the way. Since 2003, he has won many national and international awards.
He never performed any of the King's songs in competition since it didn't qualify as classical music. However, he always felt the King's work and talent was the driving force when he rehearses.
While his classical music hero is Beethoven, he credits the King as the first person who made him pick up the guitar. He tries to perform one of his songs in his repertoire whenever possible.
The most prestigious prize of Ekachai's career was the first prize of the International Concert Artist Competition in 2014, run by the Guitar Foundation of America. As part of his award, the foundation offered him a tour with 60 dates, mainly in the US.
In November last year, while on his US tour, Ekachai performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He decided to honour the King by playing Chata Cheewit as part of his opening act.
"I love Chata Cheewit since it has an international sound to it. It is a combination of jazz and blues, which makes the song very charming," Ekachai said.
Ekachai continued to perform different royal compositions throughout his world tour, which made an impression on his audiences. Though the tour could have easily felt like the realisation of his aspirations, he still dreamed of having the opportunity to perform for the King.
"I owe all of this to King Bhumibol," said Ekachai. "Everything I am is because of him. I wish I had the chance to play for him. Even though that's no longer possible, he will always remain in my thoughts whenever I play his songs."
In 2011, Ekachai took on the task of rearranging 15 royal compositions songs. He also rearranged all 48 of his own songs to modernise them in honour of the King's modern tastes.
"He will be on my mind forever. I now teach professional guitarists who want to compete at an international level. I always tell people the King inspired me to be who I am today," Ekachai explained, before launching into a performance of Chata Cheewit on his guitar.
(Photo by Chumporn Sangvilert)