A jazz night that started by chance because a musician happened to be passing through town has become one of the most popular gigs in Siem Reap.
Held every Thursday night at Heritage Suites Hotel, Jazz in the City features singers and musicians playing from 6.30pm until 8.30pm although, as sales and marketing director Jam Nsouli laughingly says, it often continues until whenever the party stops.
Nsouli explains that the gig started late last year when Steve Cadd, a saxophonist who had played with very famous musicians like Michael Jackson, was passing through town.
She says she figured it would be interesting to have him play at the Heritage because there’s really not a regular music scene in town, adding, “We wanted something that fitted the ambience and something also that was a little bit unique. No one was doing jazz in town during that time.”
She invited Cadd to come and play and the Sax and the City nights were created. The nights turned out to be extremely popular, and when Cadd eventually left the crowd was crying out for more.
Nsouli says, “Everyone was asking, will Sax in the City stop? And it started to be a nice ambience for the expats to come and be in a place other than Pub Street where they could just relax after work, hear really nice jazz music, have a nice glass of wine.
Singer Anna McKeon (L) and promoter Jam Nsouli get in tune. Photograph: Miranda Glasser/Phnom Penh Post
“We decided, ‘Let’s keep it going, why not?’ There were a couple of musicians who played with Steve during that time who would love to play again, and it was also a great opportunity for the musicians to come and play with each other and to share a nice groove and nice jazz which is what jazz is all about – it’s about sharing.”
Together with local musical residents Mike Mahalo and Bertrand from group Cambojam, it was decided that the night would be opened up for other musicians. The beauty of it, Nsouli says, is that, “The expats and the audience including our guests have a variety. They don’t have to hear the same selection, the same musicians every week.”
There is also a happy hour and sometimes the nights take on a special twist, for example incorporating a particular theme.
“One time they did a Miles Davis night with the sax, the trumpet and the trombone. It was fantastic,” recalls Nsouli.
“We did a couple of events for a cause because I wanted to involve the community. So we did a couple of jazz nights for Women’s Resource Center and for the Angkor Hospital for Children. What we did for Angkor Hospital for Children was we had a visitor from Mauritius who did henna tattoos.”
When asked if there is a big jazz-loving scene in Temple Town, Nsouli says, “The crowd is very different. It’s a mix of everyone from the hospitality industry, from the tourism industry, from the NGO, from the private, corporate. It’s just a mix. And that’s especially nice because it touches everyone.”
Last week saw Jazz in the City bid farewell to one of its long-time songstresses, Anna McKeon. Nsouli gathered together guest performers for the special gig from the local music scene, including warbler Deborah Lea Knight and members of the Russian band Nazdorovie.
Overall, Nsouli says it is all thanks to the musicians that Jazz in the City has continued to flourish. “They made it possible for us to continue to do this, because of their ingenuity and how to work together and how to perform together. I mean some of them have never performed together ever. None of them are from one band.”