John meets jazz
Article from the Sun daily by Pam Kaur (posted on 15th Oct 2015)
JOHN Dip Silas (pix) began his musical journey at the tender age of five when he learnt classical music on the piano.
As a kid, his only exposure outside of classical music was playing in church on Sundays.
"I've always found classical music very structured and predetermined, where the rights and wrongs are veryclear. I did not want to stick to something so rigid. I wanted to play something more free, more expressive," shared Silas.
As his curiosity developed, Silas started listening to many different genres of contemporary music. It was during that period of searching when he discovered jazz.
"Jazz sounds very free and artistic. I realised that jazz could be the platform for me to express myself and break free from structure, classical music, and be unique," said Silas, who's a part-time tutor and facilitator at University of Malaya's music faculty.
With a burning passion to learn more, Silas packed his bags and left to study music at the Australian International Conservatorium of Music in Sydney. There, he met Gavin Ahearn, an Australian pianist, composer and producer, who's also Silas' lecturer. Ahearn's coaching deepened Silas' love and understanding for jazz, planting the genre in a special place of his heart.
Unlike many young Malaysians studying abroad, Silas did not have long-term plans to live and grow in a foreign land. He always knew that he would come home and develop his career here. Although jazz is not popular here, he believes God has a plan for him.
"I rather make a name in my homeland than in a foreign country," the 26 year-old added.
It has been over five years since Silas' return and he has been making a reputation for himself, having played alongside some of Malaysia's top musicians such as Juwita Suwito, John Thomas, and Daniel Fong. He has also played with internationally acclaimed musicians such as Michael Simon, Shunzo Ohno, and Mark Kelly. Silas recently played at the Publika Jazz Festival with Razlan Shah and at the KL international Jazz & Arts Festival with Najwa Mahiaddin too.
Currently, he is working on a project with veteran jazz pianist Michael Veerapen for the 2016 Malaysian Jazz Piano Festival and Competition.
Why did you choose the piano?
I grew up with the piano. The keys have always been part of my life. I was interested in the saxophone and bass but I found that it is hard to be a multiinstrumentalist if you do not have the finance to own the instrument, and the time to master each one. Although I've been playing for many years, I am still learning new ways to play better on the keys.
How is the local jazz industry doing?
Honestly, it is not very big in terms of the number of musicians and opportunities to play. We only have about three to four venues which are supportive of jazz music here in the Klang Valley. Jazz is underappreciated because it is not something that the younger generation listen to here in Malaysia. But as the local jazz community starts to grow, it opens an avenue for people to understand and enjoy jazz music.
Have you composed anything of your own?
I am focusing on writing nowadays, and one of the tunes I have written is called Bar One. I am also planning to record an album in the near future.
How do you balance your life, as a pianist and part-time lecturer, especially when your gigs are usually at night?
I am thankful that I am not overworked. However, I always ensure that I eat right and rest enough to keep going.
What is your advice for those who are passionate about jazz music?
Listen to real music and enjoy it before learning the instrument or the genre. My experiences with today's younger musicians are that they tend to pay too much time listening to current music.