Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jazz Night at Harry's

On Friday night we find ourselves at Boat Quay (sounds like “key” - we’re all very British here), a row of at least fifty amazing restaurants and bars right on the river with a killer skyline view. Walking past restaurants at Boat Quay is actually something of a hazard, as “touting” is allowed: people appear seemingly out of nowhere and demand that you stop in your tracks and turn in to their restaurant for dinner or drinks.

It’s a strange dichotomy: On the one hand, you’re walking arm-in-arm with your significant other, gazing at gorgeously lit-up skyscrapers, colonial-style hotels, the strings of lights that decorate the refurbished junks taking tourists up and down the waterway. On the other hand, you’re also trying to ignore the tout following just behind you and rattling off, “Table-for-two-right-by-the-water-nice-live-jumbo-chili-crabs-just-for-you-prawn-noodle-soup-also-very-nice-just-in-time-for-drinks-special-tonight.”

But tonight we dodge the touts and press on, because we are here to see the fabulous Mandy Gaines singing jazz at Harry’s Bar. Of the many “small-world” stories we’ve heard since coming to Singapore, Mandy is our favorite. Awhile ago, visiting my aunt and uncle, we heard an amazing CD and asked who was singing. Turns out she was a friend of theirs from years ago, when they were all in the Midwest. Later, they headed south and she headed west, very west, across the Pacific, where she has been making a name for herself in Asia. “That’s too bad,” we said. “We’d have loved to hear her live!”

And sure enough, now we can: our first two months here coincide with Mandy’s annual return to Singapore. So as we sidle into Harry’s in search of a table, Mandy is singing the final, liquid notes of “The Way You Look Tonight,” and I sigh in appreciation of something comforting and familiar. Harry’s seems familiar, too, although we’ve never been here before; it’s the kind of comfortable, unpretentious space that reminds me of coffee shops we frequented in college, except for the humidity seeping in.

Most people seem to be here for the music, more than the drinks. Groups of chatting coworkers lapse into stunned silence, then cheers, as Mandy effortlessly scats through “Bye-Bye Blackbird.” A Singaporean couple swing dances in the open space (“My dancers are back!” Mandy says into the microphone, so they must be regulars). An elderly Englishman, alone, silently leans against the bar, listening intently to every note. An Australian trio, led by a beefy guy who is probably an ex-rugby player, gets a little rowdy and starts to ignore the music, but Mandy flounces off the stage and sings “Ain’t Misbehavin’” to him so flamboyantly that they laugh, and clap, and are Mandy’s biggest fans for the rest of the night.

We have been marveling at the energy Mandy must have to travel to a new place every couple of months and give an all-out performance like this every night. But what strikes us even more, when we get a chance to talk to her between sets, is how grounded she is: a seasoned traveler so comfortable in new places - and so comfortable with who she is - that she can take her own personal and musical style and bring it to a region with a decidedly different style. And make them love it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We soooo enjoy your blog and can't wait to visit that part of the world! Love, Mom & Dad