Jazzing Up Life in Manila
Generations after American servicemen first brought jazz to Asia, young Filipinos are embracing the old-school art form and spinning a new sound of their own.
Photos by Lawrence Sumulong
“Something has been brewing and I’m waiting to see what it is,” says Alvin Cornista. A Manila-based saxophonist who’s played with the Temptations and Norah Jones, Cornista is a firsthand observer of a jazz scene slowly emerging from autopilot. After years of the same standards being played on repeat by musicians in hotel lounges and bars across the city, an intimate community of serious jazz enthusiasts has sprung up in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. In cozy corners of out-of-the-way bars, foreigners and locals are leaning in to hear music that is wholly original, and absolutely Filipino.
The Philippines has its American colonizers to thank for an initial introduction to the world of jazz. As far back as 1898, African-American soldiers sent to fight the Spanish also brought their harmonicas. In the 1920s, American servicemen based in the Philippines used gramophones to blast popular jazz. In the Philippines, the jazz heyday was between the 1950s and …