The Jazz Journeyman


The   following  essay is by  Joseph R. Atilano, an authority on popular music.

It is said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This statement aptly describes how far Johnny Alegre has reached in his illustrious career of making music. It has already spanned more than three decades, starting from his humble beginnings as an aspiring musician to becoming one of the most respected and accomplished musicians in the local scene. If you don’t believe me, just ask any serious musician.

Johnny has numerous titles under his belt: arranger-composer, record producer, recording artist and multi-talented musician whose songs and performances, especially in jazz, have garnered critical acclaim and favorable reviews not only in our beloved country but also in America, England and Japan. Thus, he becomes an ambassador of Philippine jazz each time he goes on overseas trips and performs in different international jazz festivals.

Johnny Alegre’s name is synonymous with his work of making prolific and outstanding jazz music that has broken stereotypes and transcended social classes. He has been involved in numerous pioneering projects, in bands, and has made important, hefty contributions to the local scene. If you list down chronologically his album releases you will see that each album has left a resounding influence on all who were able to grab a copy.

When his first album “Johnny Alegre AFFINITY” was released in 2005, it was so well received by fans and music critics alike that Johnny’s group which he had formed then became Manila’s premier jazz group. The album was so highly acclaimed that it was re-released as “Jazzhound” in the UK by Candid Records, becoming Johnny’s first international release. His follow-up album came to fruition owing to the demand of audiences to hear more from the Jazz Journeyman himself; in 2008 it was then finally released under the title “Eastern Skies”. His third album proved his global ties and his international success  for instance, his getting prominent foreign jazz musicians to work with - and in 2009, the release of “Johnny Alegre 3” led to his forming a jazz trio with Ron Mclure on bass and Billy Hart on drums. This third outing made a solid statement on Johnny’s international appeal and cemented his name further in the annals of jazz.

Johnny Alegre is not only recognized in jazz but is also well-rounded in his musical styles and diverse ventures in making music. He has a concept band named Absolute Zero of which he is the chief songwriter and lead guitarist. The band consists of members who are all equally capable: Mia Tengco, vocals and on rhythm guitar; Gareth Somers on bass; Paolo Manuel on drums. With Absolute Zero, Johnny has formed an impressive line-up of artists, with each member completing the overall sound of his concept band which is a departure from his jazz roots.

His other band HumanFolk focuses on the usage of indigenous instruments and brings together different music genres like rock, electronic and folk into the world music stage  thus becoming Johnny Alegre’s world-fusion experiment wherein he has collaborated with a number of recognized local musicians such as Cynthia Alexander on guitars, bass, agung, vocals; Susie Ibarra on kulintang, kulintang a kayo, drum kit and vocals; Roberto Juan Rodriguez on drum kit, kahon and bongos; Malek Lopez on computer, sound design and keyboards; Abby Clutario on vocals, keyboards and chapman stick.

As much as possible, I would also want to feature local artists who have defied the odds in terms of breaking boundaries, who are critically acclaimed yet also respected by fans. That’s why I made it a point  not only to contribute a piece on Johnny but also to conduct an interview as well, so that we can all learn more about him, his answers giving us an insight into certain topics. Here is my verbatim interview of Johnny Alegre.

Q. How did you come up with the name “Johnny Alegre”?

A. I grew up with people saying “Hi Johnny”, so it stuck. My formal name sounded somewhat aristocratic and I just wanted to play with my young peers after school and be comfortable running around the block.

Q. What are your hopes and aspirations for the local scene and jazz music here?

A. Like everyone else in the local jazz scene, we’re doing what we can to bring the music forward. All in our own separate and modest ways. It’s a reality that the opportunities are not numerous with respect to how many we are, but I guess that’s part of the commitment. From the outset, I really always wanted to be in the creative part of the scene. It was a matter of hanging on and not being distracted.

Q. What message and lessons do you want to teach the new generation of young hopefuls who want to become as successful as you are?

A. Actually, I’m not very adept at “giving lessons”, as much as imparting a good example and sharing stories, rather than being an academician or lecturer. There will be more capable musicologists and theorists. My job is to contribute to the repertoire, to show possibilities, to unravel directions, basically to explore and show people what I saw and heard.

Q. How do you want people to remember you?

A. As one who wrote interesting stories  whimsical stories, perhaps  and who drew whimsical maps and landscapes across a long canvas. Is this real enough? I also wish to be remembered as a Filipino, most of all.

*      *      *

Johnny’s debut album HumanFolk is still available in select Odyssey and Astrovision outlets. For bookings and gig schedules of Absolute Zero and HumanFolk, visit their respective Facebook pages and websites. Johnny Alegre is currently signed to MCA Universal  he being the first jazz musician in its roster.

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