5 Things You Don’t Know About … WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble
1. A name that means… anything you want it to
Originally, WVC stood for West Virginia Connection, simply because Cher Siang Tay started the band while studying in West Virginia University, with two of his coursemates, John Cavendish on Bass and Adam Osmianski on Drums. They recorded an album in Malaysia (WVC TRiO) but eventually John and Adam had to return to their respective countries.
Cher Siang wanted to keep the band (and name) alive and brought on new members: Julian Chan on Saxophones, Aj Popshuvit on Bass and Kj Wong on Drums.
Now a fully-Malaysian band, the acronym WVC has “morphed to stand for: We Very Cun, or We Very Comel also can. Or World Vegetarian Congress, because Julian is a strict Vegetarian, or White Velvety Cake, or William’s Veritable Combo. Lim Soon Heng of BFM coined this last one for them right after they concluded If Music be the Food of Love: Jazz on at KLPac.” Cher Siang continues: “it can be anything, but usually we go for comedic effect lah.”
2. They think tour buses are glamorous
“We tour a lot, in the old fashioned way. No glamorous tour bus with groupies on board, no. Just four guys on the road, lugging instruments and backpacks.” Their usual tour routes are mainly in Asia, but over the years, they have covered quite a number of miles, and countries.
“We have played in Brooklyn in NYC, and multiple times in main jazz clubs around Asia: No Black Tie in Kuala Lumpur, Saxophone Pub in Bangkok, JZ in Shanghai, East Shore in Beijing. in 2014, we toured 19 cities, played 23 concerts in one month, partly thanks to MyPAA’s Royal Gala Arts Fund. They traveled by train, plane, ferry, taxi, van and boat to get to their venues “and came back with tons of recordings, photos, videos, and memories.
3. Audiences have included triads and toddlers
Two of WVC’s most memorable performances were in China. “First in Changsha, a city in mid China, where we played in a club patronized by gangsters.” At one point, all hell broke loose, as they battled “against high decibel attacks, yum-sengs, totally unacceptable behaviour in a supposedly jazz club.”
They were on the verge of conceding defeat, but then “something clicked in the band, and we played non-stop for 3 hours and 12 minutes, in the highest energy we could muster.” Towards the end, they had made new fans shouting for more and the gangsters left. That is, the ones who had not joined their new fan club.
The second unforgettable gig was In Southern China, in the city of Shunde. They were shocked to learn, upon reaching the venue, that they’d be playing in a kindergarten. “The hall was professional, stage decent, but a kindergarten?”
The audience showed up half an hour before the show: and consisted of kindergarten age kids with their parents. This was towards the end of their month’s tour and the band was emotionally and physically drained. Again, they were about to give up but drummed up the energy to give it their best. “The running around, shouting and jumping brats started to quiet down, and at the end, they loved our music! Original, no holds barred jazz music! These experiences always keep me going!”
4. They (thankfully) avoided reaching Buddy Holly-like immortality
Naturally, this now Malaysian band also tours in Malaysia. “So far we have performed in Sungai Petani, Alor Star, Penang, Ipoh, KL, Klang, Kajang, Melaka, Kluang, Batu Pahat, Muar, Skudai, JB, Kuching, KK, and Sandakan.” As per custom, they travelled in overloaded cars and once, after leaving Butterworth on the North South Highway, “we hit something on the asphalt. The car shook violently and a drag of white smoke came out from the back of our car. Perhaps if we had been killed in the accident, we might have become immortal, I don’t know.” In the end, the highway patrol helped them change their tires and the band made it to their next gig in Ipoh.
5. There’s a traditional way to ‘wind up’ performances
“For the finale piece for our performances, we usually end with Cher Siang’s tune entitled: The Art of the Wind Up Alarm Clock. This composition was written back in 2009, a sewn-together piece from three independent musical ideas.” Cher Siang had told then-drummer, Adam Osmianski, ‘give me some clockwork alarm clock noises,’ which Adam creatively replicated on the cymbal stand. At their 2009 KLPAC concert, Cher Siang set an old fashioned alarm clock to go off the moment the music ended. And “In our concert in 2015, the band members and guest dancers even did a dance to this tune!”