Jazz was bawal talaga. Bawal. It was forbidden.” This is what UP College of Music Associate Professor Raymundo Maigue most remembers of the time he entered the university as a freshman in 1974. Jazz being taboo in the college, he and his friends had to express their passion for the musical genre in secret. “When the professors heard us, they would tell us to stop. We couldn’t do anything but hide.”
While there was no formal course then, Maigue remembers one professor at the college who taught a non-credit jazz improvisation course, which heightened their fascination for the genre and their growing need to understand it more. But jazz was still not considered part of their formal training.
Though prohibited from formally practicing their music in the college, he vividly recalls the challenges they faced then in pursuing their passion for jazz. “We used to jam wherever, in secret—at the Carillon, under the stairs. We had no instruments, we just borrowed amplifiers, trying to beat each other. It was fun then, it felt like we had all the time. Even when it got dark, we continued jamming.”
As to why he has more passion for jazz than other musical genres, Rayben, as he is known to family and friends, explains that it allows him to have a different take on the usual arrangement of songs. “You can jazz up even Tagalog songs, which of course changed because of the arrangement. We changed things around.” Jazz, he adds, enables him to have a more personal rendition of some songs.
Things turned for the better for Rayben and his fellow enthusiasts in 1977, when visiting American professor and jazz musician Joseph Howard joined the college through the Fulbright Scholar Program. Howard taught jazz theory and improvisation. “We were so happy, the books were free, the teaching was free.” The American professor shared his passion for the music with his Filipino students for eight months before returning to the US.
With Howard back in the States, the genre was again relegated by some conservative academics to being, in Maigue’s words, a nuisance in the college. But by this time, there were also some members of the College of Music who had grown to appreciate jazz. And some of them would even occasionally hire them for personal events.
Maigue says the UP Jazz Ensemble started as a small group called the Laboratory Band. “If you had a composition, we played it just to hear it, good or bad.” The band eventually became the ensemble.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, the UP Jazz Ensemble became a popular group in UP Diliman, enabling them to eventually form a big band, which is usually made up of four sections or groups: trumpets, trombones, saxophones and rhythm. Maigue considered the formation of the group a challenge as it has always been difficult to find qualified musicians.
The popularity of the group went beyond the campus, resulting in invitations for performances outside the university. “We perform in corporate parties and festivals. We perform in jazz concerts.”
Maigue is quick to add that in recent years, they have observed a dwindling appreciation of the genre in UP Diliman itself, which he suspects is due to the shift of preference for pop music, particularly from abroad. “We’re fading away,” he said. He takes comfort in the continued appreciation of the genre by people outside the campus, where they continue to play.
The UP Jazz Ensemble has 30 regular members, which is a combination of both students and alumni of the College of the Music. Its playlist includes well-known tunes from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, and George Gershwin. Aside from these, they also perform jazzed up tunes from the Beatles and John Williams, as well as Filipino jazz tunes from Richie Quirino, Jon Palacio, and Angel Peña.
Over the years, the UP Jazz Ensemble has gained recognition as one of the most notable bands in the country. In 1989, the band was recognized by DWFR, Citylite 88.3, precursor to the current Jam 88.3, in its First City Jazz Awards, for its important role in the promotion and contributions to the field of Philippine New Age and Jazz Music.
In 1999, the UP Jazz Ensemble was also recognized by Petron Corporation as the prime mover of jazz in the country. In 2010, Maigue himself was recognized by the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines in its Arts Productivity Awards for his efforts in the appreciation and promotion of jazz and his contributions to Filipino and contemporary music.
Now on its 40th year, the UP Jazz Ensemble continues to swing as a band that does not only perform great jazz but also promotes the genre through its performances and collaborations with other organizations which support the genre and music in general.
Aside from recognition as a group, the UP Jazz Ensemble has also become a training ground for several Filipino musicians who have now found employment in international cruise ships and in Hong Kong Disneyland. “Their salaries are higher than mine!” he jokingly adds.
Now nearing his retirement from the university, Maigue looks back with fondness at what the UP Jazz Ensemble has become in four decades. He admits it was not easy pursuing his passion for jazz and eventually forming the band. “Even if there’s no money in it, we persevered to promote jazz. I hope it stays because I’m retiring in four years, although I’ll keep on playing,” says the man who himself also never gets tired of swinging.