[Dixielandjazz] The "King" of Swing & Dixieland

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Jun 12 19:19:26 PDT 2006

Hey Wiggins, we should produce a Dixieland festival in Thailand.

Steve Barbone

Thailand king's got that swing
Monday, June 12, 2006 - CNN On Line

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- For so many Thais, King Bhumibol Adulyadej is a
father figure for the nation. But for a small group of jazz musicians, he is
also the King of Swing.

Every Saturday, Thailand's beloved 78-year-old monarch breaks out his
saxophone to jam with 10 other local musicians.

Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch, has also played with jazz
legends like Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton and Benny Carter.

"He is simply the coolest king in the land," the late Hampton quipped in a
1987 article in "Sawasdee" magazine. Bhumibol is well-known among Thais and
some of the world's jazz legends as an accomplished musician and composer.

Many can hum and sing his most popular tunes, influenced by his favorite
artists -- Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges
of Duke Ellington's Orchestra. Bhumibol used to listen to their records and
play along.

"The king's style is Dixieland or New Orleans style, like Sidney Bechet when
he plays the soprano saxophone," said Manrat Srikaranonda, a pianist who has
played with the king for more than half a century. Benny Carter was also a
royal favorite, he said.

Les Brown and His Band of Renown in 1996 recorded several of the king's
compositions, but under an agreement with the palace, they can be heard only
in Thailand. Brown, who died in 2001, once described Bhumibol as "a superior

"I'm sure if he didn't have the job he has now, he'd be successful as a
bandleader," Brown said in the 1996 documentary "Gitarajan" about the king
and his music.

The king began his musical education during his school years in Switzerland.
He decided he wanted to play the trumpet after hearing a band at a mountain
resort hotel. However, his mother thought the trumpet would be too strenuous
for him, the king's daughter, Princess Sirindhorn, wrote in a 1996 book.

The king's mother "compromised by allowing his majesty to play the
saxophone," Sirindhorn wrote. After purchasing a secondhand saxophone,
Bhumibol played with other Thai students at his residence in Lausanne during
school holidays.

His first composition was "Candlelight Blues," and his most popular are the
catchy, lighthearted "Love at Sundown" and the more wistful "Falling Rain"
-- all written in 1946, the year he became king.

"I became inspired while I was listening to music on the radio," he said in
a 1981 speech. "I felt the music in my head sounded better, so I turned off
the radio and scribbled it down on a piece of paper. I remember that it was
in May. People liked that song. They said it was beautiful. I felt
overjoyed," he said.

Bhumibol formed a band that would play with him at the palace, and in 1952
he set up a new public radio station on which the 14-member band would
broadcast live performances every Friday.

In 1956, Benny Goodman played with the king in Bangkok at the Ambara Throne
Hall. During a state visit to the United States in 1960, the king played at
Goodman's residence in New York City.

In 1964, the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Vienna named the king an
honorary member -- the first Asian composer to be granted the honor.

Of the palace's original Friday band, only Manrat, its pianist, continues to
play with the king today, their jam sessions having moved from Bangkok to
the summer palace in Hua Hin, 230 kilometers (140 miles) south of the

"We love to play," Manrat, 78, told The Associated Press in an interview
granted by the palace. "This is not a duty." Most of the contemporary band
members are amateurs; they include an architect, an engineer and an adviser
to the king.

The only professional musician is Manrat's son, 33-year-old Pathorn
Srikaranonda, who is also the group's youngest player. Pathorn describes the
weekly jams as comfortable and relaxed.

"It's not like a concert performance. It's not like a dress rehearsal, that
you would die if you did something wrong," Pathorn said. "His Majesty has a
personal warmth and aura in him. ... When he plays the saxophone, he always
finds a way to express it from his inner thoughts. It's unbelievable."

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