HIDDEN TREASURE | Winston Raval’s love affair with jazz

Jazz great Winston Raval is flanked in this photo by drummer Rey Vinoya and stand-up bass player Dave Harder in a recent gig at Tago Jazz Café (Photo by Rick Olivares/BM)

The hidden jazz treasure and the hidden jazz bar.

It makes for all sorts of exciting possibilities; don’t you think?

Winston Raval, home for the holidays from his home in Los Angeles, is in town. Like a moth drawn to a flame, before he heads to his hometown of Laoag, there’s a stopover at the Tago Jazz Café, the last bastion of this American art form in the metropolis; probably in the entire country.

Since 2015, when in town, Raval has made it a point to perform at Tago.

“Home,” Raval described the jazz bar. 

The man of three homes – the others being Laoag and Los Angeles – is accompanied by Dave Harder on standup bass and Rey Vinoya on drums. It is their second of three shows since he arrived. It has been awhile given the pandemic so one has to forgive them if they are rusty. 

It could make for a train wreck as they do find themselves in a bit of a pickle once in a while especially on the opener, “Tangerine” (the jazz standard by Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer), but the masters of improvisation always make for a smooth arrival at the station much to the delight of the Friday evening crowd.

“That’s jazz,” Raval smiled.

Growing up in Ilocos during the 1950s and 60s, radio commanded his attention. He heard the music Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk and others. He gravitated towards the music and found himself trying to play them.

“I didn’t know anything about notes and I couldn’t read them so I tried to play them the way I could,” he recalled.

He went to the University of the Philippines Conservatory of Music to learn – and he did – but transferred to the Ateneo de Manila and lastly, to San Beda College where he graduated with a degree in Political Science. 

“It’s not jazz,” he reasoned with a wry smile. “One needs to also make a living if a career in jazz doesn’t pan out.”

Despite moving to the United States and finding other work, he always found his way back to jazz. In fact, the short bio of his on the bash.com reads: “jazz pianist from Glendale will travel up to 10 miles” to perform.

He sure does despite being at 77 years of age. “In school auditoriums, nightclubs, performance halls, house parties…”

“It’s a love affair with the music,” he pointed out.

When Nelson Gonzales, owner of Tago Jazz Café introduces him to the Friday night crowd, refugees from a hectic week and toxic traffic, he said of Raval, “A legend in Philippine jazz… Winston Raval.”

Raval has six originals lined up for his performance. 

The first one he performs is titled “Hummingbird” – a light, freewheeling instrumental with highs and lows – just like the bird’s flight. And when it ends, it flitters away, delicate, and free.

The crowd applauded. 

One has to wonder given his over 50 years of performing, his original compositions have yet to be preserved for posterity either on vinyl or compact disc. 

“It is something I hope to be able to do in my lifetime,” he said. “It is costly though to record and put it out.”

He does hope to accomplish that with a little help from his friends. But Friday night, there is one more helping hand in the form of Frank Resulta who takes the latter half of each of the two sets to croon “On A Clear Day” (from Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner) and “I’m Glad There is You” (from Jimmy Dorsey). 

Raval is a delight. He may be getting on in the years but place him in front of a piano, that signature deftness and playfulness is second nature.

“People should enjoy Winston’s music,” offered Teresita “Tita” de Quiros, Raval’s friend. “He plays music of the old days with a lot of respect and passion.”

And on a rainy Friday evening, there was Raval along with Harder, Vinoya, and Resulta, performing with a smile on his face.

It took him back to those days when life was just listening to the radio and listening to all that jazz.

Image credits: Rick Olivares


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