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Thursday, November 3, 2011

The King and I...

Bear with me, there is a point to all of this.

H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 5, 1927. He is the youngest son of H.R.H. Prince Mahidol and Mom Sangwalya, and is the longest reigning monarch in the world.

Here’s what I find interesting about this king: he is an ardent lover of jazz – especially American jazz music. He is an accomplished saxophonist and composer, and has his own palace jazz band. Kinda like the Bill Clinton of Siam, but classier and better chops.

His Majesty has played his saxophone with jazz legends like Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton and Benny Carter. He also jams with local musicians in Thailand, and has composed his own music.

"He is simply the coolest king in the land," the late Hampton said in a 1987 article in the Thai magazine Sawasdee. Here he is with Benny Goodman.






The king’s Birthday in December - sometimes called Father’s Day - is a national holiday and is celebrated nationwide with great enthusiasm. Yellow flags and lights decorate buildings and homes all over Thailand. Bangkok, is decorated with exuberant flower arrangements, religious ceremonies are held countrywide with people praying for the king’s well-being. During the evening there are elaborate fireworks displays in the skies of Bangkok while thousands of people fill the streets wearing yellow t-shits to celebrate the king’s birthday. People travel from all cities around Thailand to catch a glimpse of the monarch. And, of course, there is music, lots of music, including the king’s favorite - American Jazz.

Why a blog on the King of Thailand, you ask? Well, Stef Scaggiari and I were invited to play for him during the weeklong royal birthday festivities next month. To top it off, we were sponsored by the American Embassy in Bangkok to conduct an outreach program in American jazz for disabled children in Bangkok. What an unbelievable honor.

It has been weeks of preparation...new arrangements, rehearsals, some pre-tour voice coaching and a new gown for the occasion. During this time, we were full of excitement and anticipation.

All the while, the Thai people have been enduring terrible floods – the worst in 60 years. Floods of a magnitude that bring Hurricane Katrina to mind. Floods that last week caused the palace and Ministry of Culture cancel all festivities. It is a most appropriate choice as more than 2.5 million people are displaced, and Thailand is suffering terribly during this tragedy.

I am so honored to have been chosen to play for the King’s celebration and so sad to see this nation devastated. Still, I feel very disappointed about the cancellation and also embarassed that I can form such a selfish thought when so many are in need.

My dear cousin, Jim Davis, is living in Bangkok. Thankfully, he is safe. Here are some of his thoughts about this unimagineable disaster.

 

10/18/11 Dear Erin,
It is a disaster of major proportions. Over 400 people have died, hundreds of thousands are homeless, the area flooded is huge. The rice growing fields have been washed away, along with the soil. 300,000 factory workers, in an industrial park, in BKK, had to be evacuated, yesterday. So far, the flood walls are holding back the flood from the main shopping, office, tourism, financial districts, and high rent districts, where I live, but there are sandbags and temporary concrete walls in front of most businesses. It rains hard every day, for hours. I have emergency supplies of some water and food and the supermarkets are bare, in that category, now.

Cities not far from BKK are suffering the most; it looks like Venice. The water is 15-20 feet high in the middle of the cities. People there have lost everything. The army has opened their bases for them. The Thai Army is working feverishly building dykes and helping people. They are really dedicated heros.

Hundreds of thousands of chickens and ducks have been drowned in the poultry facilities. Some of the chain restaurants in BKK that have comisaries outside the perimeter have closed.

I had planned to go to China and other places but I'm not leaving for fear the airport may be swamped and I would be stuck outside Thailand.

In terms of flooding, it is worse than Katrina and Irene combined. But life within most of BKK goes on as usual. I go to the gym, shop and hang out with my friends, as usual. It pisses people off, outside of BKK, that the water is shifted to protect the upscale neighborhoods in BKK.

Every business is losing big money and it will be a long time to recoup it. The biggest concert venue, Impact, where I've seen the Eagles and Rod Stewart is in the flood zone. They say it will be months for the water to go down. There won't be much left. I think the celebrations of the King's birthday will be cancelled. The country and all major businesses have lost countless millions.

On the other hand, Thai people are very resilient and resourceful. I've seen news coverage of them and it's heartbreaking but they are coping quite well. I've seen people, on TV news, up to their necks in water with smiles on their faces. They have courage and strength I've never seen. The Thai people have been incredibly strong during this ordeal. Thais are the greatest. They've been put to the test now.

BKK is still in danger of being flooded. My apartment building has a generator. I have bought big flashlights and knee high rubber boots, just in case. There is no end in sight.

By the way, staging, lighting, sound and musicians are first rate. Better than USA. Thirteen year old kids play guitar better than Clapton and Hendrix, at their prime. Little kids play guitar like Dick Dale, who's the best there is. Their fingering technique is quite unusual. I love to watch them play. Love, Jim
 
10/19/11 Good Morning Erin,
Yesterday was a rain free day but it looks like rain today, unfortunately. The Army and volunteers are still feverishly piling up sandbags. I'm located in one of the safest areas of Bangkok, my building is built as solid as a bunker and, around here, life goes on as usual. I feel perfectly safe and I'm going for my morning swim. Not in the street but in the pool. Love, Jim


10/31/11 Dear Erin,
I learned today that my district in Bangkok won't be flooded. Things are pretty normal around here. It's been called a holiday, because of the flooding, so people who are dry are going to the movies, the malls and eating ice cream sundaes. The folks in the 7 out of the 50 BKK wet districts are suffering a lot. They are so screwed - much worse than Katrina. They have 50,000 Thai Army troops working 24/7 helping people with shelter, transportation and building dykes. Love you, Jim

This is my cousin Jim when he last visited us at "Horses End." I will spare you a photo of my new gown. Please pray for the people of Thailand.






2 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear about all the troubles and your cancellation, hope for the best for the people in Thailand and any others still struggling in the world with catastrophes.

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  2. Previous comment made by bruce g

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