Friday, March 08, 2013

Music Memory Trail Jazz Guitarist Vivian Nonis @ 87

Vivian with new Gibson. He looks like *John Lee Hooker. (image from: XINMSN).
We have a number of guitar maestros but not many Singaporeans are aware except for those who are either in the music industry or following the melody trail.  With some help from Wilfred Lim, St Andrew's classmate and guitar enthusiast, I met one who is a veteran jazz guitarist and who played big time with 1960s bands. 

Have guitar will travel and whether it was in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Indonesia or far away Japan this gentleman is still strumming his way into the hearts of many music lovers for 40 years and more.

Vivian Nonis was a clarinetist but started playing the guitar when be-bop was top. He is so good at his craft that his versatility spans many genres.  Rock and roll or rhythm and blues, Latin or mood music Uncle Vivian plays them all.

At the Singapore Art Museum performance in 2007 (image by Guitar77).
His favourite is jazz and this 87 year young connoisseur has performed with western bands, chinese bands, malay kugirans, big ensembles, combos and ker tais.  Vivian is still at it today and devotes most of his time with a new curvaceously sexy life partner, a semi-solid Gibson given to him by Gibson Singapore for his contribution to our music scene.

He shares his music with others, practising and jamming with anyone who's interested to learn the art.  He is a guitar tutor and in one of his rare appearances Vivian performed with his students at the Singapore Art Musuem in August 2007.  In 2012 at the annual President's Star Charity Show on TV he was the accompanying guitarist playing Nat King Cole's L.O.V.E. and The Beatles, Can't Buy Me Love.

According to TheGuitarista1102 interview on You Tube, Vivian has lived for 10 years in a home for seniors on our island since his family migrated. It was his decision to stay because he loves the country and his many music friends.

Vivian Nonis' Music Corner where he tutors students (image You Tube by The Guitarista1102)
He lives alone, manages well and spends  time composing songs whenever he is free.  When asked about his sunglasses he mentioned that he wears them because of a problem with his left eye but adds that he still sees well with the other.

During his younger days Vivian had played with famed Malay film star P. Ramlee and other prominent musicians.  He was leader of a band that played at the 7th Storey Hotel and gladly mentioned that about one quarter of Singapore's musicians were his students.  That is something!

I was lucky enough to have met Vivian some years ago when I visited him at the Home.  Quiet, unassuming and very cheerful he taught me the embellishment of a few pop songs when we sat together at his favourite garden spot in the Home.

Full house during tribute to Nonis (image by markomas n Guitar77)
"I dream to be a top guitarist in Singapore," says Vivian. I think he is. Listen to him on You Tube (top right bar).  MediaCorps calls him "one of our oldest legendary jazz guitarist."  Here's to a Singapore idol.  Many more years of guitar playing Vivian! 

NB: If you were one of his students or if you are friend or family please write in as Wilfred and I will be meeting him soon and providing him a copy of this write-up and comments. Thanks.

*"John Lee Hooker (August 22, 1917 – June 21, 2001) was a highly influential American blues singer-songwriter and guitarist.  William Hooker rose to prominence performing his own unique style of what was originally a unique brand of country blues. He developed a 'talking blues' style that was his trademark (Wikipedia)."

Images: Google, You Tube (XINMSN, The Guitarista1102, Guitar77 and markomas).



Hi Andy,
You did a great job on Vivian Nonis. Well done! Pity he is not a computer man so has missed out a lot what's going on around him. Glad to be of some help towards your wonderful journal on music and musicians of the 60's.

Always a pleasure looking through your blog. Keep it up man, you are doing fine!

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Wilf for helping me hunt this fascinating senior. I think he's one of the youngest from the 60s don't you think?

G said...

Hi Andy,
Sorry for the very late reply. Is it ok if I give my professor your email address as he would like to converse with you through email? On a side note, has Vincent Patton replied to you?

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Sure G, your prof can call me but provide me a brief outline of what he wants to ask. I can relate my own personal experience regarding my short stint as a "band boy" and my own knowledge growing up in Singapore listening to music from the west, especially US pops from 50's/60s and its influence on youth culture then. Whatever there is to know is already on the blog. The postings just need to be expanded for any journal article or thesis.


FREDSIOW said...

Hi Bro,

Yes, Vivian Nonis is one Spore talent we should be proud of. In think he is ahead of his time. At his present age, he still deliver chops that young Jazz wannabes would envy. You can easily find him in the Home.

He would give tips and lessons to students under a tree in the home. I am glad you got connected to him and over time you can get a first hand story from the man himself.


ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks again Fred for your contribution. From one jazz guitarist to another I am sure you have much in common with Vivian. I think you play just as well.

baturo45 said...

Yes! I vaguely remember him playing at Wedding functions and I used to sit at the table next to the band just to watch him!

Then I saw a documentary on TV quite sometime ago... forgot the segment title, I think it was about the long ago 'greats' in their respective categories. He(Vivian) was interviewed at an old folks home, still looking cheerful and bubbly... none the worse for his age and predicament.

BTW how are you? Venerable Historian with lots to share! Thank you for your contribution and taking great pains to share with us our History!

Warm regards.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you Baturo45 for your immediate response. Glad that I posted Vivian as I feel most of you know him.

The comment you gave is true; he is a true 'great' but I am no historian, just a passer-by interested in our local pops.

Again thanks for the visit.

s.o.f.t. Administrator said...

omg!!! i often see him at st john's but didnt know he is Vivian Nonis!

s.o.f.t. Rui said...

"Devoting the better part of his life towards perfecting his skills on the guitar, jazz naturally became his inspiration. Through jazz, Vivian was able to transform his thoughts and zest for all kinds of music."

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Both quotes taken from "s.o.f.t. It's Music in Singapore" by Guitar77.

markomars said...

"A Tribute to Vivian Nonis (My Grand Uncle) at the Singapore Arts Museum on the 12th of August 2007."


lol, Vivian Nonis was my guitar teacher. he taught me how to play everly bros, buddy holly, cliff richard,etc..
little did he imagined that i would become the co founder-leader of the hendrix-cream type rock trio Fried Ice, throwing away all i learnt from him, right after i discovered "truth" (jeff beck) and "a hard road" (john mayall) and finally "experience"(jimi hendrix) and "fresh cream " (cream).

matt tan (MJST on cbc canada) ex fired ice said...

Unbeknowst to Vivian Nonis, the reason why i was so adept in polyrhythms was because the first thing he taught me as his student who wanted to play guitar after my eldest brother threw away his guitar because he wanted to play like Pat Boone but found out he could not play guitar (neither did Pat Boone, lol).
anyway, Vivian taught me to play rhythm first , while he taught my other brother how to play lead. I learnt chicken rock, rumba, samba, cha cha,whatnot,,
and months later, i was playing buddy holly's tunes.
in fried ice, although it has nothing to do with vivian nonis jazz music, i was able to play bass easily , switching between rhythm at home, and lead as well, simply because i had great foundation laid down for me by Vivian Nonis.
yes, i remember how i loved his guitar, a large body f hole jazz guitar (hofner, i think) ... which i took after quitting fried ice to become a lead guitarist,
to also prefer a thick body guitar (gibson sd 175) one i traded with Horace Wee
for my cream coloured Les Paul Custom (the same one that Eric Clapton used to have with Cream).

Matt Tan (MJST/zbraXing ) cbc canada said...

please give Vivian Nonis my articles. tell him, if not for him, there would not have been a Matt Tan (co-founder of Fried Ice, bass and vocalist) and now , a Matt Tan MJST/zbraXing on cbc music site playing both my own compositions
and great standards of robert johnson, jimi , elmore, etc..
ironically, when he taught me, i wasn't the least interested in jazz and wes montgomery, but after i became a lead guitarist in canada, i got very interested in joe pass, wes, johnny smith, tal farlow,etc.. all i am sure vivian nonis know of very well. so, tell him, his work on me did come around very handy in the end... as i was then a jazz fusion guitarist , and now, back in music march 2017 playing both jazz fusion and rock and blues. all because of you, teacher !!!

Unknown said...

Thank you everyone who shared their music and learning with my Uncle.
Vivian Nonis passed away peacefully today 27th Aug. 2020 aged 94.

Unknown said...

Eternal peace and happy praising forever in heaven grant to him O Lord. He was my jazz tutor in the 80s and i always marveled at his guitar knoeledge and asked him why he didnt perform in public. He said he did consider the offers but not the right time.