Thursday, October 04, 2018

Jimmy Chan: Singapore's Favourite Pianist Ever


I've yet to meet Jimmy Chan again after the last time at Grandma Mary's home but we kept in touch on the mobile phone. And it is the same question again and again, "When are you coming to Tiong Bahru market for kopi Andy?" But we never met although he agreed to our interview on the phone.

Thanks, Jimmy.


Jimmy Chan is on YouTube


If you meet Jimmy Chan you won't know he's a maestro at the piano. Humble, quiet and always keeping away from the limelight, I easily identify him as Gentleman Jim. Yes, he's a gentleman all the way. 


Jimmy is a natural with the piano. Without notes on his piano music rack and without having to refer to music sheets, Jimmy is able to play most any song by heart. From jazz standards to pops, classical pieces or Latin and depending on what he's playing, his fingers would either dexterously fly or gently touch on the ivories, depending on the melody he is interpreting.


There's a uniqueness about his performance because he plays from within, inspired, feeling the melody so much that he would posture himself close to the piano near the keyboard with his head to one side (image below), transported into his world, one where his melodies flow naturally without assistance from any structured documentation. The classical pianist.
He is not like some keyboard players (not pianists) who read from the notes direct and sounding like the auto-chords on many computer-enhanced organs in the market. Anyone could play on these gadgets without feel or purpose. But not Jimmy. He delivers with soul and silent perpetuity. 

In the early sixties, Jimmy Chan used to work in a bank in Singapore. He was known enough to be with a popular big band called The Flamingos and accompanied singer Robert Song and vocal group, The Gay Lads.  The Trailers, another established guitar group, held on to Jimmy when he joined them afterwards.

He only left his job at the bank after The Quests invited him to join this already pop guitar group for a contract in Hong Kong. Count the years because he was in Suzie Wong's world for some time.

After completing his stint he came home and because he was popular and well-loved at the Mandarin Hotel, Singapore, the management engaged him for 20 years. Now twenty years is a long time and Jimmy became the official pianist at the first class hotel at Orchard Road from 1974 to 1994.


He joined Dennis Foo at his Club 97 for two years after he left and went over to the other Mandarin, the Marina Mandarin in 1996. You can still enjoy his piano serenades at the same hotel on any week evenings from 6.30 to 8.00 except Sunday. (He would be on leave now.)

I have a few Chinese songs on vinyl since Jimmy had recorded many pop instrumentals on cassettes and CDs. It was great to have him autograph one of them (image above). But I wanted to listen to more of Jimmy's recordings, so a friend's wife obliged and handed me a pile of his CDs; they were a mile high. She is a fan!

"All his recordings," she mentioned, "He's my favourite star." I glanced at her husband and smiled. He was flabbergasted.


A few years ago a group of us with Jimmy, Larry Lai, the late Tan Swee Leong and our wives and lady friends, were at Grandma Mary's home for a private function with her family. After Swee Leong's favourite mee-siam dinner we were entertained by Gentleman Jim. 

His songs on the ivory tinkled the night away. The Eddy Duchin Theme song when Kim Novak swayed in the moonlight with Gregory Peck in Picnic, took me years back when I saw the movie at the Capitol Cinema. 

Jimmy also played Chinese melodies by Teresa Teng and other Chinese pops; April Love was sung by - surprise, surprise, Larry Lai - with other love hits of the era.

Requests for piano favourites reached the sky and no one wanted to go home that evening; everyone was humming, whistling or singing to the maestro's performance.

(from left, clockwise): Andy Young, the late Tan Swee Leong, Larry Lai, Grandma Mary and Jimmy Chan.

Jimmy mesmerises his audience like no piano man can. He is no keyboardist but a concert pianist and definitely one of the best amongst SG musicians.
One posting isn't sufficient for this great pianist but he promised a more detailed one soon. 

Thanks, Jimmy for entertainment plus.

Connect to the Grandma Mary meet:

http://singapore60smusic.blogspot.com/2012/06/mary-music-mee-siam-merry-mayhem.html
An original article by Andy Lim.
Images: A Private Collection.
Copyrights Reserved.

From the pages of Jimmy Chan's fan, FRED CHING's Facebook postings.

37 comments:

RICHARD TOH said...

Wholeheartedly agree with you... Jimmy is The Best.

Thanks, Andy.

STEPHEN HAN said...

I remembered Brian Richmond asked the audience to point out Jimmy Chan, and I was able to do so for a prize. This occasion was in lieu of “Back To The Sixty” organized by the NHB at Raffles City in 2005.

Tan Swee Lorong, Larry Lai, Vernon Cornelius and Riem De Wolf of the Blue Diamonds also performed. Jimmy was also a member of the Quest and had played in lounges.

KOH SUI PANG FB said...

Yes listening ...Jimmy Chan has a soft touch on the piano ..n camera shy too ..love listening.

STEPHEN HAN said...

I think I can hear him on Rita Chao’s “Sixteen Candles”

VICTOR WOO (TRAILERS LEAD GUITARIST) said...

Hi Jimmy and Larry,
Wishing both of you the best during this period.
Looking forward to receiving your witty chats soon.

TAN SOO KHOON said...

All the best Jimmy

GEORGE CHEW (LEAD GUITARIST 'THE BURNS') said...

Fix an appointment for us to kopi-chat at Tiong Bahru Market. Ha, ha.

WINSTON KOH (SINGER: FLYING PHANTOMS said...

Jimmy is a gifted pianist and musician.
A great man and a family friend too.
He's the best!
Keep playing Jim...

The Best From Me.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Hi Rose, Hey, thanks for sharing on your FB post. I'm just hoping many more people will read about this great pianist.

ROSE KHOO said...

Tks Andy ..love reading this blog n all the local music scene.

JIMMY APPUDURAI CHUA (ENGLAND, UK) said...

nice chap as well
thanks Andy mate

MICHAEL LEE (SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA) said...

Yeah Jimmy is well known for playing the piano, while Benny is well known for playing the guitar. Cheerio

MICHAEL LEE (SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA) said...

Hi Andy Have heard and known about Jimmy. He is a very talented pianist but I have not met him in person. Cheerio.

PETER CHEONG said...

A great pianist of Sg till today. I love his musiic I still hav few pieces of vinyl.

JIMMY APPUDURAI CHUA (ENGLAND, UK) said...

On leave.. Never... Played with Trailers and also one man organist in hotels. Very accomplished

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Jimmy.

One Jimmy about another Jimmy. I love the word you use: 'accomplished'. He is very. Like you too sir. Have a good evening and take care.

JAMES KWOK (WRITER OF ARTICLE) said...

Good morning. sir. Thank you.

You will always remain my senior. Thank you for bringing back musical memories of the 50s-60s - even when reading what you and your contributors have written, my mind still goes back to things unwritten - to those days of teenage angst and secret loves, and when I first held the hand of my girlfriend (now my wife) at Katong Park, this came to mind - and even now it still does.

And the music plays WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL...

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

This article about JIMMY CHAN posted in less than a day has drawn hundreds of readers and many comments.

Thanks to all.

MICHAEL LEE (SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA) said...

Hi Jimmy Like what Andy said - you are talented too in your own right. I will always support talented people regardless who they are. Cheerio have a good day.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

I have known Mike to be a kindly gentleman too, generous in his contribution to the blog and an expert in the workings of the guitar and other musical instruments or electronic gadgets. Thanks, Mike.

PETER CHAN said...

Jimmy has the classical touch on the keys...

If you got a sharp ear you can quickly discern he plays any song with feelings that come from the heart. That is the major difference playing the piano per se and playing as if the song can reach out to your inner self.

I won't say he's the best because it is a question of which style you prefer or whether you want vocals accompanied by a piano. There are different treatment by different pianists. I think what I am saying is when Jimmy plays it's not just instrumental but a voice coming from the keys.

He likes to play single notes on the melody section but uses arpeggio to colour the song. Others may prefer the chords -playing style but use arpeggios, high octaves, echo effects and melodic scaling to reproduce the effects of the sea waves.

Andy, you said he concentrates? I tell you why. Pianists who don't like to read scores or don't prefer are visual people. Subconsciously they see the scores in their head, not with their eyes. This is m own personal experience.

That is why I am lamenting Jimmy's generation... aged 70's can reproduce the oldies up to the 80's, my generation up to the 90's. After us, I am afraid nobody knows any era. It's like a dying trade or dying skill. similar to cobblers.

Anonymous said...

[IN REPLY TO PETER CHAN]
(“He likes to play single notes on the melody section but uses arpeggio to colour the song.”):
This is inaccurate. If you got sharp ears, you can quickly discern how way off this is by listening to Just Piano One’s ‘Green Island Serenade’. His left hand is not merely comprising of arpeggios although it is frequently used. It is full of all sorts of chords and octaves.

I understand, during this recording, it was a one-take impromptu improvisation of a great Chinese classic piece. This is the genius in Jimmy Chan. An intuitive feel for the music and the ability to make a single instrument sounds like an orchestra.

(“Andy, you said he concentrates? I tell you why. Pianists who don't like to read scores or don't prefer are visual people. Subconsciously they see the scores in their head, not with their eyes. This is m own personal experience.”):
I couldn’t find anywhere where Andy said Jimmy concentrates. If Andy did say it, it can only be in reference to his ability to play a piece of music perfectly. Jimmy is a perfectionist.

It is not possible for Jimmy to see scores in his head because he hasn’t had the experience of going through classical piano training reading notes like yourself. If he can’t read notes it is impossible for him to anchor his memory around music notes. It is not possible for someone to learn and use a language by anchoring it around another language which is alien and foreign to him.

A better understanding is to consider music notes as one degree removed from the sound that actually creates the music itself. Music notes are an interpretation of audio in a visual manner.

As an imperfect analogy look at higher order computer languages in comparison with machine language. Nobody writes using machine language today. It is just too difficult. But if you can code in machine language then you have the most elegant and efficient way of communicating with the computer.

When you see notes in your head it is impossible to interpret the music as it should be played. You will be spending a large amount of ‘brain power’ trying to get the interpretation right.

To learn music you must know the rules. To make music you must forget them. Jimmy has transcended the former a very long time ago and provided an impossible blueprint for mere mortals to emulate: to forget and yet be perfect. The genius of Jimmy is his ability to hear the melody lines with his soul and not his ears. His ears are just a mean to an end: the creation of enchanting divine music that one could listen to over and over again.

As an aside, here is a little secret of Jimmy’s genius. If you got sharp ears, you can quickly discern it is the beautiful chords that Jimmy matches with songs in his head that is the game changer.

FRED CHING (FACEBOOK POST) said...

Still remember having some drinks with my overseas business associates at Mandarin Hotel. It was the most relaxing intimate evening... Jimmy plays with such passion and enthusiasm he almost makes his piano talk!

We could have watched and listened to him for a further two hours.

Excellent!!❤️👍


(FRED CHING wrote an excellent article about his witnessing CELINE DION live in SG.
Check him out.)

HELEN POK said...

Andy,
I don't really know or heard of Mr Jimmy Chan as I didn't frequent any of the hot spots where he played his music in the 60's... too busy with my work. Not much of a social life.

But Jimmy Chan is a good pianist, as good as Liberace? I used to watch the latter on TV then.

JIMMY CHAN said...

Thank you, Andy,

Sadly we've lost Jap and Reggie, also Swee Leong, Spencer Chan (pianist), Siva Choy, Peggy Tann, Teresa Khoo during the past two years.

Peggy Tann was also one of my favourite pianist, used to listen to her at Prince Hotel Garni in the sixties.

TAN SOO KHOON said...

Floyd Cramer + Russ Conway rolled into one = Jimmy Chan.

And that is still an understatement.

VICTOR WOO (TRAILERS LEAD GUITARIST) said...

Hi Andy,

Here is something that I am sure no one can dispute with me. Soon after Jimmy Chan left the Flamingoes he joined the Trailers, during which time the trailers made several recordings including DO IT RIGHT (this song remained in the top charts for 13 weeks).

We had three of the best keyboardist performing with us at different periods: Jimmy Chan, Patrick Foo and Danny Koh. Jimmy was with us until July 1967 while we were under contract with Singstar. We were performing at the GOODWOOD PARK HOTEL. I was temporarily replaced by David Chan (Silver Strings) as I had to go overseas to complete my tertiary course.

I am just proud to say I had the services of these gentlemen on the keyboards all these years and while it lasted.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

I must thank all these kindly people, especially those who were in the music scene many years ago, who wrote in. They know what they are writing about. So a personal thanks to each and every one of you, including JIMMY CHAN himself.


Special thanks to VICTOR WOO who was boss of the TRAILERS and his own experience and story regarding Jimmy and the other pianists, SOO KHOON for his various comments and support always.


Special thanks to PETER CHAN for his interesting comment and ANONYMOUS for his/her reply to Peter. I started this blog so people interested in SG 60's+ music could have a kopi-tiam atmosphere to chat and discuss. I think we have all achieved it.

Appreciate. A pleasure to have you guys writing in.

HORACE WEE (PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN) said...

I've known Jimmy since the Flamingo days at Rose D'Or at the Lido Cinema.

Jimmy is able to read music though not in a classical calibre but sufficient for everyday use. I've used him for many commercial recordings in the 80s.

DAISY KOH said...

I read with much interest the write-up on renown pianist Jimmy Chan. I confess I am not a Jimmy Chan fan but enjoyed the rendition of Tian Mi Mi. He is really good to be still in demand at the Mandarin.

However, reading the article evokes nostalgic memories as I could resonate with the likes of our local artistes mentioned...

Richard Paul Michael said...

I hope its not late for me to append some comment. Victor Woo mentioned Jimmy Chan, Patrick Foo & Danny Koh have been keyboardist with his band. I remember there was another, named Michael Teo, who was on The Trailers' first two 45s (Do It Right/Thunderball & Don't Laugh (You'll Cry)/Lucille). I believe he left the music scene after handing over the keyboard duty to Jimmy as I don't remember seeing him performing anywhere. Until today, I still enjoy The Trailers' version of Thunderball with Michael on the organ.

PATRICK TENG said...

Awesome I heard a lot about him during my school days but never watched him in live performance.

JAY JC SHE said...

He was superb as the keyboard player in The Quests. I always adore their rendition of Sayonara.

FACEBOOK said...

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AUDIE NG (SILVER STRINGS LEADER/BASSIST) said...

To my Tai Loh,
Jimmy whom I usually call him.
Cheers, Tai Loh Jimmy, the maestro take care.

Unknown said...

Hi Andy,

I was reading your blog as I am trying to track down JImmy Chan as I am coming to Singapore in august. Back in the 1980s my family used to take me to see Jimmy play at the MANDARIN ORCHARD nearly every Friday night for years. My family and I soon became close friends with him. However, it’s been 26 years since I’ve been back to Singapore and from what I can see, Jimmy isn’t playing at any live venues at the moment. How can I get in touch with him when I come to Singapore in August? He’s like family to me and I’d love to see him again. Can you help me?

Kind Regards,
Julie Shariff