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.
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:
An original article by Andy Lim.
Images: A Private Collection.