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Party by the sea

It's that time of the year again. Time to get out of the smoggy city and head down to warm and breezy Hua Hin for a weekend of sweet jazz music. Swap your creaking couch and arctic air-con for the naturally-soft cushion of the powdery sand and trade noise pollution for the soothing sound of waves and some seriously chilled-out tunes.

Hosted once again by Hua Hin Municipality in conjunction with the Hua Hin Hotelier's Club and Heineken, the Hua Hin Jazz Festival kicks off today. Huge numbers of jazz aficionados, local holiday-makers and curious international tourists traditionally descend on the popular coastal resort for the free two-day al fresco event, and this year is expected to be the most popular yet.

The festival was started in 2002 by the Hua Hin Hotelier's Club with the simple aim of boosting the town's profile on the tourist map. A founding member of the club and the initiator of the festival, Dirk De Cuyper has noted that, "Hua Hin is well known in Thailand as a family-oriented destination. But internationally, unlike Phuket or Chiang Mai, nobody really knows about it."

Whether or not De Cuyper could have expected to see the festival grow to it present level, Hua Hin Jazz Festival, which is now in its sixth year, has become one of the best-known jazz events in the country and has hosted an impressive collection of local and international performers.

"Growing from strength to strength each year, the annual Hua Hin Jazz Festival is becoming a fixture on the international music calendar," says Hua Hin's deputy mayor, Somboon Chartkitcharoen. "Last year, more than 65,000 people came to Hua Hin to experience 'Jazz on the Beach', and we are not expecting any fewer this year."

Thomas Hoeborn, president of the Hua Hin Hotelier's Club, concurs. Hoeborn says that in the past few years, the number of visitors, both local and international, travelling to the town has continued to grow, especially during June when the jazz festival is held.

"This growth has also brought about high demand in the property market in Hua Hin," he says. "The number of new hotels and resorts, condominiums and guesthouses has increased to serve the rapid growth of tourists. The Hua Hin Hotelier's Club is confident that this year the accommodation in Hua Hin will be sufficient to meet the demands of festival-goers."

The two-day concert is expected to welcome as many as 70,000 visitors from all over the world. Unlike previous years, the 2007 festival will be a completely "off-street event," meaning that all performances and activities will take place on the beach, if not over the water itself. While the theme continues to be "Jazz on the Beach," organisers are hoping to incorporate the sea itself into the weekend.

"We've noticed over the years that most of our audience have been romantic couples and groups of friends. They love fun activities and partying, so we are providing them with an al fresco lounge and a sea bar," said Panadcanang Tippagomut, executive project director of CM Organizer, the event administrator. Fittingly, the style of music on offer will be predominantly easy listening jazz and bossa nova to complement the laid-back beach mood.

The number of concert stages has been reduced from two to one, but that stage, situated on the beach in front of the Sofitel Central Hua Hin, is equipped with a top-quality imported sound system designed specifically for outdoor concerts and which should minimise natural interruptions from wind and waves.

Among the 11 groups of artists is T Mandrake, a new-generation jazz band from the UK. Led by Jay Zeiseniss, a Thai-American-Swiss vocalist, the band will present the Hua Hin crowd with '60s-style jazz with a hint of rock and alternative stylings. Equally exciting are the Montefiori twins from Italy, who will perform lounge-style fusion jazz perfectly suited to serene and sophisticated Hua Hin. Bossa Blossom - eight amateur, yet deeply passionate, female vocalists - will also be there with their bossa interpretations of local pop hits.

According to Deputy Mayor Somboon, the Hua Hin Municipality has prepared for the increased number of visitors during the festival by improving all levels of infrastructure to facilitate concert-goers. That includes accommodation, toilet facilities and parking, as well as traffic management.

"Eighty percent of last year's audience who participated in our poll reported that they were very satisfied with the event," Panadcanang said. "We had some complaints about crowded areas and narrow walkways, which we have now taken into our consideration. So, this year we promise that, in terms of infrastructure, there should not be any dissatisfaction."

To cater to the weekend trippers from Bangkok and nearby provinces who will arrive by private cars, parking facilities have been expanded to four locations within a short walking distance from the festival venue: Hua Hin Wittayalai school, Hua Hin Municipial School, Hua Hin Municipality Office and Hua Hin Market Village shopping plaza. Shuttles to and from hotels may also be provided (check with your hotel for availability).

"The biggest point that we always want to emphasise is that it's a free concert," Panadcanang said. "You don't have to pay extra to enjoy the great jazz performances over your holiday weekend. The only thing that you need is time: time to let yourself relax and be nurtured by the sweet jazz tunes. And, of course, time to enjoy great food and the atmosphere Hua Hin has to offer."

Hua Hin Jazz Festival 2007 is being held on Friday, June 8 and Saturday, June 9. For more information, visit http://www.huahin-jazzfestival2007.com .

Names to look out for

Caroline Henderson

- A pop vocalist originally from Europe, Caroline Henderson's talent encompasses a broad spectrum, from deeply-emotional jazz ballads to heart-rending blues and gospel. And whether it be hot soul, deep swing or cool beats alongside new interpretations of rock and pop classics, Henderson's music is always touched by the sparkle of her talent.

Following on from acclaimed albums Don't Explain in 2003 and Made in Europe in 2004, Henderson's latest album, Love or Nothin', is scheduled for release later this year.

While Don't Explain was minimalist and melancholy and Made in Europe found its wistful mood in a more grandiose setting, Love or Nothin' is supplemented by rap, scratching and beats and permeated by the Afro-American music of Mississippi. Regardless of which direction Henderson chooses, it is remarkable that her own identity comes through equally powerfully.

Montefiori Cocktail

- Keyboard player Francesco (Kekko) and saxophonist-cum-vocalist Federico (Kikko) are twins. Montefiori Cocktail are Italy's major representatives of the easy listening evolution, offering a '60s sound enriched by technology. They grasp the vitality of spirit conveyed by that period of music by reinterpreting it in musical forms that belong to our time, through the infusion of elements like house, breakbeat, jungle and drum and bass sounds.

Highlights of their albums, Montefiori Appetizer Vol 1 and Montefiori Appetizer Vol 2, include Madonna's Hung up, Robbie Williams's Tripping, John Legend's Ordinary People, Christina Aguilera's Ain't No Other Man and Beyonce's Deja Vu.

Since 1997 the twin brothers have played over 500 concerts in Italy and around the world; performed at many important gatherings, like the famous jazz festivals in Montreux and Copenhagen; and played iconic venues such as London's Cargo, Cabaret Sauvage in Paris and B72 in Vienna.

OMAH Special Quartet with Rydsma Amoy

- An uncompromising straight-ahead jazz band, OMAH Special Quartet was formed at the end of 2005 and is made up of four young local musicians: Chanutr Techatananan (drums), Pisut Pratheepasena (tenor and soprano sax), Pongsiri Khajornwaekin (guitar) and Pornchart Viriyapark (acoustic bass).

OMAH Special Quartet play music that honours the legacy of jazz greats such as Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, and Dave Holland. The group also performs original compositions and arrangements written by band members, giving them a unique direction.

Rydsma Amoy is a singer with a deep, almost magical connection to music and a uniquely understated style. She has performed in many Asian countries, including China, Japan, Philippines and Thailand and is currently active on Bangkok's jazz scene working as a backing singer both in the studio and live.

The Super Band

- The Super Band is a group of music graduates from Srinakarinwirot Prasarnmit University's Department of Western Music. After graduation, they formed a band under the name Sabai Band with as many as 10 members, and performed as a house band at several clubs around Bangkok.

The group eventually got into the commercial music industry by working as recording musicians in the studio. The band first found fame under new name the Big Brothers and contributed to the Chuck-Chawin album Thai Classic Series.

At the end of 2005, they changed their name again to Big and the Superband and released their first album, Take A Brass. Album tracks Rod Deang Nar Pub and Kum Chuey Chuey became hits and the band went on to receive a handful of respected awards including the Si San Award and the Fat Award for best newcomers.

Prode Thanapat

- A graduate in Guitar Performance from the prestigious music school Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA, Thanapat "Prode" Mathayomchand is a passionate jazz fan and an outstanding jazz-fusion guitarist.

He started to play music and sing at the age of 13, and was taught by the likes of Gary Burton, John Scofield, John Abercrombie and Charlie Banacos. After school he toured the US, performing with many famous artists including Grammy Award winner Lisa Fisher, Barry White and Kool and the Gang. After 13 years in the States, Prode returned to Thailand where he began teaching jazz and performing and released his solo album, Prode, a collection of jazz tunes he wrote and produced himself. He is now director of contemporary music at KPN Music Academy and a chairperson of the Department of Music Performance, Assumption University. Bangkok Post

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