Two holdovers from Cubao’s bygone era, Cubao X and Main Avenue, are worth visiting.
The rebranding of the Cubao into Araneta Center with its posh malls, five-star hotels, and high-rise condominiums is a much needed facelift to a place that got left behind.
While the sweeping tide of urbanization that has turned Cubao into a 21st century mini-polis is a welcome change, I, on the other hand, love those two holdovers of an era gone by that has given this commercial center more culture than money can buy.
I fell in love with jazz at an early age due to my father’s influence. I have watched Bob James at the Cobo Hall in Philadelphia, was a regular at Birdland in New York, and have even made my pilgrimage to the Java Jazz Festival.
First off, there’s Cubao X (formerly Marikina Shoe Expo), which is perhaps the one and only bohemian place in this country that supposedly prides itself in culture. And second, a five-minute drive away just across Edsa but still part of Cubao, is the western end of Main Avenue that was renamed Justice Lourdes Paredes San Diego.
What is with all this renaming?
Tago Jazz Cafe
Nevertheless, that tree-lined west end is home to an antique and curio shop, a small art gallery, and the last bastion of jazz in this country, Tago Jazz Café.
The name is apt. Tago kasi,” joked its owner and a talented and a thoroughly underrated drummer himself, Nelson Gonzales.
Roxas Boulevard and Malate used to be a swinging part of town in the pre-World War II and post-war years with its jazz clubs that were a huge part of the Manila nightlife. Now, they’re all gone.
In recent years, there was Minokaua in Malate, owned by the Blue Rats’ bassist John Marin Flores. Sadly, it was a casualty of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
So that leaves Tago Jazz Café to hold the fort.
In this quaint club with a homey atmosphere and good food, local jazz legends such as Pete Canzon and Tots Tolentino as well as a talented new generation of artists perform free jazz, hard bop, Dixieland, smooth and modern jazz, as well as the sounds of its Latin American cousins. And you will get to watch some amazing singers whose voices and performances will tattoo themselves into your mind—Skarlet Brown, Melinda Torre of Kiss the Bride, and Faye Yupano of Project Yazz.
Many of the performers are recognizable as sidemen to pop stars and rock musicians. But jazz…it beats in their hearts and their souls.
And occasionally, there are the foreign acts.
Many of the performers at Tago Jazz Café are recognizable as sidemen to pop stars and rock musicians. But jazz…it beats in their hearts and their souls.
Thus far this 2023, there has been the Grammy-nominated Puerto Rican jazz pianist Edsel Gomez, Argentinian singer-guitarist Beto Caletti with his Filipina-British wife, Mishka Adams (who is no stranger to local audiences), and on October 1, the Don Soledad Flamenco Trio from the United States.
Several years ago, Tago Jazz Café was the site of the first live jazz recording made locally and produced for vinyl featuring American expat saxophonist Rick Countryman, one of the Philippines’ foremost bassists in Simon Tan, and legendary Japanese drummer Sabu Toyozumi. That was the first jazz vinyl record released locally since the late 1980s so you know that Tago Jazz Café is writing its own history.
A gathering place for all
Another thing that I enjoy whenever I come over is how there are always new faces. Sure, there are some who have become habitués like me, but you will always see a lot of new faces with every show.
That, in my opinion, is a sign of a healthy scene. Since I go to a lot of shows, especially local productions, more often than not, it is the members of the other bands, their family, and friends who watch. Yes, the same old faces.
No such case here at Tago Jazz Café. You will see fellow musicians (from other genres), novelists, PBA players, Baby Boomers, Gen X, and millennials and even Gen Z. And there is a sprinkling of foreign guests, some who live here while others are tourists who have heard of this jazz bar.
Sometime in early 2022, this noted musician turned over to me a stack of compact discs of Filipino jazz. Yes, he bequeathed them to me including many hard-to-find titles.
“Filipino jazz is dead, man,” he said with a bit of annoyance. “I hope you will love them more than I ever did.”
Aside from a love for jazz and writing about it, it is a quest to figure out if the aforementioned statement is true. Whether there is veracity to it or not, I hope to do my part.
Since then, I have become a Tago Jazz regular. Hence, me being able to say that I see a lot of new faces with every show. And I can point to the recent new releases by the Paolo Cortez Quartet and the Simon Tan Trio with an exciting new release from the incredible Kiss the Bride arriving soon.
While most know me as a fan of rock music and all its sub-genres, I fell in love with jazz at an early age due to my father’s influence. I have watched Bob James at the Cobo Hall in Philadelphia, was a regular at Birdland in New York and have even made my pilgrimage to the Java Jazz Festival.
As a music label executive I have promoted among many others, the music and live concerts of guitarist Peter White and pianist Jim Chappell on the now defunct City Lite 88.3 as well as regular media. I’ve written liner notes for an Eddie Katindig album and am certainly looking forward to putting out Project Yazz and Beto Caletti and Mishka Adams on vinyl via my independent label this 2024.
It might not be much, but I would say it is definitely more than a flicker of hope.
It’s alive all right, but you can certainly tell the world—because it shouldn’t be a secret anymore—that the heart of Filipino jazz beats inside the walls of Tago Jazz Café.
Tago Jazz Café is located at #14 Main Avenue (Camp Crame side) in Cubao. Shows are usually on Fridays to Sundays and occasionally, Thursdays.