When Ryan Gosling’s character in the critically acclaimed La La Land, Sebastian, declared that “jazz is dead”, it sparked an intense music debate over the current direction of the genre. The quote, however, prompts laughter from Carl and Alan Maguire, two internationally recognised 21-year-old jazz twins, now touring around Asia.
“I actually only just watched the movie,” laughs Alan. “I don’t necessarily agree with the assessment, though. From what we’ve seen from our friends and fellow musicians, jazz is alive and well.”
Born in Tokyo to an American father and a Japanese mother, but raised in Hong Kong, the twins went to South Island School before later relocating to Memphis, Tennessee in the United States. The two discovered their love for jazz after joining the world-renowned Stax Music Academy, with Carl picking up the drums and Alan, the bass. After they were discovered by Grammy Award nominee Donald Brown, the twins are now writing their own international success story, and have released an album, and embarked on several international tours.
This summer, the Maguire twins are touring Asia, and have performed several shows in Hong Kong and Japan. Young Post caught up with the Maguire’s on their stop in the 852 earlier this month.
What inspired you to get together and pursue jazz?
Carl: We used to be in a rock band back when we were in South Island School. We didn’t know anyone to jam with when we moved to Memphis, so we decided to join this famous music academy called Stax that specialised in soul music but also touched on jazz. It was pretty difficult at the start – it was filled with a lot of inner city kids, and we were the only non-black students in the programme. But everyone was so talented and encouraging, and it was there we learned to truly love jazz.
How supportive were your parents of your musical venture?
Alan: Our parents were both incredibly supportive of us. I remember the second that my bass teacher told us having an upright bass would double the number of gigs we could get, my mum drove me to Nashville, which was three hours away, to buy an upright bass. I know most Asian parents tend to be sceptical of their children pursuing an arts career but without the kind of support our parents have given us – accompanying us on tour, driving us to practice, and helping us find gigs – we wouldn’t be where we are today. Our mum is pretty much now our manager.
What was it like to record your first album?
C: It was pretty amazing. We got to record in a legendary studio in Memphis, where famous artists like The White Stripes, MIA, Isaac Hayes, and Dave Matthews had recorded stuff. We got to work with some inspiring musicians as well, including [Grammy Award winning Jazz artist] Kirk Whalum and Donald Brown. They gave us great advice that helped us grow as musicians.
How does your Hong Kong upbringing influence your music today?
A: We discovered music here after we formed a band with classmates in South Island School, and Carl and I used to practise after school at home, and we took lessons at Musicland in Causeway Bay. All of was a great introduction to music.
How would you classify your music style?
C: We tend to play a blend of traditional and contemporary jazz – but we also incorporate many other genres into our music. For example, sometimes we’ll add elements of hip hop, drum and bass, Latin, and many more genres into it. Because we’re based in Memphis, we’ve also been inspired by soul, R&B, gospel, and blues music too. There are only two of us, so we have different guest musicians join us, and a lot of what we play depends on who is with us that day.
Any advice for readers who would like to be musicians?
A: Play with people better than you. We improved as musicians by joining a music academy filled with people that were more talented than us. By playing with, and sitting in on sessions with, these more experienced musicians, we were forced to raise our game.
Edited by Ginny Wong