Jazz and Other Drugs” was a pleasant way to start off this past weekend. On Saturday, April 6, 2019, friends, family, and local music fans gathered at the Sugar Space to watch six of Utah’s gifted jazz musicians showcase their talent. The occasion was simple: to celebrate instrumentalists and singers (and as a bonus, boost the visibility of Asian American musicians) in the community. Thanks to curator-emcee-performer Brandan Ngo, audiences were privy to a cozy and communal experience.

I interviewed Ngo and singer-guitarist Amanda Lau (who sang a kickass cover of “Rubber Ducky,” mind you) post-show to pick their brains about what brought on the show, why it mattered, and what we might expect from them in the future. The show also featured the stylings of the Merry Kim Kim Trio (keyboardist Jon Kim; cellist John Kim; drummer Aaron Merry), Drew Olsen, Alex Bowen, John Bergquist, and April Kerr. Check them all out in action here.

Brandan Ngo and the Merry Kim-Kim Trio. Photo credit: Charissa Che

Can you tell me why this show was conceived?

Amanda: Brandan! His passion for music and involvement in other local productions motivated him to create his own show. I like to think this concert was his dream come true, the first of many shows I hope!

Brandan: I’ve always wanted to make music, and put on a show with talented musicians, but for some reason it seemed like an unattainable goal for many, many years. I was always waiting for the opportunity to present itself to me; waiting for permission from “people in charge” to grant me a path to go out and perform.

This show is actually a result of a fortunate sequence of events. My friend April Kerr, who is featured in this concert, put on her own concert sometime last year to promote the release of her first ever album. It was an incredible night full of talented friends. Walking out of that, something started fomenting at the back of my mind. I had just watched my friend put something amazing together out of her own volition. It was a novel idea and still quite exotic to me. After months and months of auditioning and searching for opportunities, and after one particularly nasty audition, it finally clicked. If I want to see myself on stage so badly, then I need to put myself on stage. Nothing is stopping me from creating my opportunity. My voice teacher, Keri Hughes, was a great catalyst in getting this concert idea going as well. I knew I wanted to do it; she’s the one that affirmed I’d be crazy not to.

Amanda Lau. Photo credit: Charissa Che

What do you hope to leave your audience with?

Amanda: The joy of jazz!  

Brandan: I hope to leave my audience with a spark and a hunger to create something of their own; the same spark I left with after leaving my friend’s concert a year ago. Good art should inspire you to consume more art; great art should inspire you to create it. I hope at least one person in my audience leaves to finally write that song or take that photograph or choreograph that dance.

John Kim and Aaron Merry. Photo credit: Charissa Che

Tell me a little about the pieces you’ll be performing. Why did you choose them for this occasion?

Amanda: ‘A Love That Will Last” by Renee Olstead – I sang this at a wedding last year, but at the reception, I couldn’t hear myself and I was so nervous that I forgot an entire verse! I cherished the opportunity to play this song again in a more intimate and forgiving setting. I sent Brandan a link to the song and right away, he said “Yes, do this one!” and put it on the set list. Later, he offered me to sing a second song and I said “Yes, if you’ll have me!” I was so thankful, I could literally jam all day, all night. But I was so indecisive on what my second song should be. I kept wavering back to ‘Rubber Duckie’ by Ernie (yes, the Sesame Street one). It’s one of my fun, guilty pleasure songs. When I told Brandan I was thinking of playing this song, I was worried he would think it’s too weird. But instead, he was 100% supportive and said “Yes, do it!” 

Brandan: My first real exposure to jazz was in junior high. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” was a tune that [I] took to… right away. Like many things about your personality, you never quite know why something sticks with you or resonates with you. But I never grew tired of it. I felt it would be fitting for my first concert to be a night of jazz music. This night [would] feature a selection of jazz standards, pop, showtunes, and a few originals. Mostly songs about love and heartbreak, as jazz is wont to [be about].

Left to right: Drew Olson, Alex Bowen, and John Bergquist. Photo credit: Charissa Che

What’s your musical background?

Amanda: I’ve taken 12 years of classical piano lessons ever since I was 5 – thanks mom! In high school, I was in marching band as a clarinetist and in a jazz band as a pianist / xylophonist. I only started singing at the beginning of college, when I bought my first guitar on eBay and would casually practice chords in my dorm room. I do have one original song, called ‘Outcast Your Light,’ which is a hip hop track I wrote for a school project. Calling music my hobby feels like an understatement; even though it’s not my chosen career, music has always been a big part of my life. Every now and then, I get to sing at weddings or community festivals, which is always a treat and a fun way to keep up with music.

Brandan: I have been singing in choirs since high school. I was in the University of Utah Chamber Choir from 2013 to 2015, and went on tour with them to France where we placed 1st in two international choir competitions. I’ve also been doing musical theatre around the valley for several years, including a couple shows at Hale Center Theatre. I’m also a novice ukulele player and a very very very novice drummer. 

April Kerr and John Kim. Photo credit: Charissa Che

What would you like to see in the SLC music culture that is not currently there?

Amanda: More Asian American representation across different genres of music! 

Brandan: This is actually my first venture into the life of a local musician as opposed to an audience member, so I have a limited perspective on what the culture needs. From what I’ve seen, there are already a handful of great venues here for small artists to share their art and create opportunity. In [the] future, I hope to see more of these small venues popping up that are working for the artists and the community.

Jon Kim. Photo credit: Charissa Che

Going forward, where do you hope to take your talents? Any shows planned for the future?

Amanda: I would love to be part of more shows just like this one! I love a cozy, relaxed setting. It feels like home, or my favorite coffee shop. I’d love to collaborate with other musicians, like my younger brother Matthew, who is in his own band, Joker’s Hand! No shows in the future… yet. 

Brandan: There’s nothing like creating live music with talented artists for receptive, supportive audiences. I hope to keep singing, and more importantly, I’ve found I want to keep bringing artists together who have maybe never worked with each other before. I want to put artists on stage who never dreamed they’d ever find the opportunity to stand behind the microphone. I hope to be able to contribute to an already thriving local artist scene where everyone inspires everyone else to keep making music, on their own or with each other. As for shows planned for the future, I want to meet more musicians and artists, so I’m certain that means putting on more shows.

Jon Kim, John Kim, and Brandan Ngo. Photo credit: Charissa Che

Check out more pics from “Jazz and Other Drugs” here.

See all our music coverage here.