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Between Sets with Charmaine Clamor

Filipino native Charmaine Clamor is making an impact wherever she performs, quickly finding her name on numerous marquees across the globe. Wherever this young and sultry jazz siren blankets her voice, heads turn to embrace her signature elegance. Ms Clamor not only vocalizes emotions, she sculpts memories with her hypnotic presence in sync with her sensual injection of jazz melodies.

The jazz scribes portray her from the Filipino Sarah Vaughan to the bridge that bonds two cultures; the truth is Ms Clamor is on a stage by herself. The innovative arrangements, sundry melodies, and metamorphosis of two musical traditions only can be portrayed as stunningly ingenious.

In 2005, this charming young woman crossed the threshold of jazz with the passionate self-debut of "Searching for the Soul," and two years out, the critically acknowledged second album, "Flippin’ Out" (2007), which integrated the heartbeat and swing of American jazz. No doubt more is to come, but from what direction, we will have to wait, for the passion that drives the force of Ms Charmaine Clamor is not just a passing juncture. Ms Clamor is a stunning entertainer with a mission and message to deliver. Jazz was blessed the day this vocalist's microphone went hot!

As we spent time, she spoke about her heritage and how it factored into her writing and technique. Ms. Clamor addressed the American and Filipino cultures and how they both transformed into what we know today as "Jazzipino."

Recently named one of the 100 Most Influential Filipino Women in the United States by The Filipino Women’s Network, one understands the impact she has had, not just in music, but socially worldwide. There is so much more to this young artist as you will discover when you go between sets with Charmaine Clamor.

JazzReview: Much of your music is based on your passion of your heritage. With that thought on the table, talk to us about your life within the Filipino culture and how it has effected your craft.

Charmaine Clamor: America is my home. The Philippines is my homeland. That's why I wear a necklace with both flags on my album cover. Everything I do as an American is informed by the memories of my birth country.

JazzReview: What keeps drawing you back to that connection of Kundiman and Harana style within your music?

Charmaine Clamor: My parents exposed me to beautiful music early on: opera, jazz, the Great American Songbook, Kundiman and Harana. Kundiman and Harana are analogous to the Great American Songbook. They're our classic music, with elegant lyrics and timeless melodies.

JazzReview: Can you describe both for us?

Charmaine Clamor: Kundiman is a Filipino torch song and Harana is a serenade song. They're both unashamedly sentimental. If done insincerely, some might find them corny. If done sincerely, they're deeply moving -- just like our very best songs by Porter, Gershwin and Kern. The Harana is a beautiful, old-fashioned tradition. In the golden days of the Philippines, before text messaging was born, when a young man fancied a Filipina, he would go to her house at night with a guitar and serenade her with a "Harana" song underneath her window. If the lady liked what she heard, the windows would magically open. If she didn't, the windows stayed shut all night. So you've got to sing it right.

JazzReview: You're quoted as stating that "Jazzipino is the new musical genre that results from melding traditional Filipino folk songs and instruments with American jazz and blues." Describe the origin of this concept and how you integrate the two. In other words, take a song and go from start to finish within your process.

Charmaine Clamor: It's been a lifelong dream to share the music of my birth country, the Philippines, to a wider audience. After my first record, "Searching for the Soul," it was an organic move to record my Filipino music and the idiom that I chose to do it. "Jazzipino" stems from my love for both jazz and traditional Filipino music. I simply took some of the most beloved songs of my childhood and rounded off the "squareness" and made them swing.

JazzReview: Are there other tunes that you have not recorded that would embrace the "Jazzipino" flavor?

Charmaine Clamor: Yes, there are a lot more beautiful Jazzipino songs coming your way that I will be recording in the near future. In fact, I already started the process.

JazzReview: It can be said that your voice could melt the most complex of moods. It brings moments to life just by the approach you surrender to your audience. At what time in your life did you discover the true style of Charmaine?

Charmaine Clamor: Not until recently. Any singer will admit that in her earlier artistic life, she attempted to imitate her musical muses. I did this as well. Thanks to positive audience reaction throughout the years of performing live, I was given affirmation of the unique sound that I have contralto with dark, rich, sultry tones. More importantly, I give myself pleasure when I hear this unique sound coming from my voice. The combination of the two helped develop the Charmaine sound.

JazzReview: There can be an epiphany in our lives which sometimes changes our career path. What was it and when did you move from physical therapy to jazz?

Charmaine Clamor: I decided to jump off the cliff, quit as a full time physical therapist, and pursue a career in music when I just could not deny the hunger I had in me to perform. People always claim to embrace "carpe diem," but few of us actually seize the day.

JazzReview: Your first project was "Searching for the Soul" and now jazz celebrates "Flippin Out." How do the two differ? What did you discover recording the first that brought you greater insight in recording the current one?

Charmaine Clamor: "Searching for the Soul" is about the journey I experienced in finding out which direction I should go artistically, and what it is that I need to communicate to my audience. "Flippin’ Out" is the continuation of this journey, expressing to my audience who I am and what my music is about. What I learned from recording my first album is that you should really find in yourself what makes you unique, what your special ingredient is and throw it in the pot!

JazzReview:What did you like best about recording "Searching for the Soul" and on that note the same for "Flippin Out."

Charmaine Clamor: With "Searching for the Soul" I enjoyed recording with the talented musicians on the album live in this big recording studio. That was fun. I liked learning about the process of recording. With "Flippin’ Out" I had the pleasure of working with such brilliant musicians, including my idols, Christian Jacob, Ray Brinker and Trey Henry. In addition, I love that I was able to record with my Pinoy brothers and the kulintang ensemble! For both recordings, I like that I was able to record songs by Mr. Z. Recording "Flippin’Out" was just a special experience for me because of the uniqueness of the material and the concept of the album.

JazzReview: You have been characterized as Sarah Vaughan among others. That aside how would Charmaine describe herself in style, performance, and lastly in her philosophies both in art and life?

Charmaine Clamor: My musical muses hail from different genres and different cultures.

My life experience as an only child raised by beautiful parents, and growing up in America as a Filipino immigrant all contribute to the sound and style that is uniquely mine.

My performance and life philosophy is simple: Tell the truth.

JazzReview: Your climb up the preverbal jazz ladder has been faster than most one would say. What do you attribute that to? Why do feel the Jazzipino was accepted like it was with the public?

Charmaine Clamor: I attribute it to the tremendous support of my family and friends, the fabulous Charmaine Team put together by FreeHam Records, my fierce dedication to spread my music to a wider audience, and the openness of the music community for something different. I believe Jazzipino was given such positive reception because jazz has always been the immigrant’s music. Everyone has something to contribute to the pot.

The fans of this music have a taste for different ingredients, so long as they're tasty! Our Kundiman and Harana have such beautiful melodies and timeless lyrics. If you meld them with the swing and soul of American jazz then they become irresistible.

JazzReview: Now let’s proceed to "Flippin Out," which has made the jazz populace and by the reaction of the charts, take serious notice. Take us through the development both in the selection of it tunes and the arrangements involved in creating the sound.

Charmaine Clamor: I selected songs that spoke to me, that brought back powerful memories or evoked strong emotions. The arrangements evolved through the genius of the trio, with some input from the chick singer. For example, on "With or Without You," the U2 song, I suggested we do it in a way that emphasized the loneliness, the solitude of the lyrics. Something completely different than the original pop version. Within minutes, right there in my living room, Trey and Ray came up with the incredible groove that appears on the album.

JazzReview: I have to ask about "My Funny Brown Pinay," which is a retransformation effort one would say. Your effect on this Rodgers and Hart original "My Funny Valentine" piece was a success and sent a very strong message back home. Give us your opinion on this production.

Charmaine Clamor: It's an anthem of pride. I was raised in a culture that is in many ways still feeling the effects of colonial occupation. The key phrase -- "Don't change your hair for me, stay" -- summed up my feelings about my Filipina sisters. You know, it wasn't until I came to America that anyone thought I was attractive, because in the Philippines, everyone is trying to erase their brown skin with lightening creams and soaps. I would pinch the bridge of my flat nose to try and make it pointy. I'm hoping this song -- and my life -- can be an example to women back home: "Maganda ka -- you are beautiful!"

JazzReview: The arrangement of "Candy" just took the mood of the spin to a new level. Was the swing piece difficult to arrange? What impact did saxophonist Julius Tolentino have on the outcome?

Charmaine Clamor: It was effortless. The cats on this record just swing so hard, everything came together magically. And my man Julius can't help himself. He can blaze, he can imply, he can comment, and I love his solo on this song.

JazzReview: The Filipino culture is wonderfully represented in your five-cut production called "Filipino Suite." First talk about the musicians that accompanied you on this effort.

Charmaine Clamor: They're a mix of Americans and Filipinos, and they all understand how to meet at the intersection of two cultures. My guitarist, Ric Ickard, and ukulele player, Abe Lagrimas (who actually plays drums in my touring band), are Filipinos so they understand the historical context of the music. And my percussionist, Gustavo Garcia, from Veracruz -- he's our "Mexipino" -- puts the Latin spice on it.

JazzReview: In the first piece of the suite you go from "Panahon Na," which segues from a chant to a sultry ballad called "Hindi Kita Malimot," a stunning change of moods. How did you come about performing and arranging this piece?

Charmaine Clamor: Panahon Na means "Now is the time." It has two meanings: It is now the time for Filipino music, language and instruments to have a wider audience. And now is the time for the Filipino songs to start on Flippin’ Out. I wanted an abrupt transition to Hindi Kita Malimot, which is a very popular Kundiman, as a sweet treat for my Kababayans (my people). On live performances, I usually get a scream from Filipinos because it is so unexpected.

JazzReview: The love song "Usahay" is such an angelic journey of devotion. You say you first heard it sung in Bisaya in Cebu City. Tell us if you will how this song became part of "Flippin Out" and was it difficult for you to perform?

Charmaine Clamor: I first heard "Usahay’ during my last visit to the Philippines in Cebu City, being sung in a guitar factory I was visiting. This song is in Bisaya that is one of the many dialects in the Philippines, which is also my father’s native tongue. I decided to include this beautiful piece to pay tribute to my amazing father who taught me how to pronounce the words and taught me its meaning.

JazzReview: On the flip side, you seem to be having fun on the spin "I Need A Lot of Love" which is a fiercely heated ride for the listener. What was it like in studio during the recording of this spin?

Charmaine Clamor: Mr. Z, my FreeHam Records colleague, composer of this song and guest vocalist, had so much fun recording this tune. We were dancing in the studio!

JazzReview: When performing live do you stick to the studio version or does it become a more animated presentation?

Charmaine Clamor: We definitely liven up this number up for live performances. It becomes a party.

JazzReview: What was the most difficult part of putting this project together?

Charmaine Clamor: Since we feature many Filipino artists from different parts of the U.S., the hardest part was arranging the recording schedule. Making the music was easy and fun.

JazzReview: If there any element of your craft you would like to get more involved with?

Charmaine Clamor: I took classical piano training as a child and I would like to learn someday to be able to accompany myself. I also would like to be a better composer and arranger, enough that I could record a whole album with my original compositions.

JazzReview: After being part of the music industry and two discs out thus far, what is your opinion of the business and what would you like to see changed?

Charmaine Clamor: I'll say this: It's no place for the faint of heart. Nothing could be harder.

JazzReview: What is next for Charmaine and have you thought of your next spin?

Charmaine Clamor: I have two projects in the works. The first one is a Harana album, which will contain Harana songs from different regions in the Philippines and will be in different dialects. The second one is a straight-ahead jazz album with arrangements by me and my band, and some original compositions from my colleagues here in L.A.

JazzReview: Now for something completely different! If you were contracted to do a CD with 10 cuts on it with 10 different artists from the past in Jazzipino, who would they be and what song would you do?

Charmaine Clamor: Oh, what a fun question. Okay .

1. Sarah Vaughan -- Dahil Sa ' Yo (Because of You)

2. Shirley Horn Sa Ugoy ng Duyan (Rocking of the Cradle)

3. Betty Carter Manang Biday (Miss Biday)

4. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong Lahat ng Araw (All of My Days)

5. Frank Sinatra Hindi Kita Malimot (I Can't Forget You)

6. Charlie Parker Maalaala Mo Kaya (Could You Still Remember)

7. Nina Simone Dandansoy (name of a boy)

8. Billie Holiday Minamahal Kita (I'll Be Loving You)

9. Antonio Carlos Jobim -- Ikaw (You)

10. Duke Ellington -- Sarungbanggi (Isang Gabing Maliwanag)

Karl Stober is a freelance critic and journalist internationally. If you wish to contact him for a project or interview please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Charmaine Clamor
  • Subtitle: Flippin’ Way Out for Jazzipino
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