All that Jazz

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All that Jazz

The Jazz Bar at Hilton in Abu Dhabi has a new resident band, whose members have put their 
heart and soul into their passion


Silvia Radan

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Published: Sat 17 Sep 2011, 11:36 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:03 AM

THE OLDEST HOTEL in Abu Dhabi was the first — and still the only one — to have a club for live jazz bands in the city. It is not a “classic” Blue Note or Village Vanguard where the likes of John Coltrane or Miles Davis used to play, nor is it a sleazy Chicago or New Orleans club where cool “cats” began making jazz in those early 1920s days!

Yet, the Jazz Bar at Hilton Hotel is a groovy, smart looking place, where residents and tourists alike gather for some good music and funky cocktails that carry the names of famous jazz musicians. And, from this September, the Jazz Bar has a new resident band, the Liquid, so we went to meet its members and hear them play!

Lisa Theunisson of South Africa has an extraordinarily versatile voice; Marie-Denise Chalut of Canada is a subtle, soulful vocalist; Canadian Robert Varro is the band’s manager, drummer and a pretty good singer too; Eric Carlos from USA is a pretty impressive vocalist with a taste for rap; Michael (Mike) Muellerleile of USA is the band’s guitarist doing the occasional singing interventions; and Blue Rooney from Canada is a rare vocalist, but puts his heart and soul into his base.

How did you guys meet?

“We were all hired individually by El - Live Production Company from Hong Kong,” says Robert.

“The first gig was just Mike and I, in Vietnam. When the company told me about it, it felt pretty surreal and I didn’t know what to expect, but it did happen and it was really good.”

“Now it’s been more than a year since we worked as a group, playing in China and Oman as well, before coming to Abu Dhabi.”

“Since we all come from different music backgrounds, we have our differences, but we have become like a family.”

“Generally I’m the one choosing the music, but it also depends on the feedback we get from the audience and the hotel’s management. We are a bit different from the bands performing here at Jazz Bar in the past seven years. Our style is less jazzy and more adult contemporary. We have a repertoire of about 200 songs, mostly from mid and late 70s but also from Top 40 hits!”

“So far we don’t have any Arabic songs, but we might try to learn Amr Diab’s ‘Habibi’.”

What do you listen to?

“I love pop - Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys; but I also like the old school, singers like Aretha Franklin,” says Lisa.

“I listen to a lot of R&B, but I like everything with a soulful twist - Alicia Keys, Rehana, Aretha Franklin,” adds Marie-Denise.

“I like the classic staff, you know, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley. I even sing, Floyd’s hit “The Wall” with the band here in Abu Dhabi,” reveals Michael.

“World music is my music! I like a lot of ‘dub’, which is a type of reggae, and I even rap a bit. Whatever comes from the heart, I like it,” says Blue.

“I like rock alternative, bands like Bad Company and Pink Floyd. R&B is always fun too,” goes on Eric.

“I hate all music,” jokes Robert.

“Seriously though, my biggest influence was the Beatles, which took me into classical rock, and when that wasn’t enough anymore, it got me into jazz. Now 70 percent of my music collection is jazz.”

How did you get into music?

“I’m singing and dancing since I was two years old,” claims Lisa!

“At some point I moved to UK, where I began writing my own music. In 2008 I had my first album, ‘HerStory’, but then the recession hit and there was no more recording. Hopefully, after this contract I will go back to song writing.”

“As a kid, I used to listen to my mom’s vinyl records in secret, as she wouldn’t allow me to,” remembers Marie-Denise.

“I discovered soulful music and I wanted to be able to sing like that, so I used to listen to music on cassettes and practice on karaoke machines, trying to imitate those voices.”

“I’m also very much into theatre plays. In schools I used to do a lot of drama, but now it’s getting tougher. This is, though, what I want to do in life - stage and music.”

“My family was big into music, so I was in it too,” reveals Michael.

“As a kid I used to listen to Richie Havens and a lot of old classic staff. When I was seven years old my mother hand me my first guitar and gave me two-three guitar lessons too. I had my first paid gig when I was in senior high school.”

“Later on went into the military, and after four years I felt stuck, didn’t know what to do in life, so I went back to music.”

“My whole life I was in love with music, always picturing myself doing it” declares Blue.

“When I was about nine years old I was on a boat with my family when I heard the power of the horn section of ‘Little Feat’ band and I said ‘that’s what I wanna do! So I was given a saxophone, but after two years I heard the base guitar and said ‘no, that’s what I wanna do’! And base is what I kept doing since.”

“When I first came to Asia 12 years ago I had two base guitars. Now I have 13! Usually, I tend to play the newest one. I believe this is what I was put here on Earth for - to play the base!”

“In 2004-2005 I learnt how to sing in the high school choir,” says Eric.

“I wanted to perfect my voice, though, so I took professional voice lessons. I joined a garage band in San Jose, my hometown in California and we were signed up for some shows. We went on a three months tour living out of a van. Things were going really great, but after five-six months the band’s drummer decided not to play music anymore. We were in the middle of writing our second album; we tried very hard to find another drummer, but couldn’t, so the label eventually dropped us.”

“Then I saw this Asian gig posted online and since I wanted to travel I went for it, and here I am!”

“My father was a musician and every kid wants to be like dad, right?” Robert begins his story.

“I have photos of myself attending concerts when I was not even able to walk. At 13 years old I had my first music show, at 15 I already had a vision of where I want to go in life and at 17 I was making good money from music.”

“I started on guitar, but there was a kid in school who was missing classes to practice his guitar and got better then me, so I decided to switch to drums. I started singing as well, because nobody else would.”

“One day this production company from Hong Kong found me on Facebook and got in touch.”

How do you find Abu Dhabi?

“Hot,” says Marie-Denise.

“I like it. The taxi is cheap,” adds Lisa.

“I like the food here,” adds Blue and everybody else agrees.

“We only went out to Marina Mall, which is around the corner, but we all want to explore more,” goes on Lisa.

“And to the beach,” points out Michael.

What do you miss most from home?

“Concerts and performances,” says Blue.

“Friends and family, Mexican food, the beach, the mountains,” lists Eric nostalgically.

“My hair dresser,” mentions Marie-Denise.

“My mom’s cooking and my godchildren,” says Lisa.

“Friends and family,” mentions Robert.

“Yes, the loved ones,” agrees Michael.

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