The Sanfrancisco Jazz Ensemble’s charity performance in Binh An Village, Saigon

When someone on one of the local Saigon forums posted the schedule of the Sanfrancisco Bay Jazz Ensemble’s charity event and I realised that the final performance was a beautiful outdoor venue on the island resort venue of Binh An Village in the middle of the Saigon River, I had no doubts in my mind whatsoever that I would be there come hell or high water. Not only was entry free, but all proceeds from dinner and drinks went to a charity helping young children from the lower Mekong area in Vietnam gain a decent education. An army of rabid rats with machine guns couldn’t keep me away. Knowing that my friend Khanh had quite a love of Jazz, I invite him and his girlfriend to attend with me.

We met up on Bui Vien street in Pham Ngu Lao and rode across town. We went sort of the long way through District 3 to avoid traffic and I laughed when Khanh stopped to ask directions and I said “Man, haven’t you ever been to Binh An Village ? It’s in Phuong 28. This is only Phuong 27… we have to keep going”. Choi oi. It’s funny when you have to tell Vietnamese people who’ve lived all their life in Saigon how to get somewhere that you’ve only even been to once in your life.

It was a long ride, and despite Binh An Village being a luxury resort venue, the actual road into it is the most rocky, dirt road you’ve ever seen in Saigon. I honestly feared I would fall off or burst a tyre, but we made it in and parked out bikes. We arrived during the band’s break and everything was quiet despite being one hour into the event. We had some friends who were supposed to arrive later (but didn’t bother coming) and the dinner was far too pricey for my friends to afford, so we were invited to take one of the lounges inside, which was fortunate because it did rain a tiny bit, though not enough to make anyone run for cover. I picked a nice looking bottle of red wine from Chile and it was opened and offered to me to taste with the utmost professionalism. Binh An Village knows how to treat customers with class.

The setting was absolutely beautiful and my friend’s girlfriend walked around in wonder at the beautiful gardens and lights and artificial lakes and small ponds and beautiful orchids and other flowers. The band started up and it was a wonderful event. It started off pretty mellow and I wasn’t even sure that there would be a singer, despite the poster claiming that the guitarist and vocalist was Hung Nguyen, who I chatted to after the show and we had a chat about where he came from. He said “My parents come from Hue, but I was born in Saigon, but I obviously live in Sanfrancisco now. How’d you end up here ?”. I told him “I shared a house with an old Vietnamese guy in the Vietnamese suburb of Brisbane and he invited me to come visit Saigon with him. It was supposed to be 10 days which became 6 weeks and then 6 months and now I’ve been here for two years”. He held up his hand and demanded I give him a fist-bump and said “That’s what I’m talkin’ about man. Cool shit”. I really appreciated his enthusiasm for my love of Saigon and the fact that despite living in the USA, he was going out of his way to come and tour south east Asia and especially Vietnam and Saigon for the sake of a charity event to help under privileged kids in his own country. And he was an awesome guitarist and a fantastic singer.

The event wasn’t massive, but definitely large enough. It was not crowded nor empty. There was just enough people to fill every table and lounge and no more. After spending some time taking photos, the organiser from the sponsor JiwaQuest who were offering an all expenses paid holiday at their new island resort in Karimunjawa approached me and asked if I was a journalist and where I was from and I told him I was from Australia and that the photos would be on Google and a story of the event would go on my website. I might submit it elsewhere as well, but I’m not sure who will publish it. His name was Fransour (I hope I got that right) and the event was flawlessly organised down to every intimate detail and I could not fault it in any way.

The band was absolutely brilliant and later in the evening, one of the organisers got up with the band to sing “Getting my kicks on route 66” which was absolutely unreal. Seeing the Sanfrancisco Bay Jazz Ensemble was a once in a lifetime experience, and to see them at one of the most beautiful island resort locations in the middle of Saigon at night time was nothing short of magical. The guests were all happy and I saw nothing but smiles and laughter from everyone. One of the American guys entertained the kids by having two jars of M&M’s and asking the kids to guess the quantity. I was a little disturbed by the fact that he offered $20 each as the prize, because this is a week’s wages based on the average income in Vietnam and I think that giving that sort of money to a child was really inappropriate and he should have encouraged them to take the money and put it into the donations box because I think it sent the wrong message to the kids and I feared even though they were from wealthy enough backgrounds to be at the event, that this was inappropriate and would encourage them to expect handouts from foreigners, but to be fair he spent all night keeping the kids amused and everyone laughed and had fun and one of the young girls was the one asked to draw the winner of the island resort prize in Indonesia.

The wine was world class and some of the best in the world and it’s been a while since I had fine Chilean wine. The music was obviously some of the best jazz music on the planet, and the venue was undoubtedly the best place in all of Saigon or even Vietnam that it could have been held and so beautiful that my friend’s girlfriend was just in awe of its beauty and even I had to admit it was truly one of the most impressive venues I’d ever visited anywhere.

After the show, which continued well after the scheduled finishing time, the band packed up and then mingled with crowd. I stopped to chat to both the lead singer and later the keyboard player. We had a chat and he asked who I was into. I asked if he was familiar with Hugh Laurie’s work and to my surprise he had not heard his album even though he knew of him as being a very popular new Jazz musician and I could not help but enthusiastically talk about how amazing his debut album was and he ensured me that obtaining a copy would be one of his first priorities.

It was sad when the event finished. Towards the end it had just been so lively. Couples got up and danced wonderfully on stage and we were all having such fun and clapping along during the lively numbers. At the end of the night, people stood up and put money into the donation box before going home in addition to the proceeds made through the dinner and wine and it was with a heavy heart that I returned to my motorbike and headed home, feeling rather exuberant and just a tiny little bit inebriated, causing me to race a little through the now much emptier streets of District 3 towards home.

It was a night to remember and I feel privileged to have seen such an amazing jazz band play in such a gorgeous location. The band, the venue and the organisers were all nothing short of perfection and I have to thank the Sanfrancisco Bay Jazz Ensemble for putting on a great show, the sponsors, Fransour and his friends from JiwaQuest, and the very professional staff from Binh An Village who put on such an amazing event.

Xin cam on to everyone involved.

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One Response to The Sanfrancisco Jazz Ensemble’s charity performance in Binh An Village, Saigon

  1. Khazh says:

    Nice writing :D and nice pictures too. I still feel sorry for myself because I missed all of them !

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