Jazz singer Rachel Guerzo remembers late music pioneer Alfonso Soliano as a strict but loving grandfather

(From left) Liza Hanim, Ahmad Muriz Che Rose, Aishah and Rachel Guerzo will grace the DFP stage on Malaysia Day weekend with classic hits. — Picture by Ham Abu Bakar
(From left) Liza Hanim, Ahmad Muriz Che Rose, Aishah and Rachel Guerzo will grace the DFP stage on Malaysia Day weekend with classic hits. — Picture by Ham Abu Bakar

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 ― Malaysian jazz singer and pianist Rachel Guerzo learned how to play the piano from her grandfather, the late veteran musician Alfonso Soliano.

Soliano is often credited as a pioneer in the Malaysian music scene, forming the country’s first orchestra, the Orkes Radio Malaya which later on became the RTM Orchestra, composing a slew of hits and was dubbed Malaysia's father of jazz.

Unsurprisingly, Guerzo credits her grandfather as a major influence in her music career.

“For my formative years, all I heard was his voice ― he trained me until I was in my teens and after he passed away I had other teachers.

“It wasn’t a regimented environment where you sat down once a week for a lesson ― it was as and when I could catch him,” she said.

As Soliano’s second grandchild who inherited his love for the piano and music, he doted on the young Guerzo.

“I was very close to my grandfather because I was learning the piano from him and I was kind of like his pet before the rest came along. It was fun.

“In fact, I was the last person to see him alive,” Guerzo told Malay Mail.

This weekend, Guerzo will be singing a medley of her grandfather’s songs ― Airmata Berderai, Gadis Idamanku and Tunas Kasih ― at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s Semalam Di Malaya concert, held in conjunction with Malaysia Day.

 

The two-hour concert will feature Malaysia’s golden oldies sung by Guerzo, Aishah, Liza Hanim and Musly Ramlee, conducted by the MPO’s Ahmad Muriz Che Rose.

As she prepares to take audiences down memory lane, Guerzo remembers Soliano as a strict but loving grandfather.

“My fondest memory would be a pat on the head when I’ve successfully executed what he taught me, which was not very often.

“He could never stand a wrong note. Until today we joke about it in the family that I killed him because I played too many wrong notes,” she laughed.

Admittedly, there is immense pressure and expectations that come with carrying on the legacy of Alfonso Soliano but Guerzo has learned to embrace it.

“I found it such a heavy task initially because everybody is expecting me to follow in his footsteps or excel in my career.

“But now I’m just enjoying it and I take pride in the fact that I carry this torch and I love doing it,” she said.

Catch Semalam Di Malaya on Saturday (8.30pm) and Sunday (3pm) at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas, Kuala Lumpur. Tickets are priced at RM141, RM198, RM254, and RM358, available for purchase at mpo.com.my or call 03-23317007.

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