Thursday, March 15, 2007

"I am sax starved" LITO MOLINA - JAZZ BAND LEADER

supposed to have been said by Lito Molina months after he had recovered from that massive stroke which left his left arm and left side of the body paralyzed. But, after the laughter triggered by that funny remark, it was disclosed by Li to himself that he never said that. It was one of his newspaper friends who came up with it.
What was not funny of course was the fact that this versatile musician, named Ezequiel Molina who was Li to to all his friends, was well known not only in the Jazz aficionados in the Philippines but in classical concerts too for Li to played excellent Clarinet - having learned the rudiments of music from his father Professor Antonio Molina who was also a fine composer from pre world war two days. But he excelled in alto saxophone to the point when he sounded almost like Paul Desmond of Dave Brubeck's combo.
When asked what caused his sudden stroke, Lito looks away and with a faraway look in his eyes, half smiles and says, "It was really nothing to be excited about but it had to do with the judging of winners in a coming annual contest for the best Filipino singers, musicians, and Jazz performers." Then he hesitates and after a slight pause looks back at the group and with a wave of the right hand [the one unaffected by the stroke] "Ah let us forget it...for I have put it behind me now...and I am doing well considering..."
During the mid fifties Li to and some Jazz sidemen would hold Friday afternoon jam sessions at the Del Rosario Brothers mini stage on Aurora Boulevard and I would help in emceeing it. Completely informal, other professional and amateur Jazz musicians would be invited by Li to to join the session which usually ended with a terrific ad lib by all back by his 5 piece combo.
In 1981, with the leadership of Roman Jun Cruz, Jr. who was then Chairman of Philippine Air Lines and an avid Jazz fan and record collector, Li to was asked to form something like an All Star Filipino Jazz Orchestra to take part in the annual Monterrey Jazz Festival in Monterrey California. I was asked to join as manager of the troupe and Joe Magsaysay representing Phillip Morris who were cosponsors of the contingent as well as Lulu Ilustre, another Jazz aficionado as part of the public relations team that promoted the whole show prior to the trip. Lito made sure he picked the best reliable musicians which included Angel Pena, well known composer arranger and outstanding bass player, Fred Robles, a veteran pianist who had wide exposure even abroad playing with American and Japanese Jazz sidemen, as well as Roger Herrera, bass player and one time band leader. Invited also were the Posadas trio - Romy, piano, Ricky on drums, and wife Rita Posadas who took her place as the official female vocalist of the band. Listening to Rita that evening reminded me of June Christy's style of singing.
The Jazz festival, was my first ever so I was awed by the way it was arranged. The whole program started on a Friday afternoon and continued on till the evening hours and ending close to 11 p.m. and then the Saturday it starts in mid morning again until late in the evening. Sunday is the final day when most of the star performers like the Count Basie band, and torch singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Tony Bennett appeared all the way to the grand festival finale in late Sunday afternoon.
The show was held on a large and deep stage with seating arrangements for I estimate to be 10,000 or even more. And the excellent sound system certain did justice to the fine Jazz instrumentals and vocals during the three day festival. As they announced the Philippine contingent - a first in the history of Monterrey or for that matter in any Jazz festival in the world I felt proud and with moist eyes I applauded like mad together with Lulu and Joe from where we were seated. One reason for my emotional reaction perhaps was the fact that I had been having "cocktails" in a flask bottle I brought along.
Before the contingent to go and perform at the Monterrey Jazz Festival, founded by Jimmy Lyons three decades ago, was organized Lito was looking for Emil Mijares who was a progressive Jazz pianist and composer but he was supposed to have gone to the U.S. for some business. So, the old standby Piding Alava who was part of the original JAZZ FRIENDS founded by Lito himself came along.
It is interesting to note that in the mid eighties I had the good fortune of managing Jazz Friends when I booked them a the Boulevardier outlet at the Hotel Intercontinental in Makati for a two year contract. After that we moved to the Manila Garden Hotel. The contract in both hotels were simply Sunday afternoon and early evening gigs which went well since the senior instrumentalists played old favorites of the 20s till the eighties.
'That is how versatile they were. However, the singing quartet led by Bong Molina, eldest son of Lito and the other singers which included Kitchie Molina, Bong's wife and two other young vocalists entertained the Sunday afternoon crowd at the cocktail lounge singing vocal arrangements by American Jazz artists like Quincy Jones, Glenn Miller and Stan Kenton.
In 1998 LIto Molina passed away due to complications of kidney failure and others. Even when he was already medically retired due to the stroke, Lito would be extremely reclusive and not even saying a word to anyone, including his wife Pit who also comes from a family of Jazz musicians.

4 Comments:

At November 9, 2010 at 8:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

yan lang po ba ung mga bandmates niyo?

 
At November 13, 2011 at 10:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will never forget the jazz friends which mr. molina mold and made a name for in the music world, and i suppose that made me to love jazz music, it is still vivid in my mind the memories during those times.
I was so fortunate that i always see this guys perform live, when i was still a kid i usually drop by to Manila Peninsula, Makati after school with my aunt and to see my uncle the same time my ninong Wilfredo "Peding" Alava who play the piano along with lito molina and the gang playing live beautifully at
"Tipanan Hall" near the pool side of manila Penn, i alway remember the reaction of the crowd who watches them while they are performing. Let me say, the listener are always astonished and very attentive on the notes when they play a jazz piece, they are like being hipnotized ...all i can say im proud and very lucky to see this guys perform quite oftenly at manila pen for free... i miss this guys...

 
At October 3, 2013 at 11:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

proud to be his Grandson..

 
At April 17, 2017 at 11:14 PM , Anonymous Frank Ilem Jr. said...

My favorite jazz artist was Lito Molina and his group the Jazz Friends (aka Executive Jazz Band). With Tiny Umali, Piding Alava etc. Watched them twice at the Thomas Jefferson Library along Araneta Ave. I was a student at the UERM College of Dentistry.

 

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