Michael Simon, a very original jazz trumpeter and composer based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, has had a wide-ranging career filled with colorful projects. While his playing and compositions have their roots in his Venezuelan heritage, swinging hard bop, and Afro-Cuban jazz, it is never predictable and often goes in surprising directions.
In 2017 Michael released his forth recording, Asian Connection. “This is my second CD recorded live at Kuala Lumpur’s premier jazz club No Black Tie for the NBT label,” says the trumpeter. “It brings Chung Yufeng, a traditional player of the Pipa (a Chinese ethnic string-instrument) into the mix of a modern jazz combo. She captures the very essence of Chinese music with her sound, phrasing and nuances. The group adopted the same name as the album, and is also comprised of the same Malaysian rhythm section as on the previous CD Destiny’s Will (pianist Michael Veerapen, bassist Daniel Foong and drummer John Thomas) plus Terry Hsieh, a sensitive Taiwanese saxophonist and composer based in Taipei. The contact with Asian music and the interactions with Malaysian musicians have impacted my music drastically and have resulted in many new ideas.” Experiencing a cultural transcendence between the West and the Far East, Michael’s music has become reinvented through these new associations. Asian Connection has already had great success performing at the Borneo Jazz Festival in Malaysia.
Following the release of Asian Connection, Michael Simon toured the Netherlands and Taiwan with key artists of the project. The uniqueness of his concept, the brilliance of his playing, and the joyful surprises that are found throughout his music were warmly embraced by audiences of the Tong Tong Festival in The Hague, Amsterdam’s Red Light Jazz Festival, the Taichung Jazz Festival and the Taipei Jazz Festival in Taiwan.
The trumpeter has always seen jazz as an unlimited platform in which all types of music can be combined and renewed without losing their essence or creativity. Born and raised in Venezuela, Michael’s father Hadsy Simon was a guitarist and singer who loved and played boleros, and his brothers, pianist Edward and drummer/percussionist Marlon, were already professional musicians throughout his childhood. Michael began trumpet lessons when he was 12 and spent 1989-91 in Havana, Cuba attending the Ignacio Cervantes Music School. In 1993 he moved to the Netherlands to study jazz at the Rotterdam Conservatory where he earned a degree in arranging and composition. Michael began working regularly with percussionist Gerardo Rosales within a year and in 1996 joined Fra Fra Sound, an association that has continued for over 20 years.
The music of Fra Fra Sound, which is rooted in Surinamese Kaseko and Kawina and influenced by West and South African styles in addition to Caribbean music and jazz, is unlike that of any other group. Some of the highlights of Michael’s association with Fra Fra Sound include collaborations with Lester Bowie, David Murray, Toumani Diabaté, Baseku Kouyaté and Majid Bekkas. Michael has also had long-term associations with De Nazaten and the Rob Mostert Hammond Group, led his own bands (including Roots United, Crianzas and conducting the Dutch Caribbean Groove Orchestra), and worked with Lucas van Merwijk & The Cubop City Big Band, altoist Bobby Watson (1999), Conexion Latina (2005-10), James Carter (2010), and jazz singer Deborah Carter. With his brother Marlon Simon’s The Nagual Spirits, he has performed with such American guests as Bobby Watson, Paquito D’Rivera, John Blake and Giovanni Hidalgo.
In 2004, Michael Simon made his recording debut as a leader with Revelacion (Pramisi Records) which featured him not only as an impressive trumpeter but as a very talented composer with his septet Roots United. In 2009 he made New York Encounter (Fresh Sound New Talent), a straight-ahead jazz set with both of his brothers plus such New York musicians as Miguel Zenon, Peter Brainin, Andy Gonzalez and Roberto Quintero.
The Simon, Simon & Simon Reunion Project is very close to Michael’s heart. “This was started as a wish of my father to see his three sons play music together after many years. It was our first reunion since our beginnings in Punta Cardón, our native town. At this time my Dad was living in his native island, Curacao, so we performed our first couple of concerts there in 2001.” Since then the siblings have had additional concerts in Curacao and in Venezuela. “The SS&S project is the absolute highlight of my career.”
Michael’s prolific work as a composer and arranger is trusted and praised by such bands and artists as Nederlands Blazers Ensemble, Metropole Orkest, Estrella Acosta, Deborah Carter and Quinteto Tango Extremo, to name a few.
Since 2009, Michael has visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on a regular basis, collaborating with local musicians. Memorable concerts by Michael took place at the 12th Johor Bahru Arts Festival and the 10th Venezuelan Week in Malaysia. “I have redefined my music in Asian songs, which to me transmit a sense of stillness and groundedness unlike any other melodies, and let loose of my old influences.” The profound music that resulted is documented on 2015’s Destiny’s Will and on 2017’s Asian Connection for the No Black Tie label and led to the new album East West & Beyond.
East, West & Beyond represents a mutation of different musical cultures. Musical elements from South America and the Caribbean to the Middle East and Asia are evidently represented and fused smoothly to form a coherent sound that is unique to the band. The album brings fresh original compositions penned by Michael Simon, Terry Hsieh and Sri Hanuraga; all of whom are well familiarized with their own musical cultures, they share a love for jazz and envision a modern sound that doesn’t neglect their roots. The music of this group (named after the album Asian Connection) speaks to a wide audience, and serves as a definitive statement of how the group does justice to several different musical idioms.