Tuesday, December 21, 2010

PING JOAQUIN, FILIPINO JAZZ PIANIST, LOVING FATHER, LOYAL FRIEND

When I was about six years old and attending kindergarten class, I was allowed by my mother to go with my father Porfirio (better known as Ping) in a few piano playing engagements he had around Manila. Foremost among them were the Army Navy Club, Manila Polo Club, Philippine Sea Frontier, and functions at the various diplomatic offices for we were still a young country then co managed by the United States government. You see, Papa was a already a noted Jazz pianist long before I was even born. In fact, he was known among Filipino Jazz musicians as the king of jazz pianists somewhere during the mid thirties. Papa however corrected the fellow musicians by saying "the term Pianists are those who play classical concerts. I play American Jazz so I am called a piano player". And Papa Ping really loved what he was doing. Good looking, personable and a gentleman invariably when he was playing the popular Jazz numbers of the era, the ladies would gravitate to his piano and admiringly watch as he played. I suspect quite a few came rather too close for comfort to my father.

Baptized Porfirio the family fondly called himi "Peping" and later shortened to "Ping" .

It was during the early twenties when he began to switch from classical pieces to Jazz piano numbers as influenced by Fats Waller, Art Tatum and Count Basie - the very talented Negro musicians and loved it.

In time, Papa was already leading a 12 piece Jazz orchestra with contracts abroad like Hongkong, Shanghai, and even in Indonesia.

By the late thirties Papa Ping no longer accepted bookings abroad and on luxury liners, but instead decided to be close to his growing family (I was the eldest and the two girls followed soon after) so he eventually settled for contracts to play at stage shows in Manila theatres starting at the Savoy Theatre (which was renamed Clover after the war). This was when movie houses showed Hollywood movies and in between were the live stage shows, where many who started out as vodavil (they called them that) performers eventually made it in Philippine films and television shows in the fifties and sixties.

Soon, tragedy struck, but Ping was unfazed when his dear father Leocadio suffered his fatal stroke. Immediately, Ping became the sole breadwinner for his mother and nine siblings...and looking back I might say he did wonderfully well.

Not much of the typical father image, I do not recall too many precious moments alone with him save for the usual daily trip when he dropped me off at the Ateneo Grade School in Intramuros and when I would keep him company at the Far Eastern University grounds while waiting for my mother Sarah finish her teaching chores during the early evening hours. Too bad Ping and Mama Sarah could not complete their life together as husband and wife and in 1946 they split up. I was 16 then. Nenita was 14 and Baby was 12. Our young lives were overturned or so it seemed that time. But we stayed with our mother and managed, under the circumstances, to complete our schooling and continued our adventure in life.

Towards the late thirties just years before the Pacific War broke out, Papa Ping worked full time with a brokerage at the Manila South Harbor as Cashier. What I am proud to recall was when suddenly we were at war on December 8, 1941. My father, still with the salaries of employees in his vault still took pains in looking for the addresses of most of the employees and delivering their salaries in their respective homes! That made me proud of him, a true heroic gesture. At the time, offices were closed and law and order had begun to break down. Papa Ping could have just pocketed the salaries and no one would have probably missed it. But, he looked at the situation as an opportunity to do one last act of looyalty, and considered it his sense of duty and loyalty to his position, his firm and his fellow employees.