“Mon’s performance at Catalina was the alarm clock [that] my jazz spirit needed to wake from its catatonic dormancy throughout the pandemic! It was a great jolt of jazz as Mon covered standards, new materials, and Tagalog songs (with his children Carlo and Nicole along for the ride!) The great Hoagy Carmichael (who wrote my dad’s favorite “Stardust”) penned another great composition called “Skylark” which Mon sang with such finesse and elegance. One of my personal highlights was Mon’s performance of the Gregory Porter tune “Take Me to the Alley” (I actually heard Gregory Porter sing that when he opened for Diana Krall at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago). All in all, [it was] such a wonderful night of music by a consummate performer.” – Ted Benito, a jazz impresario/producer.
The tree and me
Accomplished. Consummate. Generous. Kind. Mon David generated results that were more than exquisite, more than a matter of techniques, more than the expressions of his feelings; he entered the realm of spirit.
It felt like a person kneeling in prayer, hitting every note, every emotion, every cadence, on pitch.
Songs about homecoming, family, being in love, planting trees that provide comfort, shade, “rather plant a sapling tree, lay my ashes, throw my body…our seeds will scatter far and wide across God’s fertile countryside, the tree and me,” he sang.
Ted Benito described Mon’s rendition, “which he dedicated to the frontliners [the nurses, the doctors, the first responders] became a call to action. Not for anything physical or political… for just being human…feeling compassion…respecting humanity.“
It makes us recall that in every man’s life, there comes a time, sooner or later when his soul draws the line. One starts to think, as one listens, “Who am I? But, truly who am I? Am I an isolated spark of dust, briefly lit, and destined to fade forever? Or am I a fragment of a greater humanity, waiting to return to my own Home? It is a passionate inquiry, having an urgency born of our encounter with life and proximity to death,” as Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, a Rabbi wrote in “From Ageing to Sageing.”
Why not, when close to two years into the Coronavirus pandemic, we are mourning 770,891 deaths in the US, in a population of 331,000,000. But not just in the United States, the virus has claimed 5,145,045 lives worldwide in over 190 countries. In recent months, Facebook posts from the Philippines were on untimely deaths: musician, filmmaker, civil rights lawyer. Sampaloc in Manila had 80% of its residents, afflicted with Coronavirus.
Mind you, it was not Halloween and we were past Dia de los Muertos or All Souls Day. Yet, it felt somber, still, but also joyful, a bit apprehensive to be indoors.
I had an unusual reaction to the “homecoming” title — was this a prelude to retire perhaps? Yet, he told us his hometown is in Santo Tomas, Pampanga and now, Canoga Park, while singing “No more blues, I am going home, Home is where the heart is, no more tears…no more fears.”
Could he be yearning for another home? Or simply saying: “LA, find a place for me. City of Angels that’s where I wanna be. Been living here 15 years…living in this beautiful City of Angel’s parks, beaches,” a Bill Withers song adapted to Mon’s sentiments for the night.
The band and the origins of the lullaby
When Mon sang “Lullaby for Nanay,” many were moved, some choked, and even a few more wiped away their tears, men included. It must have been perhaps that we were all collectively suffering while mourning hundreds of thousands of deaths, including Mon’s own mother, Ima who passed away in 2020.
“From the moment I heard NY – based harpist, Ms. Riza Printup played it at one of the Fil-Am Jazz festivals at Catalina Jazz Bar and Grill, the ‘Lullaby for Nanay’ melody has been etched in my heart and inspired me to write the words. Lalo pong naging matingkad noong nagpahinga na si Ima during the covid period. (It even became more intense when Ima died during the covid period). It was quite a challenge in front of a live audience, dahil iniiwasan ko ang bumigay habang inaawit ko. (as I tried not to give into my grief, while I sang it). I’m always reminded of her habilin at patnubay (of her last will and guidance) -“Monching, pursue what’s in your heart and surrender everything to God.”
“Kalinga mo, baon ko, pakakaingatan ko – Your nurturing care is my provision, I will take good care of it,” Mon sang with the intensity of his love for his Mom.
We felt his pain. We saw his struggle to maintain composure. “Bawat sandali at bawat galaw laan ko at alay ko sa iyo Nanay.patnubay mo ay baon ko…pagibig mong dalisay.” (Every moment and every move, I dedicate and offer to you, Nanay, your guiding lesson is my provision as your unconditional pure love).
It was as if his soul was imprinted not just by his Ima, but many jazz artists he paid homage to, that night: Beatles, Gregory Porter, Billie Holliday, Oscar Brown, Jr., John Hendricks and Leonard Bernstein, the composer, conductor, pianist and humanitarian.
As generous as Mon was in his sharing his feelings and his experiences, so were his bandmates in the way they accompanied him. In synch. Respectful. On cue. Not competing in volume with the vocal space.
Larry Koonse, Mon’s self-declared birthday gift, was simply prolific on the guitar, yet nuanced and quite playful.
Tateng Katindig played with very few music sheets and improvised with flair, as he made the piano keys feel like butter, playing the entire range of sounds on the piano.
Abe Lagrimas, Jr. was as prolific with drums as his ukulele that at times, he is referred to as a one-man band, and Mon asked him in jest, not to consider entering the ‘world of voice’ onstage or else, he will be muted by Abe’s talents, and Edwin Livingston who played the bass quite well.
‘In My Life’
As we said our goodbyes to Nicole David that night, an excited Rex Sampaga, a music industry professional, shared his feedback: “’In My Life’: a very nice waltz-like arrangement in ¾ time, while keeping the integrity of the melody and song written by Lennon/McCartney. I think that both Beatles would have approved of this thoughtful and jazzy arrangement.”
Nicole sang the opening bars with her velvety smooth voice, hooking us up to hear more of the new arrangement.
Even Michelle Sy was equally moved: “But one song that truly touched me deeply (and it always does) is ‘In My Life’ a duet by Mon and his daughter, Nicole. A duet between father and daughter in itself touched me even more because of what the song imparts – the love we all remember as the most significant, the deepest of them all. And as I reminisced (as I always do when I hear this song) I am always reminded of how important it is to love one’s self in the most unconditional way because it is through this love that I know I can give love and kindness and compassion to others – to family, to friends, to extended family, to strangers. It is a melancholy song if seen with earthbound eyes. But it is a spirit-filled song when taken as a spiritual homage to what we spiritual beings do as we walk through this life here on earth. It is truly a very powerful spiritual song in my book.”
Do you recall earlier what I wrote about Mon reaching the realm of his spirit? Much like MJ Harden, a singer in Hawaii, featured in Hawaiian Elders Speak, who said: ”Every person is an individual. I think what counts is your expression, your personal feeling, When you hear a song, you learn it, you know it, and you take it down and strain it through your heart. Open the ears of your heart and you can hear something good all the time.”
As Nicole called his brother, Carlo onstage to do a Tagalog song with Mon, she asked him “what do you recall about Dad that had the most impact for you?”
Carlo responded that at 14 years old, he was helping out as a production assistant onstage during his dad’s concert. One waiter admired Mon’s Barong Tagalog (an intricately hand-embroidered formal shirt made of pineapple fibers or jusi). After the concert, Mon took it off and gave it as a souvenir gift to this stranger.
The true benefit of Mon’s generosity is beyond the material gift to this waiter.
It is an inner revolution, a lesson learned by a 14-year-old Carlo, but also, it gave “fire to the soul” of Mon to become more fluid, to be more willing to take a risk and the boundaries disappeared between him and the stranger/waiter, and together they merged into whole, a humanity that Michelle Sy became part of, feeling one with father, daughter, and Carlo that evening.
It was a moment touching the deepest strata of our beings, as Piero Ferrucci wrote in the “The Power of Kindness,” “for the generous person, borders are permeable. What is yours – your suffering, your problems is also mine. This is compassion. What is mine – my possessions, my body, my knowledge and abilities, my time and resources, my energy is also yours. This is generosity.”
When Nicole sang “Two is Better than One,” a song by Taylor Swift and Martin Johnson, we were seeing the synergy created by a loving dad who calls his daughter Gel, short for an angel, a mom who pushes to connect to her creativity, to her craft, that moments earlier before soundcheck, she was giving her twins their bath so they can come with their dad, who was just getting off work, so all can join Mon for his birthday concert.
“Two is Better than One” truly is a gift from Nicole’s beautiful velvety voice that gives meaning to “Maybe it is true I can’t live without you, maybe it is true two is better than one.
And while Carlo sings, as he plays the guitar, he glances at where his family sat: Tala with her mom, Hanika.
An endearing walk back through the past, with APO singers that Mon was part of, the family of Mon, Carlo and Nicole sang a homage, a Song of friendship, Awit ng Barkada, a song for the ‘tribe’, ‘the clan’, the ‘close friends group’ and instead of friends, this family of singers: “Hirap at ginhawa, kasama mo kami, kasama mo, kasama ninyo,” (In struggles and in comfort, I am with you, with you, with all.)
Mon leaves nothing but love towards the end of his show, and even as he sang Kalakbuhay, a journey mate, he reminds us with Gregory Porter’s song “Take Me to the Alley,” a favorite of Ted Benito’s, as ours, the expressions on Mon’s lyrics as he sang these: “Take me to the afflicted one, take me to the lonely ones that somehow lost their ways, let them hear me say, that I am your friend, come to my table, rest in my garden, you will have a part. the hungry ones, the tired ones, I am your friend.”
And with the untiring generosity of Ann’s, his wife’s unconditional support, Mon’s children: Paolo, Nicole, Carlo and Mika who all attended with their spouses and partner with Mon’s grandchildren: Noah, 7 years old; Nico and Leo 4 ½-year-old twins; Bella – 3 years old and Tala – 2 ½ years old who all joined Mon to greet him a happy birthday, the audience saw first hand a joyful sight of family love onstage.
That evening, our hearts were warmed up, uplifted by the songs of Mon David and family, nurtured by a very loving Ima, that continues to lit Monching’s hearts, as Ann’s heart to us all, we were all moved to give the Barkada David an enduring standing ovation.
A mother’s heart, now deceased Ima, still welcomed us all through her son and his family! Mabuhay kayong lahat David family! Long live the David family! There is no singing family like yours, kept alive by your circle of love and love for the community!
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 13 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. Degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM writing workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.