Music & Culture
Music & Culture

From New Orleans to Cubao: How Tago is Keeping Jazz Alive

From New Orleans to Cubao: How Tago is Keeping Jazz Alive


Maria Grant May 27, 2019 Music & Culture

It’s not tago how you can help keep jazz alive!

Jazz music can trace its history in the singsong call-and-response tradition of enslaved African-Americans in plantation houses that arose from work songs. The Jazz Age came in the 1920’s when its popularity nation-wide in the US solidified. With its melancholia and hilarity, jazz played a significant role in the civil rights movement criticizing the Jim Crow laws of racial segregation. “How will it end, ain’t got a friend. My only sin is in my skin. What did I do to be so black and blue?” Louis Armstrong sings in “What Did I Do to Be So (Black and Blue)” From then, Jazz became a global phenomenon with listeners transcending race and class, and can be heard from the everywhere. It forms communities wherever it can be played and heard, even in tiny pubs tucked away in the city. Tago Jazz Bar is one to take that resistance to heart.

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Jazz in Cubao

True its name, Tago Jazz Bar, literally translates to hidden, sits discreetly on Main Avenue in Cubao, Quezon City. Started by a group of friends in 2011 hoping to gain an audience hungry for Jazz and not long after it became a home to local and international jazz talents. But even with a blazing head start, the growing success of Tago was not without challenge. Six months after it first opened, most of the business partners withdrew, the venue was without electricity, water, and essential resources to preserve the upkeep of the young venue. Nelson Gonzales, the remaining sole owner of the bar shares that he decided to rebuild the refurbished house it occupies – a testament to their resilience and dedication to spreading the language of Jazz. Nelson Gonzales rebuilt the house with help but most of the time with his own hands and with what resources he could find until Tago Jazz finally reopened in April of 2013, in time to celebrate and be part of the International Jazz Day, held every 30th of April.

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Gonzales wears many hats at the Tago Jazz bar. He’s the owner, caretaker, a resident musician and, whenever necessary, even the maintenance guy. This do-it-yourself attitude he excludes spills over Tago which makes it a singularly homey place with the growing number of patrons accumulated over the years are family where they “share one roof, one intimate stage, one music, one language. Jazz.” shares Gonzales. Aside from harboring local and international talents, a diverse mix of audience, and being a jazz haven in an otherwise hectic city, Tago boasts their UNESCO endorsement as a home venue for International Day of Jazz with the thumbs up of Herbie Hancock to boot. Hancock is one of the most influential modern jazz pianist, and UNESCO ambassador for intercultural dialogue and chairman of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

Tago is everything but hidden.

It’s no surprise that Jazz is a genre that’s close to the heart of Filipinos, after all, it’s an art form that takes its roots in improvisation and jamming which are elements that are tied to the Filipino spirit. There Tago represents most of the country’s brightest and promising artists with a singular vision of encapsulating the raw, and performing Filipino excellence. Tago is everything but hidden. It’s the best kept secret that wants to be seen.

Now, Tago Jazz Bar is at a cross-roads, the house that once Jazz helped built is falling apart, literally. The venue is in dire condition that all operations must be put to a halt, and with their recent announcement for a renovation, they share that Tago will be once again, rebuilt.

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“We now come to another turning point where we have to ‘improvise’ and make sure that there is an existing home for Jazz in the Philippines.”

According to their notice, the venue will be closed for four to six months an ample time to restore their brick and mortar brick by brick.

This tiny Jazz joint needs our help for their ongoing renovation. You can help the folks at Tago keep a sustainable venue for all Jazz cats by donating.

Help Rebuild Tago Jazz