THE country’s queen of Jazz, Annie Brazil (born Justiniana Bulawin), died of pneumonia at the age of 85 on the afternoon of March 5 in Quezon City, her children — singers Richard James B. Merk and singer Rachel Anne Wolfe, and Raffy Wolfe — confirmed in separate Facebook posts on the day of her passing.
“We are saddened by the demise of Ms. Brazil known as the Grand Lady of Jazz and the Philippine Queen of Jazz,” said an official statement from the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson on March 6.
“For the woman who has lived a life full of music, rest in peace and may perpetual light shine upon her as we pray for the repose of her soul,” the statement continued.
Ms. Brazil had been based in New Jersey, USA, for the last 20 years, living with her daughter. She suffered a stroke in 2017 while visiting in the Philippines and was advised not to travel.
Ms. Brazil was born in Manila in 1934 and started singing at the age of six in front of American soldiers in Clark Air Base and Jimmy’s Night Spot in Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard).
“I started singing with a big band when I was 12. I was not only singing jazz, I was singing old songs. I used to listen to Vaughn Monroe, [Frank] Sinatra, Vic Damone, Perry Como… Nat King Cole,” she said in a YouTube video posted in 2018.
“You gotta have a sound for jazz, you can’t just sing jazz. You’ve got to have the sound, the feeling, the soul, and the spirit, you know?” she explained.
In a career which spanned almost eight decades, she had sung with jazz greats like Nina Simone, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington.
In 2003, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Filipino-American Jazz Society, and in the same year, she also received an award from the Asian American Jazz Festival in New York.
“When I’m on stage, I’m a totally different person. I’m alive, it’s like I’m home,” Ms. Brazil said in the video before saying that she “doesn’t want to stop singing until He takes my gift away.”
She might have been called the Queen of Jazz or the Grand Lady of Philippine Jazz but the signer disliked this, saying that she hates “being called the Queen of Jazz” because “queens are just for beauty queens, right?”
“But we have fun giving titles to artists right? I don’t mind,” she said in the YouTube video.
And despite her passing, it seems Ms. Brazil’s gift of song has brought people together once more as her friends and loved ones spent the first few days of her wake singing, including pianist Henry Katindig who performed Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Just the Two of Us” as seen in a video posted on Facebook.
“I lost my Queen of Jazz. I lost my dearest mom, Annie Brazil. Dear God, please bless the loving soul of my dear mom. Please take good care of her in your beloved kingdom. I love her very, very much. ‘Til we meet again, mom,” jazz singer Mr. Merk posted in his Facebook page.
In the same platform, actress Vivian Velez and composer Vehnee Saturno extended their condolences.
“My sincere and deepest sympathies to the Merk family for the passing of their jazz matriarch, Annie Brazil. I had the rare opportunity to share the stage with her and other Pinoy Jazz luminaries at the Catalina Club in Hollywood, where we all shared the most heartwarming and gracious of vibes,” jazz guitarist Johnny Alegre said in a Facebook post.
“Rest In Peace tita Annie. Your friends in the world of jazz are grieving too. Eternal rest grant unto your soul, let perpetual light shine upon you,” jazz singer Lorna Cifra said in a separate post.
“I just want to be remembered for my voice and for my name, Annie Brazil,” Ms. Brazil said in the YouTube video.
Ms. Brazil was involved with an American DJ James Bernard Merk based in Okinawa and they had a son. After his death at the young age of 31, Ms. Brazil married music impresario David Wolfe, who was the father of Rachel Anne. They adopted Raffy in 1986.
The singer lies in state at the Premier Suite 1 Chapel, Loyola Memorial Chapels, Guadalupe Makati. Viewing is until March 9 and cremation will be on March 10 at the Loyola Crematory in Makati. — Zsarlene B. Chua