[This article is the background to ‘inspire#7: An Open Heart & A Humble Stance (Mario Serio)‘]

And about 2 years ago, pianist, entertainer and mentor Mario Serio asked me to join him as the lead singer on a Chinese New Year’s function gig alongside with the wonderful Ernesto Valerio and friends.

Chinese New Year Quartet - Richard Khan, Ernesto Valerio, Juliet Pang, Mario Serio.

Chinese New Year Quartet – Richard Khan, Ernesto Valerio, Juliet Pang, Mario Serio.

It was a quartet gig and boy was it fun! These boys certainly know how to disco. Mario probably doesn’t remember this, but he was the first one who had me thinking of starting this INSPIRE blog series. Thanks to the long dinner/band break that helped me once again effortlessly reveal my (in his words) “journalistic streak”, I now have the opportunity to ask Mario some of the questions that I had held in for a very, long, time. As with my other ‘interviewees’, I had preferred the more personable approach. Mindfully I had decided not to bring a recording device just so I could share their stories from my personal point of view. However, before Mario and I started, he advised me to record the exchange nevertheless, and I am so glad I did. The stories he shared were so varied, coloured, and detailed, and there were just so many that I would never have been able to remember them the way I did with Sara, Julian or Crystal.

He is to me, namely, an educator, an accompanist, a colleague, a teacher, a mentor, a friend. I’d first met Mario at Swing Bar at Cuppage Centre (Singapore) when I was just out of high school. But he probably couldn’t remember that. Through the years, he had remained someone I continue to regard with high esteem. The word ‘integrity‘ and its root word ‘integer‘ come to mind. He was the one and the same constant through it all. He never preached, or boasted, or spoke unkindly, he always tried to his best to pay his musicians and singers on time (sometimes out of his own pocket), and yet when it was time for correction, he was precise, firm and unwavering. If he saw a dollar on the street, he was not the sort to shy away from picking it up or pretend to be. But neither was he someone who turned away from helping someone in need or feel the need to boast about it if he did.

Mario Serio & Juliet Pang for the Prestige Brand Awards

Mario Serio & Juliet Pang for the Prestige Brand Awards 2010

I am so proud to have him call me friend, and even more proud to say, that of the mere 120 (very) significant (to my husband Didi and I) people (a small number in a Chinese or Indonesian wedding) we invited to our wedding, he was there, in between his work commitments. He had seen me grow up over the years, in so many ways. And even though we never did hang out that much, whenever we did collaborate, the friendship was something I deeply appreciated. I realised how blessed I was (I continue to give thanks for this even today) to be surrounded by very good musicians like Mario, with very good manners and work ethics from the very start. I recall asking him to join me on a few of my recording projects, including the video recording which never quite made it unto the album because digital and printing restrictions. He came down braving the rain. If I recall correctly, he had just made it, before rushing off to another evening gig. I could not express my thanks enough. It was just a video and it was such a last minute call. (I wasn’t much of a planner, either)

In the recent years, I had set myself up to one task, immerse and enjoy jazz. No holds-barred. I listened to as much I could, sang and even tried my hand on various instruments (the piano, ukulele), soaking myself in jazz music and the history as much as I possibly could. I was just (very) short of actually moving to New York. In August 2014, Mario kindly invited me to join him on SingJazz Vox Series, and at that time I had decided to present the bebop and vocalese material I was working on. We had a blast. But what Mario said to me after the gig wrecked me. It dawned on me afterwards (when I’d woken up from my bubble) that it had been so significant to me, only because it was Mario. He had been so instrumental to my growth as a person and musician, that it was the highest compliment anyone could have given me even ’til today. It wasn’t as if he sat down and mentored me over coffee after the gig. Everyone just wanted to go home. (I think he might have been going off to meet his date with his wife, Michelle – the lovebirds. :)) I recalled friends, Wendy Phua, Mo Basta, my husband and Mario were all in the carpark, preparing to drive home, and then he said, “Juliet,… man…. i haven’t played with you for quite a while, but man, people would have to go to New York to live for couple of years to learn to play like that… “. That was it. And it said, everything for me. Gambatte ne.

It has been a pleasure and privilege, a real adventure, travelling through time with Mario back to East Harlem, Upper Manhattan, New York City, then back home to Singapore. He had politely thanked me for the interview, but ironically I should really be thanking him for that invaluable lesson of life and music he had so generously shared through his honest story.

Mario Serio & Juliet Pang

Mario Serio & Juliet Pang


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Mario & Juliet’s A/V recording collaborations to this date:

See our latest video with our live recording of ‘Wonderlands’ our performance at SingJazz Club in August 2015. Photography courtesy of Tan Ngiap Heng & Maryann Koh.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nyeotug8G_c (youtube video link – enable popup)

"The Perfect Journey" (2010)

“The Perfect Journey” (2010)

Live recording on original composition “Bloom” with violinist Lim Hui (Debut album “The Perfect Journey“)
Live recording on original composition “Every Christmas Carol” (Debut album “The Perfect Journey“)

"Absolute Voices" (S2S) 2009

“Absolute Voices” (S2S) 2009

Absolute Voices (S2S) 2009

Absolute Voices (S2S) 2009

Live piano and voice recording on jazz standard “Smile” (Charles Trenet) – released on “Absolute Voices” (S2S record label, Japan, HK, SG, Malaysia)
Live piano and voice recording on jazz standard “I wish you love” (Charles Trenet) – aired on 89.7 Eastside FM (Sydney)

Interviews: Friends & Musos
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gTlUfFtU4c (Mario Serio 3:37)

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