KUALA LUMPUR: Today is Ooi Eow Jin’s curtain-closing performance at Colonial Cafe in Majestic Hotel here.
His name might not ring a bell for music fans of today but in his heyday, the 77-year-old Penang-born pianist and accordion player was a noted band leader, composer, arranger, record producer and music instructor.
Even in his twilight years, Ooi has had the chance to do what he loves best – serenading guests at the hotel with his rich blend of jazz standards, bossa nova nuggets, golden oldies, Malay hits and today’s pop music.
For those who have yet to hear the national treasure play, catch Ooi from 3pm to 6pm for the final set of a residency which began in December 2012.
“He learnt everything himself and began writing and arranging from a young age. He is just one of those people who preferred to remain in the background while letting his music do the talking,” said Paul Augustin, co-author of the book Just for the Love of It: Popular Music in Penang, 1930s-1960s.
“He encouraged and inspired many artistes who were starting out,” said the fellow Penangite.
Ooi’s career took him from playing clubs in Penang to the legendary E&O Hotel. In 1962, he won the first songwriting contest organised by Radio Malaya with Rusohan Kalbu.
“I was the only Chinese to submit a Malay song and became the first winner of that contest,” Ooi was quoted as saying in the book.
His association with the national broadcaster deepened when he left a RM200 monthly salary for a RM700 contract with Radio Malaya Orchestra.
Leading the orchestra saw him sharing the bandstand with Tan Sri P. Ramlee, his wife Saloma, Tan Sri S.M. Salim, Kamariah Noor and many other music greats.
Ooi also collaborated with Datuk Sudirman Arshad. He arranged a medley of Liza Minelli’s Cabaret and Shirley Bassey’s Big Spender for Sudirman, winning the singer first prize at Bintang RTM 1976 and setting him on the road to stardom.
Ooi’s songwriting prowess is immortalised in famous songs such as Dahlan Zainuddin’s Lagu Untukmu and Sudirman’s Gerimis di Lautan.
In later years, Ooi served at TV3 before venturing into education.
His personal record includes becoming the first musician in Malaysia to teach music at degree level and to be awarded the Anugerah Seni Negara for arranging.