THE FOXGLOVE, HONG KONG — One brother started playing a toy sax at the age of one and a half. Seriously. The other nearly gave up piano after two rugby-related shoulder surgeries. Today, the Carpio Brothers are rocking Hong Kong with some of the best, most creative jazz in the world.
Bernard and Chris Carpio grew up swaddled in big band music. Their dad, Tony Carpio, was a famous big band leader in Hong Kong, and their grandfather was also a professional musician.
“We grew up listening to my dad’s big band,” Bernard Carpio told me. “When my mom was pregnant with me, she was still singing in the band. As soon as I was born, they were bringing me to gigs in the baby basket. Over the years watching them, I got completely fascinated.
“I’m told that when I was one and a half years old, I would stand with my dad’s big band with a plastic toy saxophone,” Bernard said. “One of my parents’ friends told me that I actually got angry at my parents because they bought me a toy and not a real saxophone at the age of one and a half!”
Whenever the band left the stage to walk among the audience, they were led by the teeny Bernard with his plastic sax.
Bernard’s brother, Chris, also played at an early age. He, too, locked on to one instrument, but for Chris, it was the piano.
“It was always piano,” he said. “There are so many things to learn on piano. So many things to wrap your head around. You’re talking about arranging, about technique, about so many different styles of piano, and if you go into the synth world, everything is endless, right? So it’s just trying to learn as many different techniques to put on the instrument, and so many different concepts, it’s never-ending.
But Chris also liked sports, especially rugby. After a series of injuries, however, Chris had to have two shoulder surgeries, and when he came out, he had to give up rugby. But he did not go back to music.
“I went through a stage of really disliking music,” Chris told me. “There was a lot of pressure on me growing up to be a musician. When I graduated from high school, I was really looking forward to having time for myself because I had other passions — I was really into sports and rugby [before his injuries]. But the moment I graduated, I was put into a full-time job [with the band] and it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I wanted time for myself to figure out what I wanted to do. Music was holding me back. There was a lot of pressure with my family being in the business.
“For me to get out of that funk, it took two shoulder operations from playing rugby,” he said. “And then I spent six months without touching a piano. I read some things and really tried to open my mind to different concepts and that’s when I figured out what I enjoy about music and what I don’t enjoy.
“I love performance and I love interacting with people, but whenever I feel I don’t get that interaction, I don’t want to perform,” he said. “I would rather get paid $10,000 US and perform in front of nobody than get paid $50,000 US and perform in front of a full house. Those are my new core values. I try to keep to them because if I do, I know I will always be passionate about music.
“If you’re playing in a lounge or some places, you can feel like you’re not being appreciated, you’re just doing it for a job,” Chris said. “And that’s the problem for a creative person — where is the line between a job and creativity? It’s a very thin line. If you cross over that line, you become a robot. It’s just a job, and I can’t be creative. So now I know exactly what kinds of gigs I’ll take and which I won’t.”
Back together after Chris’ return, the Carpio brothers have since been making insanely great music, both as a band and in their solos.
“When I’m taking a solo, I think as little as possible,” Bernard said. “There are moments when I am playing my best or I’m most comfortable and I’m not even thinking of anything. I just feel my fingers flying — it feels like an out-of-body experience. I feel like I am connected to my fingers but they’re just kind of taking off wherever they are going.”
Chris also has a unique approach. “I am thinking about where I am trying to go rhythmically,” he said. “I don’t need external factors to feel inspired. I don’t drink, I don’t do those kinds of things when I play music because I want my brain to be focused, I want to be able to think about where I am going musically.”
Where he and his brother are going musically is someplace unique.
“The audience’s participation is not actually about what notes you are playing, it is about the energy, the vibe you give out,” Bernard said. “People go to listen to music to feel something, and if they’re not feeling anything from the band or from the musicians, then they might as well watch a YouTube video.”
Bernard had this lesson hammered home when he went to see one of his favorite bands. “I walked in excitedly and was almost instantly disappointed,” he said. “They weren’t playing anything wrong — every note was correct and they were all smiling on stage — but the vibe wasn’t there, there wasn’t any energy. They were playing a song I knew that I liked but I felt very disconnected from them. So I wondered why. They were playing all the right notes, and they were a famous band, why then wasn’t i feeling anything?”
He then went to a much bigger stage next door. “I walked into this huge room that held thousands of people and there was this tiny speck on the stage, but I felt drawn to it straightway,” he said. “There was this voice coming out of it and as I started to approach I realized it was Bobby McFerrin. The energy and the vibe that was coming out of him was surreal.
“It made me compare them because there was this full band next door and I didn’t appreciate it, but here was this one man who was teeny when I first walked into the room, and yet he just captivated me. I felt I had to keep walking closer and closer to him.
“That got me thinking about this whole thing of the vibe and energy that a musician lets off,” Bernard said. “I felt like I was entering his world. It was a beautiful experience that changed the way I look at music — I focus less on the notes and more on the feeling.”
Chris, too, focuses on the audience first.
“We realized that people are here for a show,” he said. “They are here to be entertained. As a performer, you have to give the audience respect, you have to show them that you are here to give them a show, and once you do that, the audience will open up.
“What we are trying to do is give them an introduction to instrumental funk-jazz-groove music, and at the same time entertain them with vocal music and things they can get into,” Chris said. “Then, when we come back to instrumental music, they are still really into it.
“We entice them in and still give them the show,” Chris said. “That way, they are entertained, and when they are entertained, they are locked in, and when they are locked in, then everyone is happy. They are listening to us and we are listening to them. We are interacting with them and that’s when you get the best music.”
And that’s exactly what happens whenever and wherever the Carpio Brothers and their band of merry musicians play. If you are ever in Hong Kong, find out where they are playing and catch their show. You’ll be glad you did.
ABOUT THE CARPIO BROTHERS:
YouTube: CARPIO BROTHERS Videos on YouTube
OTHER MEMBERS OF THE BAND:
Bass and Four-Hands Piano: Jezrael Lucero
Percussion: Michael Salcedo
ABOUT THE VENUE
The Foxglove Club: The Foxglove is a classy, elegant, fun place to listen to jazz. They have a regular schedule of eclectic and classic jazz musicians and the crowd, at least those toward the front and in the main room, are there to listen and interact.
The food is excellent and the drinks range from what you’d expect to a variety of fun and different offerings.
One of the most delightful things about the place is the passage between the entrance and the club itself. When you first walk in, there is a reception desk and a hallway, but no obvious entryway into the club itself. Then the receptionist presses a button and part of what appeared to be just part of their glass cases full of stunning umbrellas slides to the side revealing the club! It’s very James Bond like.
Location: G/F, 18 Ice House St. / 6 Duddell St., Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2116 8949