Category Archives: Bio

Asia Life Article: All That Jazz


Despite the closure of the capital’s only jazz club last year, Phnom Penh musicians believe that the genre has a future in Cambodia. Ellie Dyer meets the jazz aficionados of trio GTS to hear more. Photography by Dylan Walker.

With its syncopated rhythms and swinging exuberance, jazz has enthralled generations of listeners since its birth in the United States in the early 20th century.

Now the musical style is shaking up Cambodia. Amongst Phnom Penh’s expat population there is a small group of trained musicians who are bringing the genre to Southeast Asia and pushing boundaries along the way.

At its heart lies Italian pianist Gabriele Faja, French drummer Toma Willen and double bass player Sebastien Adnot whose newly-formed jazz trio GTS has won regular gigs at Sofitel and K-West Brasserie and Bar.

The professional musicians, billed as the only outfit in town to play soley pure jazz, met while performing in the Phnom Penh Hippie Orchestra and formed their own group in October.

Using their impressive improvisational skills, the friends played their first gig at K-West. Their talent paid off.

“We got a lot of good feedback,” says 32-year-old Faja, whose love of jazz began 10 years ago when he listened to a Keith Jarrett album while studying at London’s highly-respected Royal College of Music.

Despite a minor setback when their double bassist broke his fingers in a motorbike crash, the band has gone from strength to strength to play across town, interpreting the work of jazz greats Van Heusen, Cole Porter, Jobim, Bonfa and Billy Strayhorn.

Billed as a collective, the trio – whose instruments form the fundamental building blocks of jazz – have been joined in performances by saxophonists, singers and trumpet players.

Six musicians came together as an ensemble on Mar. 31 at Le Jardin as part of an ambitious project to perform the whole of Miles Davis’ seminal 1959 album Kind of Blue.

“To be a musician here is very exciting, because it’s new,” says Willen, who came to Cambodia over a year ago to play in the house band of the now-shuttered Studio 182 jazz club.

“We don’t take something [from Cambodians] – we are bringing something to them.”

Experimentation is also underway. Faja is in the process of putting a jazz twist on Cambodian tunes including classics penned by King Father Norodom Sihanouk and modern pop ditties – such as those of starlet Sok Pisey.

“We are interested in making it [our music] more adaptable to Cambodians while bringing jazz to their ears,” says Faja, who is also exploring classical compositions by Ravel and Christina Aguilera’s album Back to Basics.

Both players also teach music and are introducing jazz to the next generation of Asian musicians.

For Faja, the opportunity for his students to watch him perform on stage shows them “why we are doing this”.

“I think Phnom Penh is going to be quite an artistic community, more so than Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. Small is good,” says Faja.

Willen, who trained as a jazz musician at the Conservatoire de Musique in France’s St Etienne and has played throughout Europe, is also keen to acquaint youngsters with another genre of Western culture: The Blues.

“For them [it] is a basic first step; a window into alternative music. They love it,” he says.

For classically-trained Faja, playing jazz professionally marks the culmination of a personal journey that began when he fell in love with the music a decade ago. “It’s now time to live my dream,” he says.
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GTS Jazz Mesh


Dear Friends, GTS piano trio was going well until….ouch! Sebastian, the band’s bassist, broke 2 fingers in a motorcycle collision. He’s out for two month.

We are having to reshuffle our band, replacing Bass with Jazz Guitar (huge thanks to Super Tim for coming in at short notice and working out these tricky parts), and Vocals (immensely talented Ballad/Swing French vocalist Silvie). Thanks also to Dave on Bass for always trying his best to fit our gigs in his terribly busy life! Orkhun Chran to Ritchy, mostly renowned for his drumming and singing for stepping in last week at Kwest on Bass.

Incidentally, Toma and I (drum & piano) are joining Ritchy (bass) and Phil (Sax) for a gig at Intercontinental tomorrow night (Tuesday Dec 22). It’s my first time with Phil & Ritchy and I am very pleased to finally get to play with them. They are so talented and can play many instruments!

Tonight (Monday), at White Moon Bar (Street 172, Riverside area) we are staging a Jazz Jam for those interested in taking a chorus or two and showing off their bop prowess.  So far we have Piano, Drums, Bass, Guitar, Violin (!), Trumpet, Sax, Flute but Silvie cannot make it, so no vocals ((

I remind you this week GTS Jazz Mesh performs at Sofitel (Wed and Fri), Kwest’s Le Moon bar (thu) and Le Jardin (Sat) – busy week!




Gabriele, Sebastian and Toma’

2 French and 1 Italian, but somehow they manage.

G.T.S. is the consequence of 3 like-minded musicians who share one passion – Jazz.

Having met for a one-off gig at Kwest in October, we decided to form GTS. We haven’t looked back since, now playing almost every night all over town. The beautiful thing is that we learn from each other every night, we play, we discuss, we search and we play some more!

We are all from very different backgrounds, Classical, Gypsy, Jazz, Raggae. In fact our music is a hybrid of all – the essence of Jazz. We strive to play our best every night, sometime we manage, some times we don’t!

Come to hear us, jam with us, talk with us. We don’t bite (very often..)

Gabi Faja, piano
Toma’ Willen, percussion
Sebastien Adnot, double bass