MANILA, Philippines?Tillie Morena laughs when asked to describe the kind of vocal ad libs she was known for at the height of her career as a singer. "They had a Tagalog term for it," she says. "Tumitili."
But it's a very pleasing type of wailing-one that a generation of Pinoy music fans would remember in the classic pop duet, "Umagang Kay Ganda," which she sang with Ray-An Fuentes at the 1978 Metro Manila Pop Music Festival.
"I was already an R&B/soul singer then," says Moreno, now based in Nebraska and married to a German-American. She's in town for the 3rd Philippine International Jazz & Arts Festival, ongoing till Friday at the Hotel Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Pasay City.
Born with it
At the festival sideshow in Bonifacio High Street on Saturday, Moreno had a laid-back weekend crowd cheering lustily at her improvised scatting. Monday night at Sofitel, she opened the festival's main concerts, with world-acclaimed guitarist Lee Ritenour.
"It's an outpouring of emotions that you can't study," explains Moreno of her style, identified mostly with black artists. "You're born with it."
Estela Moreno learned to play the piano at age 11. Later, she formed a band with a brother and a cousin, performed in high school parties and guested in the TV show "Nineteeners."
Through a friend, bass guitarist Rico Velez, she learned about a group being formed to join the big league and record albums. Moreno sang an anti-war song, "One Tin Soldier," in front of Atek Jacinto, who would manage the group. She got the gig. The group, Circus Band, became the hottest local act in the live music scene in the early '70s.
"With Circus, I learned to experiment with different styles," Moreno recalls. But musical differences led her and other breakaway members to form Lovelife, in which her affinity with R&B bloomed. While the group was busy performing abroad, Moreno was offered a solo recording deal in Manila.
Fastforward to 2008: At the PI Jazzfest press con, Moreno smiles as Ritenour recounts his own musical adventure that began at age 16, as a session musician with the Mamas and the Papas. He would be known for experimenting with different styles-funk, pop, rock, blues, Brazilian, classical, fusion, smooth jazz.
(Tonight at Sofitel, the PI Jazzfest features American singer Kurt Elling with the Bob Aves Group.)