HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 2, 2012 – 12:00am
It has been a bad two weeks for OPM. We lost two great musical luminaries. Roger Herrera was a super-talented and accomplished bass player, and Eddie Munji III was a guitarist, brilliant arranger and my good friend. I was lucky to have spent a great deal of my career working on various projects with these two geniuses and thus benefitted enormously from their talent and friendship.
Roger Herrera is probably one of the most recorded Filipino musicians of all time. The other is the drummer Jun Regalado, Roger’s longtime partner in music. These two musicians were already recording albums, backing up famous singers since the early ‘60s. During that time, the likes of Pilita Corrales, Bobby Gonzales and Diomedes Maturan, among others, recorded album upon album of Filipino folk songs, popular covers and the like. Their preferred bassist was Roger, and the drummer was Jun.
When I started recording in the ‘70s, more than ever, Roger and Jun were the musicians that arrangers wanted to work with. If my count is right, they played in almost all of APO’s 28 albums. They were versatile, playing in any style and genre. And they were particularly great to have during live shows.
At the time I met him, Roger’s high stature among his fellow musicians was beyond question. They called him “Senyor” out of respect and affection. Even if he was 20 years older than I, I always felt that Roger was very young at heart. For one, he went around on a motorcycle. How cool was that?
He was also always learning new things and played with enthusiasm. I was just a newbie on the scene then who could not even read or write music, but he treated my suggestions and concerns with seriousness. He was very pleasant to have around — no dramas, no sumpong. He was light, friendly, and sessions with him were always smooth and easy. And to top it all off, he played beautifully.
Roger was such a permanent fixture in the music scene, the “old reliable,” that it was a shock to all of us when he passed away quite suddenly. He was still actively playing live jazz in different clubs and no one expected it. Apparently, only his family knew he had been undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer.
The last time I saw Roger was in 7th High at the Fort, where he played bass with the Maritess Salientes trio. He proudly showed me a bass guitar which he had made. We joked around a bit, posed for pictures, and that was it. The next time I heard about him was when he passed on.
I first met Eddie Munji before we left on a 57-city tour of the US and Canada in 1974. He was the guitarist/ bass player of the Balikbayan Roadshow that we did with other artists for the Department of Tourism. I was part of a little-known group called the APO Hiking Society.
Common to Eddie and the APO was the fact that we were all young men going to the US for the first time. It was a magical trip, to say the least. Visiting new places, experiencing snow, crisscrossing two countries by land and doing all those shows in all those cities was an unforgettable experience.
When we got back to Manila, Eddie and I shared an apartment in Project 3. We bonded over a common interest in music. He shared his jazz records and taught me a lot of chords. I felt a kinship with him. Soon, he was doing arrangements for APO’s live concerts. It didn’t take very long to get him involved in APO’s recordings and in other projects of Jem Recording, a new progressive music company that Danny, Boboy and I were part of.
Eddie arranged a lot of APO’s hits, including Panalangin, Mahirap Magmahal ng Siyota ng Iba, Siyotang Pa-Class, Awit ng Barkada, Salawikain, Lumang Tugtugin and Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo, among many others. But the project that really bonded us together was the “Pinoy Jazz” album that I, as producer, gave him free rein to do for Jem.
Every recording session was memorable. The musicians we contracted were the best there were, and it was obvious that they were playing music that delighted them so that the recordings weren’t the usual studio sessions. Everyone wanted to show off and they did! Eddie’s arrangements were not only novel but bordered on pure genius. We knew we were creating something really special.
Eddie never went to music school but he managed to learn everything he needed to know, and more. Before he learned to read and write notes, he would memorize songs from the radio by drawing up and down patterns on his bedroom wall to remind him of how the melodies ran. He also liked to read and appreciated intellectual discourse, even if he never went to college.
He was also quite moody and sensitive. Sometimes, he would take forever to finish an arrangement while the musicians waited inside the studio. But for all the trouble, the outcome of Eddie’s work was always worth the wait.
What was rare about Eddie was that he related to his work almost purely on the level of unadulterated creativity. Watching him during recording sessions, it did not seem like he was working to earn money to pay for stuff. It seemed more like he did what he did because it delighted him.
Eddie was a kind, gentle soul. We laughed a lot; he had a marvelous sense of humor. But he was also eccentric in many ways. He liked to just disappear from the scene for various reasons. When he felt that he had slighted you or that he did something wrong, he would disappear. It would be months, sometimes years before he would drop in again. He would come by unexpectedly, once in a blue moon, simply showing up, and we would pick up where we left off, as if we had just seen each other the day before.
He spent the last 10 years of his life in Cardona, far from the recording studios and the live music scene. In this eastern part of Rizal, he worked with school bands, doing arrangements for them. I found out during the wake that Eddie had applied to be the arranger for a school band in Cardona, and easily got the job. When his students looked him up on Google, they were amazed that the man who was working with them was way too accomplished to be doing what he was doing for them.
I last saw Eddie about four months ago. I invited him to guest in my Internet show at radiorepublic.ph. At first I wasn’t sure he would say yes, since it had been years since our last contact. I was pleasantly surprised when he readily agreed to do the show. We talked about him as a musician, and he discussed his approach to arranging songs.
Eddie passed on just three days after Roger did. According to jazz singer Skarlet who called up Eddie to tell him about Roger’s death, Eddie remarked how sad he was to hear it, but after a minute he said, “I will not miss Roger. I still hear his work played on radio every day.”
In the same way, I will not miss Eddie as much since his music lives on. Every time I hear Umagang kay Ganda, I will remember the great work he did with that song. But as a friend, his passing is a great, devastating loss.
Eddie, I will miss your quiet and beautiful ways. We did wonderful things together and I am grateful for that. I will miss your stories, and most of all, I will miss your friendship. Goodbye, Ed. I know you are enjoying your gig up there with Roger. And I am sure heaven is quite pleased to have two of its geniuses there playing divine creations.