“Polkadot + Moonbeam is a pocket-sized jazz duo that brings a romantic twist to the unassuming ukulele, adding a swinging bass, two voices in sweet harmony and the occasional melodica.” So begins the story of Polkadot + Moonbeam – a couple dedicated to music and the pleasure it brings. And if you like to swing to evergreen classics and jazz this dynamic duo could be just right for your wedding. Here is Polkadot (Juliet) and Moonbeam’s (Didi) story – with a touch of cute and whimsy!
Cute (business) name – what is its origin?
Moonbeam: The name comes from a popular song from the 1940’s: Polkadots and Moonbeams. In late 2010, Polkadot was booked for a New Year’s Eve gig and was hunting for that special New Year’s Eve gig dress. She spotted the perfect dress which happened to be a polkadot dress, and subsequently named her New Year’s Eve act ‘Polkadot and the Moonbeams’. When Moonbeam came on the scene as a musical partner, this was truncated to ‘Polkadot + Moonbeam’.
What is your musical background?
Moonbeam: My father sings and plays guitar, and he taught me ukulele when I was about 8 years old. I started piano at age 12, then at age 15 my aunt bought me a bass guitar. Fast-forwarding through many bands and shows, I graduated from the Sydney Conservatorium in 1997, and finally gave up my part-time job for a full-time music career in 1999.
Polkadot: I was fortunate to be sent for electone organ classes when I was 4, and then proceeded to classical piano lessons when I was 12. But I always regarded my primary instrument to be voice. I was told by my folks that though a quiet child, at age 3, I would regurgitate whole tunes from TV drama series without knowing what I’m really singing. But it was not until when I turned 18 that I was handpicked by a recording company and then later signed as a recording artist.
When I met Moonbeam in January 2010 and realised our common interests in music, … and ukulele, it became natural to be singing and jamming with the instrument over our favourite tunes. In 2011, I also decided to further my music studies in jazz piano from the Australian Institute of Music in Sydney.
How did you first get together as a music duo?
Moonbeam: We met at a jazz open mic in Sydney in 2010. Polkadot was on a break in Sydney, and dropped in to sing a song on her last night in town before returning to Singapore. I happened to be the house pianist for the open mic. After exchanging details and getting to know each other over the internet, we realised we had overlapping interests in the organic old jazz sounds from the 30’s – 50’s, and also in ukulele playing. Later, Polkadot came up with the idea of a duo sound based on the 1930s Django Reinhardt style, with her ukulele taking on the rhythmic role of Django’s D-hole acoustic guitar. Things progressed from there.
Who inspires you musically?
Moonbeam: Vocally I am inspired by male jazz singers that I listened as a child such as Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, as well as those I discovered later in my vocal development: Mel Torme, Chet Baker and Mose Allison. From the bass guitar end, I am inspired by the innovations brought about by Jaco Pastorius.
Polkadot: I’ve rediscovered Mel Torme’s work most recently. He’s a brilliant singer, musician and arranger. But generally, sounds, textures, people and their stories – things that are lovely and moving, inspire my musical work… It’s often from space and solitude that a composition is birthed.
When not playing at weddings, where can we come and hear you perform?
Polkadot: We perform at the odd cafe here and there. We have nifty video of us playing a jazz instrumental with pianica and ukulele at Tartine Cafe on Perth’s William Street. We also have a YouTube channel where we put up some of our quirky music videos and also videos of our live performances from our various travels.
What sort of music do you perform for your shows?
Polkadot: We perform music that tells a familiar story, an old sound presented through what we find, an unusual chemistry between the tiny ukulele and the prominent acoustic bass guitar. These instruments accompany our vocal harmony duets on jazz swing and Latin standards and originals.
Our original compositions so far are songs that are reflective of, and inspired by our own stories, phases and stages of our relationship musically and romantically. We have been told that our music can be lively, quirky and pretty all at once. We think it’s the romance and intimacy that people identify with in our sound. A familiar space in their hearts.
Other than Western Australia, where else have you performed?
Polkadot: Over the years, other than in Perth we have performed in Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Jakarta and Singapore.
What sort of music do you perform at weddings?
Moonbeam: Jazz and evergreen classics, from luscious ballads to lively swing numbers and Latin grooves.
Are there some favourites that get guests up and rocking?
Moonbeam: In our repertoire the dance hits are the uptempo swing and Latin numbers such as Sway, My Baby Just Cares for Me, Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
Polkadot: Yes, and when we are touring in Asia, our repertoire extends to Shanghai Jazz from 20’s-40’s. It helps that because of our backgrounds, we can offer a multilingual touch to some of those fast swing numbers, which really gets the crowds singing and dancing along.
Can you suggest some music that should be on our lists for the wedding reception?
Moonbeam: That’s a tricky one to answer, because it’s different strokes for different folks, and there sure are many different kinds of folks out there! My only recommendation in this regard is that you should actively seek out a sound that reverberates with yourselves and your vision for your wedding. Sure, it’s convenient to not bother thinking about it, and just pick out something middle-of-the-road. But it’s your special day, so why not make it personal and have your wedding band reflect yourselves and your journey together. Start with looking through your CD collections, or what’s on each other’s iPod. That will spark off ideas on how you want the live music on your special day to be.
Do your lives revolve around music – do you seek out other live music to listen to in your free time?
Moonbeam: Being in the live music profession, seeing others’ live music is a source of professional inspiration, so yes, indeed we do seek out other live music. To us, it’s akin to an academic going to a conference on their field of specialisation. Or a wedding supplier attending a wedding fair! Having said that, I wouldn’t say that our lives revolve around music. It’s more like music revolves around us, but alongside many other facets of our lives.
What do you like to do when not performing?
Polkadot: A huge part of what we enjoy doing involves spending time with our loved ones, family and friends. There’s always music, say during picnics with nephews and nieces – we bring our ukes and guitars along, but it’s really about time spent with loved ones celebrated with music.
Occasionally, we treat ourselves to watching 80’s-90’s TV re-runs, Homeland, conspiracy theory movies. Being in the great outdoors on a sunny day with our dog Bindi is always therapeutic. When by myself, I also enjoy photography, sketching and watercolour painting.
Moonbeam: I also enjoy the bookkeeping, finding new innovative ways to digitally organise and collect things like receipts, song lists, performance photos and testimonials (hello DropBox, Evernote, Google Drive). I also enjoy maintaining our website, finding new plugins and themes for WordPress and exploring WordPress alternatives.
Image by The Studio Loft Photography
What do you love about living in Perth? Are there any special places/restaurants/weekend trips that we should explore?
Moonbeam: We love how in Perth a special treat is just a train or bus ride away, and that there are as many leisurely things to do during the day time as at night time. We enjoy spending the weekend around Fremantle to take in the atmosphere and the live jazz circuit there, that would be our not-to-be missed recommendation for the jazz-loving visitor.
Thank you Juliet and Didi for sharing your thoughts. For more information on Polkadot + Moonbeam visit the website.
Images courtesy of Polkadot at Polkadot + Moonbeam