Jimmy Boyle – forgotten Malaysian composer extraordinaire


Jimmy Boyle – legendary composer and jazz pianist – THE STAR

Mention Jimmy Boyle’s name to music lovers of my generation and it would surely rekindle memories of an accomplished jazz composer and pianist.

At the time, this Eurasian from Penang was perhaps the most famous composer of Malay songs. I vividly remember listening to his songs growing up in the 1960s.

Boyle’s notable compositions include Chendering, Jauh Jauh, Ingat Ingat, Bunga Negara, Sang Bayu, Ke-Hulu Ke-Hilir, Pantun Melayu, Gemaran Bulan and my favourite, Putera Puteri or Putra Putri.

A momentous occasion in Boyle’s life was when one of his compositions, Kemegahan Negaraku (Majesty of My Country), was chosen to be performed at the inaugural raising of the national flag on August 31, 1957.

One of Boyle’s best-known compositions, Untuk Negeri Kita, was adopted as Penang’s state anthem in 1972, a year after his death. He composed and wrote the lyrics to this song.

Not only a prolific composer, Boyle was also a well-known pianist, borrowing talent from his mother, a piano teacher. He wrote nearly 350 songs during his lifetime, and some of his songs, like Putera Puteri, are familiar to many who learned them in school.

Boyle endured hardship during the Japanese occupation after being incarcerated. He studied at St Xavier’s Institution in Penang and returned to his alma mater as a teacher soon after the war.

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Once, at the request of British officers in Penang, he formed a band and entertained them with music at a dinner party at the Runnymede Hotel in Penang. This sparked his musical career.

Sepet by Jimmy Boyle – NEW TIMES OF THE STRAIT

Boyle also performed at Minden Barracks, the current site of Universiti Sains Malaysia on Penang Island, and the Royal Australian Air Force Base at Butterworth.

Those who knew Boyle remember him as someone who had music in his veins – a musical genius even. He was part of a generation of talented composers and musicians in Penang at the time, including David Yeoh, Ahmad Merican and Ahmad Nawab. In the 1960s and 1970s, pianist Ooi Eow Jin was one of the country’s most sought-after composers, having written hits for singers like Sudirman Arshad.

Many of Boyle’s songs were patriotic and blended harmony with an unwavering love and passion for the nation. It was almost as if he was destined to compose patriotic songs. We definitely need more songs like this in our polarized society today.

Boyle’s musical legacy lives on through his son, James, a graduate of Boston’s Berkley School of Music. In 2006, James Boyle and The Ragged Tigers performed in Penang to the delight of jazz lovers. In 2010, they participated in the Fringe Festival, followed by a similar concert in 2016, organized by Paul Augustin. Augustin knew the main music drivers in Penang and, like Jimmy Boyle, he has a great passion for jazz.

James Boyle with his showbiz friends, including Bihzhu (right) – NEW STRAITS TIMES

James also wrote a book about his father, The Music and Legacy of Jimmy Boyle.

In memory of his father, James recorded another of his father’s famous songs, Chendering, with well-known singer Bihzhu, at the Penang House of Music. Written in 1960, Chendering is about a popular beach in Terengganu. Her father was, after all, a passionate admirer of the Malaysian countryside.

James has also performed with other notable Malaysian music figures over the years, including the late Paul Ponnudorai. Paying tribute to Paul and his band, Paul Ponnudurai and The Handsome Coconuts, James credited them for providing him with a good learning curve.

Paul, who died in 2012, had himself supported some of Malaysia’s renowned artists, including Sudirman. He co-produced Sudirman’s hit song One Thousand Million Smiles, with jazz maestro Michael Veerapen.

Many young people today find it difficult to name a well-known local jazz player unless they look it up on the internet. They are oblivious to the big names of the past, like Ahmad Merican, Alfonso Soliano and Jimmy Boyle.

Boyle was the epitome of an accomplished musician and composer, as well as being a popular teacher. His most striking virtue was that of a true Malaysian patriot – a rarity these days. As well as being nationalistic, his songs were soothing to the ear, as they were often steeped in jazz music.

Rising above ethnic and cultural baggage, Boyle’s songs instilled a sense of patriotism in our country at a critical time in the era of independence. An imposing Malaysian in every sense of the word, he has done more for national unity than most politicians could with their fiery eloquence.

This singing giant died at the relatively young age of 49 in 1971 from an intracerebral hemorrhage. More than five decades after his passing, many members of my generation still remember him for the music and songs he composed – a timeless treasure.

Unfortunately, we have a dearth of local jazz talent today compared to our glorious pasts.

Boyle is one of the most talented music composers Malaysia has produced. Yet the name of this musical legend means nothing to many young Malaysians.

Boyle has not been duly recognized for his immense contributions to the Malaysian music scene. It is time that famous figures of the past like him were accorded a hallowed place in the musical annals of the nation.

The federal and state governments of Penang are expected to posthumously bestow an honor on Boyle for his immeasurable contributions to the local music scene. It would be a fitting tribute if a significant landmark in Penang was named after this musical giant.

Rest in peace Jimmy Boyle. Thanks for the memories.

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