Thailand’s King of Jazz

Thailand's jazz playing kingHis Majesty King  Bhumibol Adulyadej is known for many things, most notably being the longest reigning Monarch alive. His public works in rural Thailand as well as his national work has helped Thailand find it’s way into the 21st century.

What a lot of people don’t know about the beloved Thai king is his passion for music. His Majesty King  Bhumibol is an accomplished jazz/blues musician that has played his sax with renowned jazz legends such as Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton and Benny Carter. He also jams, as much as time permits these days, with local musicians in Thailand.

The king began his musical studies while at school in Switzerland. Originally playing the trumpet then switching to the saxophone when his mother thought the trumpet to be too strenuous for him.  1946 would be a very good year for the King, not only did he ascend to the throne of Thailand but he also wrote and published  Candlelight Blues,  Love at Sundown and Falling rain which became very popular works.

King Bhumiphol with Benny Goodman circa 1960The king has composed over 48 songs since ascending the throne. He’s penned Waltz’s, Fox Trot’s, patriotic anthems and even a few Alma Maters for several Thai universities. During a speech in the early 1980’s the king described what it was like to write one of his more popular songs ” Falling Rain”.

I became inspired while I was listening to music on the radio,” he said. “I felt the music in my head sounded better, so I turned off the radio and scribbled it down on a piece of paper. I remember that it was in May. People liked that song. They said it was beautiful. I felt overjoyed.

After becoming king he started a new band that played regularly at the palace. In time he set up a public radio station where he and his 14 piece band would perform live every Friday for the public. One of the Kings oldest friends and musical partners,  Manrat Srikaranonda,  describes the King’s style as more of a dixieland or New Orleans style. Manrat concedes that these days they don’t play as much at the palace anymore but they still have regular jam sessions at the King’s summer palace.

King Bhumiphol Playing with The Benny Goodman BandIn 1964, the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Vienna named the king an honorary member,  the first Asian composer to be granted the honor. In 1996 Les Brown and his band of renown recorded several of the Thai King’s compositions but under agreement they can only be played in Thailand. Les Brown himself thought the King was an extraordinary musician saying, “I’m sure if he didn’t have the job he has now, he’d be successful as a bandleader”. Lionel Hampton once said of the King ” He is simply the coolest king in the land”.

Of course this all sounds great but I can hear you asking ” What about the music?”. After searching around for a bit I found the piece below composed in 1946 by the King entitled “H.M. Blues”. The piece is performed by Per-Olav Kindgren and I think it shows that the King of Thailand would have been just as well known as a musician as he is king if circumstances would have permitted. Also below is ” Candelight Blues”, “Love at Sundown” and a short documentary on the Kings music.

sig1 Thailands King of Jazz

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Comment by MikeNo Gravatar
2009-02-17 00:30:53

Talen although I was aware of HM Kings talent it does make me wonder how many Thais are familiar?

You did well tracking down the music.

Interesting post.

Comment by TalenNo Gravatar
2009-02-17 01:04:13

As revered as the King is I can’t recall ever hearing any Thai’s talking much about the king and his accomplishments.

I’m sure the older generation knows all too well about his jazz playing…probably doesn’t click too much with the younger generation though.

Comment by martin in bulgariaNo Gravatar
2009-02-17 04:46:41

Royal Jazz. What a dark horse coming from Thailand and all those famous namedropping jazz icons. I suppose that’s the privelige you get being the King. Rather ironic as jazz originated from Africa and was brought over and cultured during the slave trade!

Very well written.

Comment by Scottish castlesNo Gravatar
2009-02-17 11:43:59

Can you give any tips about jazz pubs in Bangkok?


Comment by TalenNo Gravatar
2009-02-17 15:55:33

I know of 2 actually. The Living Room Bar in the Sheraton Grand and a place called Sundowner’s Jazz Club.

Comment by Hoo DonNo Gravatar
2009-02-19 00:25:39

I have read before about His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his love for jazz music but this is the first time I have heard some of his music. Love At Sundown shows what a big talent HM King Bhumibol has for jazz and I am surprised it is not more documented in Thai media circles. It must have taken a lot of research to put this article together, well worth the effort.

Hoo Dons last blog post..Cobra – King of My Fears

Comment by rikkerNo Gravatar
2009-02-24 07:17:42

For those interested in a larger sampling, you can download some 35 songs he’s written at this page on

Comment by bkkNo Gravatar Subscribed to comments via email
2009-10-11 04:27:04

“1946 would be a very good year for the King, not only did he ascend to the throne of Thailand ….”

An odd thing to say. He acceded to the throne when his brother was murdered.

I don’t think writing three songs that year made it a “very good year” on balance.

Comment by TalenNo Gravatar
2009-10-11 04:56:19

The article is more about his music and in terms of his music 1946 was a very good year for the king.

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