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Mr. Smooth

Norbert Tydingco is best known for playing the smoothest chord progressions in the local jazz arena earning for himself the nickname “Mr. Smooth.”

Tydingco’s love of music began at an early age when his uncle, the late Joaquin C. Blas, opened Kinney’s Café in 1949 or 1950 that featured local band performances. The restaurant grew in popularity and became a household name. One band in particular featured Frank Franquez, John Blas, Sr., and Josephat Perez. The young Tydingco, only eight years old at the time, watched these musicians play fostering a love for jazz that remained with him.

Tydingco further cultivated his love of music at establishments famous during the 1950s for featuring jazz music including The Office in Anigua; the Talk O’ The Town in East Hagåtña; the Breakers Club in Asan; Ricky’s Suburban Club in Tamuning; the Tapa Room in the Royal Lanes Bowling Alley in Tamuning; and The Gold Room at the Playland Bowl in Anigua. It was at these establishments where the young Tydingco heard many of Guam’s premier jazz artists play. Only a teenager at the time, Tydingco could not enter such establishments being under the legal age, so he watched the bands play through the window. On some occasions, musician Nito Bautista would sneak the young Tydingco into the club where he would lose himself in the crowd.

In the mid 1950s, Tydingco found his calling to play the guitar when well-known musician Bill Muna started a band in which Tydingco’s uncle, John Blas, was a member. Tydingco often went to the band’s rehearsals to watch. It would not be long before band members took notice of Tydingco’s interest and offered to teach him how to play the guitar.

Tydingco purchased his first guitar from a military man for $25 with the help of his mother. From there he went on to learn three standard chords from his uncle: C, F, and G. Tydingco eventually reached a point of frustration in his attempt to master the instrument and stopped trying altogether, until one day, his uncle encouraged him to keep at it. Tydingco went on to draw guidance and inspiration from older musicians and from recordings of popular music that would work to help him grow as a guitar player.

Tydingco went on to play at the “Mi Club” in Anigua. Earning money for doing something he loved appealed to him. He played with the Bautista family in his neighborhood and together they formed the Blue Notes and rose to popularity on the local music circuit. Tydingco also performed with other groups that he and fellow musicians formed to include the Chamorri, the Sound of Mu-Six, and the Downbeats.

By James Perez Viernes, PhD

Editor’s note: The photos and initial research for this entry is courtesy of Mico and Stevie Scott’s Jazz on Guam: An Oral History, a project funded by the Guam Humanities Council and in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.