Richard Poon and All That Jazz

By Randell Tiongson on April 14th, 2011

Appears in the March-April issue of Moneysense Magazine

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Richard Poon and All That Jazz: The surprising story of the country’s most popular crooner

By Randell Tiongson, RFP

Everything about Richard Poon is a bit of a paradox. He is young but sings old standards. For the MTV and MYX generation, the music of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett would be the last thing you would think would appeal to the market. Yet, not only did Richard dominate the big band jazz genre, he made it hip and popular in the country again.

Richard is perhaps today’s most popular crooner who has cemented his own niche in the Philippine musical scene. Undoubtedly, when you think about the big band jazz sound, his name is an instant recall.  Richard describes his music as “Fresh, Old School,” as his repertoire consists of highly-energized, inspiring takes of the standards. Just like the American singer-songwriters Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Bublé, Richard has given the old jazz standards a fresh, contemporary sound.

Richard Poon has gone a long way in his craft. Breaking into the music industry in January 2008, he is now a certified-Platinum recording artist and the 2010 Aliw Award’s Best Male Concert Performer. His debut solo album “I’ll Take Care Of You”(MCA Music) soared to Gold and Platinum status and continues to be one of the country’s top selling records today. His sophomore album “For You” also turned Gold. He has been a mainstay in the popular Sunday variety show ASAP and has packed concert venues here and abroad.

Sometime ago, Richard wowed a huge crowd for his solo concert and he sang a couple of hauntingly melodic tunes with the international musical icon, Lea Salonga. It is not every day that a performer would fill up a huge concert hall in the Philippines with that brand of music but he did just that.

But Richard is not an overnight star.

A simple start

Here’s another paradox: Richard is Chinese and as a performer, he’s always in dapper suits, so you would think he was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Born and raised in the Philippines, Richard did not exactly live a life of luxury. Certainly, his parents were relatively well off. His mother was a big star in Taiwan (which explains his musical genes) and his Cantonese father is a Hong Kong-based chef and restaurateur who owns the famous Mr. Poon restaurant.

But believe it or not, at one season in his life, Richard was actually broke and his future seemed so bleak. He shares that after graduating from De La Salle University, he began his professional career working for his father. Richard narrates, “My work was not easy as it involved being in the kitchen all the time. I would be there to open the restaurant, labor at the kitchen all day, and be the last person to leave as I needed to close the operations.”

While he loved working in the kitchen, Richard longed to do something else and working for his father created a very tense environment which he found to be more and more difficult to deal with. After six years working at Mr. Poon restaurant, Richard turned from a steady job with modest pay and all the comforts associated with working for the family business. For the first time, Richard felt how it was to fend for himself, devoid of the trappings of a middle-class Filipino-Chinese lifestyle afforded to him.

Broke and in debt

Fortunately, Richard knew early on that he needed to save for a rainy day. At that time, he has already accumulated modest savings – about P200,000 – from his income from the family restaurant, by practicing a simple yet powerful discipline – never spend more than what you earn and save as much as you can.

Richard says he admires his paternal grandfather who worked for a Chinese pharmaceutical company. He was guided by his grandfather’s simplicity in lifestyle and distaste for being flashy. The Poon patriarch was a good role model for the young Richard who consistently espoused having a very low profile despite his good income. Richard shares, “Up to his dying age, my grandfather was always financially independent and was even able to be generous to his children towards the later years of his life.”

Now on his own, Richard was ready to set out to find his place in the sun, but a medical condition drained him physically and financially, wiping out whatever savings he was able to build and even got into debt. He says, “I eventually landed a job managing a restaurant, a skill I have learned to master but the work did not pay much and could not even meet my basic needs.” With no savings, a miniscule income, Richard experienced severe financial challenges.

From growing up in a Filipino-Chinese middle-class environment and being educated in exclusive schools, Richard experienced the harsh difficulties of life – working with a low salary, taking public transportation, and the like. He also found himself in debt.

Yet, despite his situation, he was very faithful to his debtors and faithful in his tithing (giving to his church). He was always in constant communication with his debtors and paid them whatever amount he can set aside. “It did not matter to me if it was only P500 every time I pay but I believe in honoring my obligations despite the difficulties I was experiencing,” he explains.

Yet he did not let his dire situation stop his aspirations. He persevered despite how ominous his foreseeable future seemed at that time. Needing to make more money, Richard was always looking for opportunities to earn better income and he was not deterred to try things he was not accustomed to. At a certain point, he got into multi-level marketing, which allowed him to increase his income, although it was not as significant as he wanted. His exposure to the network marketing industry, however brief, helped rekindle his entrepreneurial spirit.

Richard never seemed bitter about his past despite the emotional and financial pain it caused him then. He insists, “It was a very good learning experience for me and it help me build up my character. In fact, the unfortunate experiences he had to endure were necessary to prepare me and mold me into the person I am today.”

A place in the sun

All throughout his journey that has taken him to the restaurant and network marketing industries, Richard continued to have a burning passion for something that has always been part of his life – music. He became a member of the acoustic band U-Turn, which exposed him to a market unaware of how talented he really is. He narrates that his journey as a musician was just as challenging as his restaurant profession was. “We were playing in small venues and earning as low as P1,000 per night despite performing for three hours or more,” he shares. Still, Richard considers all these as blessings and training for what was to come. After a few years, the band disbanded, which left Richard in a crossroads once more. As he was trying to form a new band, his best friend (and current manager) Erickson Raymundo prevailed upon him to go solo and take a different route – a big band jazz singer. Unsure of this path and not too confident of his abilities to go solo, Richard nevertheless embarked on his biggest challenge to date – and the rest is history.

Through all of these, Richard prevailed because he understood that everything that happens in his life has a purpose even if it was difficult for him to comprehend it at times. Now a successful singer-songwriter, Richard earns income beyond what he thought he could ever earn. Did this surge in financial security change his character? Not at all. Richard still espouses the same ideals and principles he clings to in the past. He continues to be low-profile in an environment embroiled in luxury. He still saves diligently and avoids unnecessary spending even if he can well afford it.

Richard is always mindful about the changes in his lifestyle and he is happy about it. One would think that the very popular crooner would parade himself in an expensive SUV right? Not Richard – he drives a modest car that is neither old nor new but dependable. Does he want to have a nice Mercedes, for instance? Sure he does, he says. But Richard is not about to squander his hard-earned money on unnecessary luxuries. His experiences taught him too well that he must be financially responsible all the time. Will he want to have a nice big house in the future? “Yes I do, but that will come when I am really ready and have properly prepared for such,” he explains.

His advice to young people: “Be faithful in paying what you owe, in saving, in living below your means, in tithing, in giving. In anything you do, be faithful.” Undoubtedly, these are words of wisdom from a man who has prevailed upon challenges and is now experiencing unprecedented success.

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2 thoughts on “Richard Poon and All That Jazz”

  • Hello I was wondering if you might know someone who would consider managing my career? Hear my new release SINCERELY YOURS at francisdey.com. or Email me. I would love to talk. Thank you

    Francis Dey

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Richard Poon and All That Jazz