Bei­jing gets cooler

NYC’s le­gendary Blue Note jazz club launches its big­gest branch

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN­NAN

Grammy-win­ning sax­o­phon­ist Kenny Gar­rett came to Bei­jing for the first time in 2005 to write mu­sic af­ter be­ing drawnto the city by a book on erhu, the tra­di­tional Chi­nese in­stru­ment, which he had bought in Ire­land ear­lier.

He lived in a tra­di­tional court­yard house in a hu­tong (al­ley) for three weeks and walked for hours ev­ery day to explore the city where he found there was no jazz.

“But I am pretty sure if I had played jazz then for my neigh­bors in the hu­tong they would have un­der­stood be­cause the emo­tions, es­pe­cially the strug­gle, ex­pressed in the mu­sic is univer­sal,” says Gar­rett, re­count­ing his first trip to Bei­jing.

The ex­pe­ri­ence in­spired him to pro­duce a CD called Be­yond the Wall, which earned him a Grammy nom­i­na­tion in 2006.

Dur­ing the past 10 years, Gar­rett has re­turned toChina of­ten to per­form at mu­sic fes­ti­vals and teach at the Shang­hai Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic.

But he didn’t ex­pect that jazz — a genre that orig­i­nated in AfricanAmer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties of New Orleans in the late 19th cen­tury— to take root and de­velop in China quite so quickly.

This sum­mer, he re­turned to the cap­i­tal and was ex­cited to per­form with his quin­tet at the open­ing of BlueNote Bei­jing, the firstChi­nese branch of the Blue Note Jazz Club, the fa­mous New York es­tab­lish­ment, on Thurs­day.

“We travel around the world and present mu­sic to peo­ple. So, for me, open­ing up for Bei­jing is spe­cial. I like Bei­jing and I want to give back.

“I am ex­cited to be the first one here to in­tro­duce jazz, my ver­sion of jazz, to Bei­jing au­di­ences,” he says.

The Blue Note was founded in 1981 by Danny Ben­su­san in New York’s Green­wich Vil­lage.

Many le­gendary jazz mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck and Her­bie Han­cock, have per­formed on the Blue Note stage.

Ben­su­san is cred­ited with re­vi­tal­iz­ing jazz in NewYork.

Speak­ing of Blue Note’s China de­but, Gar­rett says: “This event is great for China in a lot of ways.

“With jazz per­for­mances on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, you can have the same ex­pe­ri­ences as Amer­i­can and Ja­panese au­di­ences be­cause we have Blue Note there.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ja­son Lee, deputy direc­tor of Blue Note Bei­jing, the club, lo­cated at the ren­o­vated site of the for­mer US em­bassy near Tian’an­men Square, will fea­ture top in­ter­na­tional artists as well as home-grown jazz mu­si­cians with two per­for­mances ev­ery night ex­cep­tMon­days.

The two-floor venue of Blue Note Bei­jing is the big­gest of all the Blue Note jazz clubs, with a space of around 2,600 square me­ters and a ca­pac­ity to host 300 peo­ple.

Ticket prices will range from 150 ($22) to 400 yuan.

“This is a new and chal­leng­ing be­gin­ning for China. We are of­fer­ing a dif­fer­ent live mu­sic and life­style ex­pe­ri­ence like no one be­fore in the cap­i­tal,” he says.

Shang­hai had a vi­brant jazz scene in the 1920s and 1930s. But for Bei­jing, the jazz scene is smaller. There are only four or five jazz per­for­mances venues in China, says Lee.

One of the most fa­mous venues in China is the East Shore Jazz Cafe, Bei­jing’s only mu­sic venue ded­i­cated to jazz now, which was founded by one of the most es­tab­lished Chi­nese jazz mu­si­cians Liu Yuan in 2006.

Liu, 56, who showed up for Blue Note Bei­jing’s open­ing along with his long­time friend, Cui Jian— the iconic Chi­nese rock mu­si­cian — started out as a folk mu­si­cian in his early 20s.

He learned the sax­o­phone in the 1980s, and has been pro­mot­ing and men­tor­ing younger gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese jazz mu­si­cians since then.

Speak­ing of the lat­est de­vel­op­ment, he says that thanks to the in­ter­net, which en­ables young peo­ple to dis­cover var­i­ous kinds of mu­sic, and the vis­its of in­ter­na­tional jazz mu­si­cians like pi­anist Ste­fan Karls­son and gui­tarist John McLaugh­lin, who have per­formed in China, jazz is slowly tak­ing root here.

Zheng Yu, the mar­ket­ing direc­tor of BlueNote Bei­jing, who is also a diehard jazz fan, says un­like in the United States, where the ma­jor­ity of jazz fans are peo­ple in their 50s and older, in China the au­di­ence com­prises mostly young stu­dents and white-col­lar work­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to Steven Ben­su­san, pres­i­dent of the Blue Note En­ter­tain­ment Group and the son of Danny Ben­su­san, plans for Blue Note Bei­jing have been in the works since 2014 when veteran Tai­wan song­writer and pro­ducer Jonathan Lee in­tro­duced Tian Tan, now the owner of Blue Note Bei­jing, to him.

Speak­ing about his fu­ture plans, Steven, who opened a club in Tokyo in 1988, fol­lowed by Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya, as well as Mi­lan, says: “Right now we are in a ma­jor ex­pan­sion mode, es­pe­cially in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.”

He says there will also be ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams like mas­ter­classes that al­low mu­si­cians to talk about their craft.

FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY

Sax­o­phon­ist Kenny Gar­rett per­forms with his quin­tet at the open­ing of Blue Note Bei­jing, the first branch of the New York jazz club in China.

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