Ey­ing jazz em­pire, Blue Note club ex­pands to Shang­hai, ROC cap­i­tal

The China Post - - ARTS - BY SHAUN TAN­DON

Blue Note, one of the world’s best- known jazz clubs, an­nounced an ex­pan­sion Thurs­day to China as it banks on a grow­ing ap­petite for live per­for­mances among mon­eyed con­sumers.

The club, based in New York’s Green­wich Vil­lage, said it would open a Blue Note Bei­jing in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal in March, and within three years spread to Shang­hai and Tai­wan’s cap­i­tal Taipei.

Blue Note will also open next year on Honolulu’s Waikiki beach, a lo­ca­tion cho­sen in no small part due to the pop­u­lar­ity of Hawaii with Asian tourists.

The move comes as Western mu­si­cians from vet­eran pop stars to clas­si­cal or­ches­tras look to ex­pand their foot­print in China, eye­ing fu­ture growth in the ma­tur­ing econ­omy of 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple.

“Do I be­lieve there is a large de­mand for jazz in China right now? No, not nec­es­sar­ily. But I be­lieve we can help de­velop the mu­sic and the mar­ket,” said Steven Ben­su­san, pres­i­dent of the Blue Note En­ter­tain­ment Group.

Ben­su­san said the 250-pa­tron club could dis­tin­guish it­self in China by of­fer­ing an in­ti­mate con­cert ac­com­pa­nied by food, which will be adapted to lo­cal tastes.

“In some senses, it’s not like buy­ing a con­cert ticket and just re­ly­ing on the artist to draw peo­ple,” he told AFP.

“It’s more about a venue. It’s a lifestyle place, it’s a place for peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence the mu­sic, even not know­ing who the mu­si­cians are,” he said.

Aptly for a venue de­voted to the Amer­i­can- born art form, Blue Note Bei­jing will set up in the ren­o­vated site of the for­mer U. S. em­bassy near Tianan­men Square.

The com­plex — a group of el­e­gant stone build­ings around a grassy court­yard — dates from 1903 and briefly served as the Bei­jing base of the Dalai Lama be­fore the Ti­betan leader’s flight into ex­ile. It now houses sev­eral high- end busi­nesses.

Jazz Roots and Re­newal

Blue Note is tak­ing a page from its suc­cess in Ja­pan, where it opened a club in Tokyo in 1988 and later in the in­dus­trial hub of Nagoya.

Ben­su­san said that the cases were not an ex­act par­al­lel, as Ja­pan had a ded­i­cated jazz scene well be­fore Blue Note.

But he said that the club has suc­ceeded in build­ing Blue Note’s brand, with Ja­panese visi­tors now mak­ing up a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the clien­tele at the orig­i­nal New York venue.

While jazz is smaller in China, it is not new. Shang­hai had a vi­brant jazz scene amid its roar­ing nightlife in the 1920s and 1930s, with swing era trum­pet leg­end Buck Clay­ton start­ing his ca­reer in the cos­mopoli­tan city be­fore re­turn­ing to the United States.

Clay­ton was a ma­jor in­flu­ence on Li Jin­hui, of­ten called the fa­ther of Chi­nese pop mu­sic. But jazz grew out of fa­vor with the com­mu­nist takeover and was con­sid­ered deca­dent dur­ing the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion.

Since the eco­nomic boom started in the 1990s, Shang­hai has again de­vel­oped a jazz scene.

Even many non- con­nois­seurs know the smooth jazz sax­o­phon­ist Kenny G, whose tune “Go­ing Home” is rou­tinely played at China’s shop­ping malls and other venues to an­nounce, as the song ti­tle in­di­cates, that it is clos­ing time.

Re­gional Jazz Net­works

Blue Note Bei­jing plans two shows ev­ery night ex­cept Mon­day. Ben­su­san said that at least one night each week would be de­voted to lo­cal tal­ent.

Once clubs open in Shang­hai and Taipei, Ben­su­san hopes to cre­ate a net­work for jazz mu­si­cians to tour across Asia.

He said Blue Note was con­sid­er­ing South Korea for an ad­di­tional club, although no plans have been set.

Blue Note opened its first Euro­pean club in Mi­lan in 2003.

Ben­su­san said Blue Note was also mulling an even­tual ex­pan­sion to Paris and Lon­don.

De­spite their es­tab­lished jazz scenes, Ben­su­san said that the Euro­pean cap­i­tals were not sat­u­rated and that Blue Note could cre­ate a sim­i­lar Euro­pean net­work for tour­ing.


A sign at the jazz club Blue Note in New York on Thurs­day, June 25.

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