A delightful surprise in Dalian arrived in the form of the family of Ding Cheng, including his wife Wan Xiang Ling, daughter Wan Hui, son Ding Yi and their colleague Da Jian on drums. They were performing standards in an upscale bar next to the Shangrila Hotel. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a few tunes and we were greeted with great enthusiasm. A highlight of the evening was Wan Hui’s singing of Autumn Leaves which she delivered with great passion and style.
Dalian is on the sea in northeast China. The view from the Xing Hai hotel room is quite spectacular, glimpses of numerous islands off the coast and a coastline marked by a string of small mountains.
The first excursion was to Dalian University of Technology. The program began with a group of student in yellow costumes serenading us with a memorable theme and variations on Jingle Bells. The room was a gigantic study hall with desks in front of the chairs, seating about 300 students. Again, since a component of the lecture is the development of jazz in the U.S., I was aware that these students are generally quite unaware of this art form but many were intrigued by the music. The audiences are so attentive and respectful in a way that I cannot imagine stateside. But maybe I’ve not had enough experience in my own country. The students all had a good grounding in English and I gave the lecture without translator.
The next day we went to the American International school out in the countryside. The students are largely Korean, Irish, and a few Americans. They were very good natured and good fun, and I think they were glad to have a visitor from the outside to break up the day. This school is near the enormous Intel plant. We had a delightful lunch afterwards with the band director, Leah, and the CFO, Sue Cheng.
Next stop was Lioaning University. The hosts were extremly engaging. The students were applied music students and music ed. students. The piano was a Bosendorfer concert grand, and we were in an auditorium seating about 400. I had the pleasure of working with erhu player Dou Xiu Ping, who also joined as at the dinner afterwards.
upper left: D.U.T choir, right: Liaoning faculty hosts a great meal for M.A. and B.T . Bottom left: My excellent collaborateur on the erhu. right: The gang at Dalian Int. School.
The final performance in Wuhan was on the outdoor stage at Wuhan Tian Di, a beautifully restored commercial and arts area in the center city. There are many people to thank for making this happen, including Marina Chen of Wuhan Tian Di and Diane Sovereign, U.S. Consul General of Wuhan. We were blessed with clear skies and 20C air temperature for a memorable evening. I was joined on stage by my translator and onstage foil, Mei Mei Zhao and frequent collaborateur erhu soloist Wang Meng. It is my opinion that much of what I say on stage is amusing, but Mei Mei disagrees and translates my words in a way that guarantees complete silence from the audience. One of these days, I will figure out how to say something funny in Mandarin Chinese. Wang Meng and I did a different twist on our Liu Tianhua piece, and I retrofitted the traditional arrangement with an extemporaneous “jazz” component. We agreed that “next time” 下次我们一起做爵士 音乐。
I am already making plans to return to Wuhan. I made many friends, and discovered yet another world of truly dedicated and accomplished musicians, educators and administrators.
We then headed to a home for seniors on the outskirts of Wuhan. The event was quite touching in every respect. We concluded with tea and cake in the garden. One of the residents was convinced she could teach me Shanghai dialect, and another sang a song for me several times and insisted that I include it on the next program. The performance included a recital of “Mo Li Hua” (Jasmine Flower) by the choir and their leader also played piano with the choir.
Listen to the Seniors Choir singing Mo Li Hua 茉莉花。
Where to begin. April 9 started with a visit to an elementary/middle school for blind students in Wuhan. The kids were divided by class, and there were about 15 kids in each class, 120 or so total. There was a delay, and the kids started entertaining all of us by singing, first the lowest grades, on up to the highest. They were completely uninhibited and sang with enormous emotion and enthusiasm. They were also 100% on pitch. Eventually two of the older kids stood and sang pop songs with beautiful voices. I am not going to begin to try to convey the emotional impact of this scene.
There was no translator for this date, so I was on my own with my Mandarin. It was a very different experience, one that I’ve not had, to play for an audience who depends 70% upon their hearing. I became very attentive to detail in my playing, and even when making mistakes, I made sure it was very articulate. I tried to make as many sounds, different shades, gradations of volume, pedaling, etc, that I thought would be attractive to their finely tuned ears. As a group, they were extremely enthusiastic about the music. Eventually I invited a young man up who played a lengthy, highly arranged, and seemingly improvisatory arrangement of the great Abing song, Er Quan Ying Yue. He played very sensitively, and deliberated over the melody’s iterations in a thoughtful way. He must spend hour after hour playing the piano.
The performance was concluded with a massive pizza fest. Apparently these kids had not eaten pizza before, so this issue was corrected by Pappajohn’s Pizza who sponsored the whole occasion, including bringing in the tuned piano and making all of the logistical arrangements. We had a great time, and I enjoyed speaking for a few moments with many of the kids. They were just so very happy…listen to Take 5 from the school performance. One of the teaches grabbed me by the arm and said, “You know, music is the only color they can see”.
We then moved on to a home for senior citizens. Again, a well tuned piano and beautifully made banner.
The food of they day? Yes, smoked donkey. I swear, I ate smoked donkey. It was actually called “Donkey in Red Oil” and I recommend it. Jianghan University hosted this particular repast.
I had the pleasure of meeting the leadership, students, and faculty of Jianghan University, a school of 40,000 students. The students in the lecture numbered around 350 and were largely music education undergrads. They were an extremely receptive crowd, and we had a great time. I was joined by a marvelous erhu player, Wang Meng Laoshi. The Q & A afterwards was lively and regrettably we were cut short by time constraints. The lecture was followed by the intro to Jazz Piano class, attended by 15 students or so. I am finally getting the Mandarin words together for the musical technical terms, and could almost deliver this class in Chinese. Next time. We had limited time and focused on one aspect of the method, namely putting together a set of quartal harmonies that may be applied to most pop and jazz standards.
photo lower: erhu soloist and teacher at Jianghan Univ. Wang Meng
Left: Erhu professor Ren Jing.
Jumping heat: la de tiao. Very, very spicy frog legs, a specialty of Wuhan. I highly recommend it. It was gourmet cooking at its best and one of a parade of featured entrees last night as guest of Wuhan Music Conservatory. The lotus root soup was also memorable, another Wuhan specialty. (In a hurry, so will leave more comment later…) This marvelous repast was hosted by Professor Jiang, Dean of the Piano Dept.
The lecture and classes, both at Wuhan Conservatory were both memorable for the gracious reception by the students. The students really got the whole package with the ‘intro to jazz piano’ master class, and I wish I had more time with them. Jazz is so foreign, new and also so welcome from these students who prepare so diligently with their majors here. There is a very large popular music program here, and I need to learn more about it. The conservatory has 5,000 students. Below: raising a glass with Prof. Jiang, faculty, and Consul General Diane Sovereign.
left: Yangtze River at Wuhan
Wuhan, capital of Hubei province is a quaint village of 10 million people in central China, about 900 miles west of Shanghai. I will tell you that the food here is better than Shanghai cuisine. I see it as a compromise between Shanghai and Sichuan cuisine. The chefs use plenty of herbs, so that every meat or vegetable is fragrant, as opposed to the simpler (and blander) Shanghai approach. Not to say that I haven’t had extraordinary feasts in Shanghai, but the Wuhan specialties are special indeed.
The big event of the day was a visit to a new club called Lian. Lian Ai de lian, or ‘love’. It was a very cool place and had a small bandstand with an upright piano. The ensemble this evening included the manager of the club, Li Bing, on guitar, Yi Zheng on alto saxophone and yours truly at the piano. We met for the first time about 30 minutes before the downbeat. I believe this was opening night for the bar, and the wine was complimentary. We played some standards, and generally had a jolly time of it.
Prior to that I was guided to a museum that largely celebrates a tomb from 400 B.C. that has been recently excavated. The tomb was the size of a palace and included horses and chariots, servants, and and entire orchestra of bronze bells and numerous other instruments: a couple types sheng, a old version of the guzheng, but mostly an imposing array of bells and tuned chimes. We benefitted from a concert on the replica of the bells. The concert was 30 minutes long, which was about 4 hours too short. This was some amazing sounds that took awhile to fully ingest. The big bells have a very complex sound, so that the listener really has to choose which partial or fundamental he is going to listen to.
right: Li Bing, guitar; Yi Zheng, alto sax, BT at the piano
Global Times Article, “Jazz Strikes a Chord with Chinese Notes”
This Sunday, April 11, I’ll be hosting the stage at JZ club with my old friends EJ Parker on bass, Chris Trzcinski on drums. We will be joined by Alec Haavik, the astounding and unpredictable reed player, violinist Peng Fei, Pipa player Lin Di and hopefully Wilson Chen on alto sax. On the menu for the evening is the much anticipated Expo Suite. The ink is not yet dry on this piece, so the fact that it may not even be completed by Sunday increases the excitement.
Lin Di has been a vital contributor to the group Cold Fairyland. CF is a Chinese traditional/rock fusion band. Listen to Black Wing at the Myspace site. Lin Di and I will do the Liu Tianhua piece Zhu Ying Yao Hong, Mercury from my own Planets, Exhale from the mysterious Expo Suite, and Fly Away, an old composition from the “early Burnett” period.
Sunday, April 11. JZ Club. 46 Fu Xing xi Lu, Shanghai. 10:30 p.m. Admission is Free.
photos: left-Alec Haavik, right–Lin Di
You will never find a nicer piano room anywhere in the world than Brick in downtown Shanghai. The decor is, well, brick. But it also has wood. It is a beautiful design, very comfortable, and the hosts are gracious and sincere. I stopped in last night to hear Oleg Roschin and Viennese jazz stylist Heidi Krenn. Heidi presents a very eclectic array of jazz standards, and does indeed remind the listener of her mentor, Sheila Jordan.
I hope that Oleg and Heidi continue together for a very long time. Heidi has a certain delicate vocal virtuosity that requires an attentive collaborator. Oleg, who speaks about 45 languages, is simply a force of nature, and has a never ending arsenal of musical ideas and chops. The two of them present the tunes full of shifts and complexities and with a good energy.