Go out and listen to something…

August 6, 2018

Echoes of History: Naxi Music in Modern China

Filed under: China, Autumn in Yunnan — burnett @ 7:26 am

While preparing the Autumn in Yunnan project, I am benefiting from the research underlying “Echoes of History: Naxi Music in Modern China”. Already 20 years since publication, this infinitely detailed book helps the reader drill down into the seemingly infinite levels of Chinese history, geography, culture, and tides of political and governmental entities. Ethnomusicologist Helen Rees focuses on the Naxi minority (or tribe), their absorption of Han music, and the general environment in Yunnan province that surrounds the tribal cultures of southwest China. The challenges she faced are not unlike those seen by Bela Bartok in eastern Europe between 1900-1910. In fact, Bartok decried the pollution of ethnic musics, the misrepresentation, and anti-historical performances in the name of ethnic music throughout Europe. Prof. Rees offers as good an explanation as any of how the Han majority assimilated and controlled the minority cultures, beginning in ancient times.

April 27, 2013

Guizhou University

Filed under: music, music education, travel, China Tour 12, China — burnett @ 3:33 pm

The focus of this trip was the visit to Guizhou University, in Guiyang. Guiyang, located in the far southern mountains of China, sits at 3000 ft above sea level and enjoys cool breezes and very clean air year round.  The university is in a sylvan and mountainous setting.   Professor Jian Feng Wang, Dean of the School of Fine Arts, was my host.  My assistant and companion for the time at the school was the linguistics grad student, Xu Tao.  Xu Tao was a marvelous guide, and a great conversationalist on all subjects from culture, language, international affairs, and human nature.  Aside from getting me from one place to the next, he took me on a guided tour of the nearby medieval village of Qinq Yan in the nearby mountains.

The final concert included a marvelous performance of Chick Corea’s Spain  featuring the wonderful erhu soloist Ren Jie.  She understand this piece beautifully and we put it together in a single rehearsal.

Spain   Ren Jie, erhu; Burnett Thompson, piano

photo:  Guida Professor, Xu Tao, Liu Xuan, Professor Wang Jian Feng, B.T., Ren Jie

December 10, 2012

Wuhan: CCNU and Wuhan University: the Concerts

Filed under: music, music education, travel, China Tour 11, China — burnett @ 10:17 am

Back at a favorite spot, Central China Normal University, followed by a concert at Wuhan University.  The students at CCNU were absolutely fabulous, and we had the good fortune of two performances of the same program, first at CCNU, then Wuhan Univ. Listen to some outtakes:

Wang Yingtao, guzheng; Burnett Thompson, Piano临安遗恨 Leave Regrets in Lin An.

Yang Guang, dizi;Burnett Thompson, Piano 牧民新歌  Song from the Countryside

November 29, 2011

2 weeks at Ningbo University

Filed under: music, music education, travel, China Tour 9, China — burnett @ 12:10 am


I met Yu Hui at Shenyang Normal University last year, and after his arrival as Dean of the School of Arts at Ningbo University, he suggested I come to the school and participate in his new jazz program.  Hence   two weeks of teaching, rehearsals, lectures,  and performances, including the “American Jazz Music Week” (美国爵士音乐周).  The Jazz week included 6 performances, including a student concert, a couple of presentations by the remarkable trombonist Professor Tom Smith, my own lecture on Chinese & American music histories, and concluded with a big concert hosted by your truly.  From a personal perspective, this was one of the biggest highlights of 9 tours in China, and I have Yu Hui to thank for this rewarding experience. 

My goal as expressed to Yu Hui was to present the jazz piano course in Mandarin Chinese.  He in turn set up a daily two hour class, followed by two hours of rehearsals every day. I conducted these sessions entirely in Chinese, with the generous assistance of the students who helped me with the technical vocabulary and general pronunciations. 

The highlight of the trip was my Introduction to Jazz Piano Class, which included 12 students.  We met every day for 2 hours.  A close second was the two-hour daily rehearsals with a pair of erhu players and two singers. 

Above:  Yu Hui;  jazz piano class: 张大卫,朱佳,周琳, 周舒怡, 尤鹏玮,聂小涵,温馨,罗洁,,袁金宝,温馨 周余 徐莹莹, B.T.,  not present: 李化阳; Prof. Yang, translator Xin Chen, Prof. Zhong, Tom Smith, translator Ke Jin, B.T.; Concert: Wang Lei Lei, B.T., Song Wen Yue

April 29, 2011

Shakespeare Sonnet Cycle in Shanghai

Filed under: Art, music, travel, China Tour 7, China — burnett @ 1:45 am

Tonight:  The Song Cycle premieres at Two Cities Gallery in Shanghai. Music composed by Burnett Thompson.  Translation:  Janet Tan  

Today’s  Global Times:  Burnett Thompson, a noted jazz pianist and composer from Washington D.C., is just one of many who have professed a lifelong passion of the Bard’s professions of love. However, his own appreciation rings with a unique note all of its own. Thompson has spent 15 years developing a song cycle inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets…more  The Sonnet Cycle was born out of a long sequence of bardophilia, documented at www.SilentShakespeare.com  The song cycle includes a Salsa, a couple of Rock n Roll tunes, Viennese song form, jazz, and two songs written in traditional Chinese style, featuring erhu solo. 

Front page of Smart Shanghai:  Tonight at Two Cities, he’s doing the Sonnets, translated into Mandarin and performed with Coco Zhao assuming vocal duties. This is really great stuff…more

Audio Previews:  Sonnet 66 at Central China Univ. in Wuhan

Sonnet 127  at Youku and at Youtube  Video:  Lena Seikaly, Marshall Keys, Eric Wheeler

The performance here in Shanghai features the remarkable vocalist Coco Zhao, saxophonist Wilson Chen, erhu soloist Jin Ruo Wei, bassist EJ Parker, Drummer Chris Trzcinski and the blogger at the piano.

April 26, 2011

Shanghai: Food

Filed under: Art, music, travel, food, China Tour 7, China — burnett @ 8:15 pm


Last night it was a new, and now my favorite, restaurant called Lucky Zen & Veg, a Bhuddist restaurant on Ma Dang Lu.  I was the guest of my very good friends Zhang Cong Mei and Ai Ling, and we had a feast.  Everything from the orange blossom tea to the soup, mushroom and cashews, limas and cashews, hot pepper beans and filo tofu, shredded filo tofu with ginger, etc, etc.  Very delicate, light, and wonderful flavors.  

Later stopped by JZ to hear my current favorite talent, Joey Lu.  Joey is an exciting pianist, a confident and stylish singer.  I can’t say I’ve seen anyone recently with her presence, bandleading ability, vocal talents, and immaculate command of the piano.  Of course, she had the  ’super trio’ behind her of Sean Higgins, Mike Hicks and the Chris Trzcinski. 

There is always something to see in the street here, and the moment can be so intimate, that I hesitate to take a photo.  I got past that for the “toilet on a bike” scene.  Convenience is everything in China, so why not a loo on the bicycle?  Save those time-consuming roadside stops.

My hotel, the Yesinn, is under renovation.  So I am in a construction site.  I’ve stayed here for 5 years, and don’t have the motivation to leave.  There are a handful of people still staying there, and we eye each other nervously in the elevator, wondering  what kind of person would remain in such a dreadful environment.  But aside from the wet concrete on the hallway floor, the power tools on the steps and the jack-hammer at 7:30 a.m. sharp, what’s to complain about?

photos:  BT & Zhang CongMei, Mike Hicks, Joey Lu, Chris Trzcinski, Sean Higgins’ elbow, bike vendor, bike loo


April 20, 2011

Wuhan: 华中师范大学的音乐会

Filed under: music, music education, China Tour 7, China — burnett @ 9:34 pm

I arrived the other day in Wuhan with no particular agenda, but that changed in a New York minute when a concert was planned at Central China Normal University Music School.  I was joined by my old colleague Wang Meng 老师, and a wonderful opera student, Tang Jiu Qi,  who sang Sonnet 66 from the Sonnet Song Cycle. (listen to this remarkable performance here ) The faculty, including Prof. Tian Xiaobao, Prof. Zang, Prof.  Zhang and  others, hosted the most gracious dinner afterwards.  The concert program included a couple of quickly assembled arrangements of a tango and bossa nova for erhu and piano, Er Quan Ying Yue 二泉映月, and new approaches to music of Liu Tianhua and the inevitable Sai Ma 赛马。  

April 13, 2010


Filed under: music, music education, travel, China Tour 6 — burnett @ 5:47 pm


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.

April 7, 2010

Wuhan Day 1

Filed under: music, music education, travel, China Tour 6, China — burnett @ 11:08 am

 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

April 3, 2010

Shanghai Conservatory, East China Normal High School

Filed under: Education, music, music education, travel, China Tour 6 — burnett @ 12:02 am

Next stop was the Shanghai Conversatory Prep department.  We were actually met by several jazz students from the upper conservatory, and other undergrad piano students.  I also had the pleasure of meeting   the jazz piano professor at Shanghai Conservatory.   Again very penetrating questions, but largely from faculty rather than students.  There was interest in the divide between white and black culture in the U.S. and how jazz made it’s way through the American cultural stream.  In general, I always feel as if I am of some general utility, since the function of the lecture is to look at the roots of American music in the early 19th century and how the threads of  New  Orleans music were firmly entrenched 100 years before the flowering of the American jazz culture.  I was joined by two erhu players from the school.

The last stop of the day was at the remarkable East China Normal University High School 华东师范大学第二附属中学。About 450 high school students filled the hall.  This is a bi-lingual school, and I presented the lecture in English with no interpreter.  This was by far the most enthusiastic audience and the Q& A would have gone on for days.  I was joined by Kelly, a young erhu player.  I was introduced by one of the students, Pei Li, who spoke eloquently in English to this large assembly.  One is always impressed by the respect, inquisitiveness,  and sincerity that these kids demonstrate.  It never fails to move me deeply while working  with students here in Shanghai.

Photos– upper: Shanghai Conservatory and prep students and faculty.

below:  East China Normal Univ. H.S.  The erhu player, Kelly, is center.  To her right in red is Pei Li who gave the introduction. Far left is our gracious host for the day, Hong Yan Fen.

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