China Tour

Report on the tour of China, June 13-22, 2004

Photos are now online!

The University Jazz Band #1 returned from its tour of China excited about its performances, not really tired of shopping (but nearly broke), clearly tired of insistent street vendors, and glad to return to California weather.

The band played 5 concerts in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou from June 13th to the 22nd. The audiences were very enthusiastic, wanting to learn about and hear more jazz, and gave the band ovations at every concert (except the one for some high school students who had finals impending and who acted like they had been in the auditorium all day). All of our Chinese hosts were very gracious and made us feel very welcome.

It was initially suggested that we play familiar jazz standards because the Chinese audience for jazz is still a developing one. But we soon saw that our audiences very much appreciated jazz on an emotional or visceral level. We responded by changing set lists appropriately, moving to such favorites (of the band and well as the audiences) as Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va,” “Amlak Abet Abet” (an arrangement of some Ethiopian pop music from the Either/Orchestra), and Tower of Power’s “Squibcakes," arranged by our own lead tenor player Kevin Wong.

Particularly interesting was the performance of two movements from "Tiananmen!" by the Chinese-American composer Jon Jang. The work incorporates Chinese folk melodies into the big band, and recounts musically the events at Tiananmen square in 1989. It received only its second performance by the band (and its first in China). Its performance in China (its first) by the band is an example of cross-fertilization (from China to a Chinese-American composer back to China again) that is occuring more often in global music.

Our first club gig was at an avant-garde, Soho-loft-type club, "798," complete with artwork that included a series of photos of a naked hermaphrodite. The club was small, but the audience would not stop applauding at the end of the performance. Our other club gig was outside on a “bar street,” and even though it rained just enough to cover up all the amplifiers (but not enough to stop playing), the band got a standing ovation and calls for an encore.

Some musical highlights (out of many): Jason Kneebone and Chris Conley playing every other note of a syncopated bass line antiphonally, out among the audience, eventually bringing the other winds off the stage and into the audience as well; Colin Dean and Pat Reynolds’ double solo that sounded like one person was playing it; and Caleb Clarke’s distorted rock-guitar solos that prompted one audience member to tell him “You are my idol.”

The food was great, including, for one dinner, Peking Duck as well as fried scorpion (tasted a little bitter). The band quickly became master negotiators, as haggling is expected for many common items. The band shopped until they dropped and took about 4 gazillion pictures. They plan to put together a DVD of the best ones (as well as the most embarrassing ones, no doubt). They climbed the Great Wall (on a rainy day), toured Tiannamen Square and the Forbidden City, saw the Marble Boat (a boat made of solid marble) at the Summer Palace, and will never forget any of it.

The band’s thanks go to our translator and tour guide, the indefatigable Ping Liu, who worked so hard for the band, always with a smile, and made everything much, much, easier; the donors who contributed generously to our fundraising; the College of Liberal Arts; the Instructionally Related Activities committee; and Druci Reese and Michelle Abba in the Music Dept. office (always!).

Next: Africa?

by Paul Rinzler

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