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Famed jazz pianist at home in China

INTERNATIONAL entertainer Bob Bellows is a master jazz pianist and singer of Elvis Presley's generation who has performed around the world and now lives in southern China.

I happen to know him from a CCTV program, in which he played and sang traditional Chinese folk music, "Kangding Love Song." I was drawn by his touching and vivid performance, and impressed by his kindness, humor and the way he presents Chinese songs. I wrote him an e-mail and he called me the next day.

The 80-something artist still performs in China and abroad, gives benefit concerts, sings a few songs in Chinese and teaches music to visually impaired students in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, where he and his wife Jene Bellows have made their home since 1999; she is devoted to educational exchanges between China and Western countries and both are dedicated to sharing with others.

For years Bellows' performances have brought memories, tears, laughter and romance to his audience.

He is famous for singing the theme song "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" from the movie of the same name when it made its world premiere in New York in 1957. "I Wish You Love" is another of his classics first recorded in 1960.

Bellows was born in Menomonie, Wisconsin. When he was four years old, his father just put him on a piano bench and said "Play!", thus starting his lifetime in music.

He recorded together with Elvis, performed for governors and senators, and world figures of former US President Reagan's time.

Tall and handsome, kind and humorous are words commonly used to describe Bellows.

When he sits at the piano he conveys a lyric like virtually no other; he is more than a pianist, he is a magician who is making heart-sounds.

He greets audiences in Chinese, Japanese, French, and many other languages.

Never stop giving is one of his life's mottoes.

Q: Your father first put you in front of a piano. Did he have a great influence on your music career?

A: Yes. My father was my biggest fan, as he was also a musician. He and my mother always encouraged and supported me. I learned a lot from my father about life. He was a very kind and giving man. Jazz music is a major part of my career but I was brought up with classical music. Studied at McPhail's Conservatory of Music, voice, piano, counter-point, harmony and music appreciation ... I needed to know all phases of my craft.

Q: How would you describe your personality and character in three words?

A: Enthusiastic, introspective, romantic.

Q: You got to work with Elvis. Can you share any Elvis stories?

A: We were together in Nashville, Tennessee, where we recorded. However, I did not know him well. He loaned me his raincoat to wear in the photo taken for the cover of my first album titled "Misty." That was 1960.

Q: You have spent a lot of time in China. Why is that and what's your life like in China?

A: I have been to many cities and I am deeply impressed with every place in China. For example, I love Xi'an (Shaanxi Province) and have done many concerts there for universities and in the People's Theater near the Bell Tower where I was very well received. I love China and I am learning so much from the friendly welcoming people every place I go. I also have been to Shanghai and plan to return because Shanghai is the city where jazz was born in China. Also, possibly to give a master class at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Q: China has many different kinds of music and I notice you like to play Chinese folk music jazz-style. What are your thoughts about Chinese music and have you considered writing songs especially for China?

A: I have put Chinese lyrics to American songs, and I work on this all the time. I am able to perform all kinds of music, from classical to folk, but I do stay away from any form of rock, rap, or so-called "music" that degrades the human soul. I believe Chinese music will become more popular in the West, as an evolutionary kind of thing, as it is heard. For example, I love the ballads and music of Cai Qin from Taiwan. I do play Chinese music traditionally, but I also arrange Chinese folk music as jazz.

Q: Where did you learn Chinese? You sing it pretty well.

A: I do not speak Chinese, but I continue to learn. I have a few special sayings. But I do sing Chinese songs, and I have coaches who work with me.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I have a 10-year-old blind girl, an amazing pianist, who I have been working with for four years. Her name is Niko, blind since birth. We play together in some occasions.

I am not a good teacher, but I am a good coach. I also work with a special violinist named Rainbow. I'm interested in working with and have possibly been invited to perform for the children in Sichuan where the earthquake hit in 2008. My heart goes out to the people, and I feel that I can offer and give them some joy. This is my feeling.


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