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November 3, 2010

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Jazz take on Chinese folk songs and old pop

A jazz concert this Sunday will present traditional Chinese folk songs and old Shanghai pop in a jazz style for an evening of nostalgia.

Chinese vocalist and lyricist Jasmine Chen and Her Jazz Men band will perform jazz with Chinese characteristics at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center in Pudong.

Most of the songs will be jazz-style Chinese songs, including traditional folk tunes like "Weaving A Basket" from Henan Province and "Play the Tambourine, Sing the Song" from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, as well as classic old Shanghai pop songs like "Evening Primrose" and "Rose, Rose, I Love You."

Chen will also sing a few jazz classics in English.

Israeli pianist Oleg Roschin, French guitarist Etienne Jeanne, American bass player EJ Park and drummer Alex Ritz will collaborate with Chen. American trumpet player J.Q. Whitcomb and sax player Alec Haavik, both based in Shanghai, will be guest performers.

For Chen, jazz with Chinese characteristics should be presenting Chinese culture and philosophy, combined with Western jazz styles and forms.

"Weaving A Basket" describes a happy scene of young people weaving baskets before plucking flowers on a mountain.

"The main melody has typical characteristics of Henan folk music with a special rhythm," says Chen, who is living in Shanghai. "I kept the original melody and added rich jazz-style harmony performed by the band. Improvisations, common to jazz, will add more color."

Chen, who grew up in northeast China's Liaoning Province, started learning the piano at the age of four and performed on stage when she was only eight. She studied classical music at Leeds College of Music in the UK. But it was not until 2005 when she settled in Shanghai that she started to develop jazz with Chinese characteristics.

"I kept performing traditional classical jazz at first when I settled here, but I gradually found it was not my music," says Chen.

Both her parents were folk dancers and she was surrounded by traditional Chinese music, including folk, classical and songs of different periods.

"They were all classic and popular at one time but gradually faded in time," says Chen. "As a Chinese musician, I found it my responsibility to inherit and present our own rich music treasures in my own way."

Chen then started to adapt Chinese songs and music into jazz. She cooperated with jazz pianist Steve Sweeting and staged eight jazz concerts, half of them adapted Chinese songs.

"We got great feedback and a bigger audience and this strengthened my confidence," says Chen.

Adapting typical Chinese music to jazz is difficult, says Chen. It's hard but also essential to precisely balance original elements and innovation, she says, otherwise the song will be ruined. It's also essential to clearly know the meaning of the original.

"Jazz musicians are usually fond of complicated harmonies and rhythms," says Chen. "I always explain the meaning of the original song to them and warn them not to make music too complicated."

The song "Velvet Flower" from the movie "The Little Flower" has mellow but strong lyrics. Chen kept the slow and soft melody but added some ornamentation in the harmony; she didn't use drums but the drummer scrapped on cymbals occasionally to enrich the song.

Jazz with Chinese characteristics is usually easier for Chinese audiences to accept than other jazz, since those melodies have lingered in their hearts, says Chen. It also appeals to Western jazz fans who are interested in Chinese culture.

Date: November 7, 3pm

Address: 425 Dingxiang Rd, Pudong

Tickets: 60-180 yuan

Tel: 6854-1234, 962-388


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