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Jazz in Shanghai, China: A Study in Contrasts

By Published: May 24, 2004

Hu Danfeng started playing trumpet at age 10 and showed early promise; he was admitted to the high school attached to the Shanghai Conservatory in 1993. He demonstrated an early appreciation for jazz, forming his first jazz band in 1997. After enrolling in the Shanghai Conservatory in 1999, he began frequenting well-known local jazz bars in Shanghai, such as the Full House, Blues & Jazz, and Cotton Club, and rapidly gained recognition as a jazz trumpeter and flugelhornist. He is currently enrolled in the Master's Program at the Shanghai Conservatory, majoring in classical trumpet studies, while performing nightly at the Hilton Shanghai.

Yuko Arai is of Japanese ancestry and is married to a Frenchman. She started classical piano lessons at age three, performing publicly for the first time when she was four years old. She was introduced to jazz after moving to San Diego, and it was "love at first hearing." She subsequently moved to Paris where she studied jazz at Conservatoire de Paris and at the Bill Evans Piano Academy, performing publicly with her own jazz trio (trumpet, bass and piano) at various bars, clubs and showboats in Paris. A "resident of the world" who has continued studying with professional jazz musicians wherever she is located, she then moved to Bangkok, Thailand, playing in bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels for three years with a trio made up of alto saxophone, bass and piano. Currently in Shanghai, she forms the musical hub around which this superlative quintet revolves.

Bassist Jin Yongjun was born in 1969 and started studying violin at the age of six. In 1981, he enrolled in Yan Bian Music Academy to begin his formal musical education, majoring in cello. After graduation in 1990, he became a member of Ji Lin Art Group. To further his career, he moved to Shanghai in 1996 and began performing in bars, clubs and restaurants as a string bassist. In addition to jazz, he has become proficient in playing a wide variety of different types of music.

Drummer Jeff Sulima, who harks from Vancouver, British Columbia, started piano lessons at the age of eight. He received a set of drums for his eleventh birthday, playing his first gig with a Country/Christian band at a bar, long before he was of legal drinking age! He began drum lessons at age 15, enrolling two years later at the Mount Royal College Conservatory of Music in Calgary, Alberta, majoring in jazz studies. Following receipt of his Diploma in Music, he was admitted to Capilano College in North Vancouver, where he received a Bachelor's of Music. He gigged widely in Vancouver during his seven years there, playing with the Bruno Hubert Trio for three years (Hubert plays piano in Brad Turner's Quartet/Quintet). In addition, Sulima organized a band called "JazzMatik" (he is asthmatic) which appeared in the Vancouver Jazz Fest in 2002. He has been in Shanghai a relatively short time, playing at the new jazz club, "Club JZ," and providing a foundation for the quintet at the Hilton nightly.

So, in China, as in most of the rest of the world, jazz is alive and well. Despite the contrasts of East and West, rich and poor, ancient and new, and young and old, jazz is a medium that is ideal for bridging people, ideologies and musical systems. Each new culture that is introduced to jazz not only assimilates jazz into its life and experience, but also leavens jazz with its different rhythms, tonalities and perspectives. And jazz is the richer for it.

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