Sizhukong: It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Oon
"When we released the first album," Lee explains, "some traditional players criticized the band for not playing traditionally. But after some years and the release of the second album, the market is starting to accept our music. Astor Piazzolla, before he died, he was a traitor for tango." Lee adds pointedly. And one could add Paco de Lucia and Miles Davis to the list of innovators who were met at some point with incomprehension, suspicion or even derision.
Detractors aside, Peng is full of optimism. "When people hear the word jazz, they think it is something difficult or distant, but when they hear our music they think, 'Oh, jazz can be like this,' and that's fun. On the other hand, some people hate Chinese traditional music, but after they hear Sizhukong they think, 'Oh, traditional music and instruments can sound like that. That's interesting and fresh.'"
"Colleges are accepting jazz more," Peng continues, "maybe not departments, but some courses, and so classical musicians are more in touch with it, and they think jazz is a decent music from which there is a lot to learn. So both traditional and western music students are more interested and more open to jazz music."
Sizhukong too is actively playing its part in breaking down musical barriers. "Sizhukong has also started educating a lot of musicians in TaiwanYuwen, myself and Toshi all teach, and a lot of our students have Chinese instruments," Vanbuel says. "So because of this band, a lot of those younger Chinese instrumentalists say, 'Wow! I want to be able to play like that!' The younger generation is really interested in improvised musicjazz. They want to learn harmony, and this might lead to more Sizhukongs."
For the time being, Sizhukong is plying something of a lone course, but its example will hopefully inspire musicians in Taiwan and China to experiment. For Peng, jazz is the perfect vehicle for musical self expression. "I think jazz is very flexible, very tolerant and can accept different kinds of elements," she says.
The beauty and power of Sizhukong's music lies in the fact that it embraces both the old and the new. Centuries-old Chinese folk songs given a jazz treatment are illuminated, and traditional instruments are given wings in a new languagea language of flexibility, tolerance and acceptance.
Sizhukong, Paper Eagle (Sizhukong Records, 2009)
Sizhukong, Sizhukong (Sizhukong Records, 2007)