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OCT-LOFT Jazz Festival: Shenzhen, China, October 8-23, 2012

By Published: November 20, 2012
OCT stands for Overseas Chinese Town, a thriving economic and cultural zone of Shenzhen, built by returning overseas Chinese in the wake of Den Xiaping's economic reforms. The LOFT is a leafy artistic hub, a neighborhood of interior design studios, art galleries, artists' studios, and art dealers. It's a pedestrian area with plenty of chic terrace cafés and restaurants serving local and regional food. Old Communist-era warehouses and factory-shops have been converted into art spaces, non-profit galleries and a museum. Art, it seems, is everywhere; striking sculptures inhabit the area and many of the buildings' facades have been given a huge face-lift with ingenious paintings, both abstract and nature-inspired. A weekend market sees dozen of stalls selling all manner of hand-crafted art (Western kitsch is popular) from jewelry to individually designed t-shirts, and from mini-guitars to framed pictures of Communist-era art/magazine covers.

It's a thoroughly relaxing and equally inspiring location, as many of the musicians from the first edition of the festival observed: "We still have e-mail contact with many of the musicians from the first OCT-LOFT Jazz Festival," says Tu Fei, "and their enthusiasm for the festival, for the place, gave us the energy to go for number two."

Having spoken with a number of musicians who played the first edition of OLJF, I can vouch that their experience of the festival was unanimously positive. Singer Simin Tander
Simin Tander
Simin Tander

vocalist
played the inaugural festival as part of a larger tour of China and she observed: "Performing at the OLJF was definitely one of the, or perhaps the highlight of our China Tour. The festival is run by extraordinarily dedicated people with a clear and open-minded vision of what kind of jazz festival they aim to make-a high quality and creative festival in a beautiful and inspiring environment. The young audience was fantastic-really interested in the music and very enthusiastic. Besides this, everything was perfectly organized which made the stay even more wonderful. The OLJF is a special one; it is a place for cultural exchanges and encounters- I hope to be back soon."

Trumpeter Eric Vloeimans
Eric Vloeimans
Eric Vloeimans

trumpet
and his band Gatecrash also played the first edition of OLIJF and he is equally effusive in his praise: "It was a marvelous experience, the venue was exciting and the audience was receptive. I had no idea it would be so much fun. For us it's still exotic to perform in China but the Shenzhen organization, small and energetic, made us feel most welcome."

Little wonder then that the organizers feel they're on the right track. The first edition of the OLJF was 12 days long, with two bands performing each evening, and whilst the musical format has remained largely the same, OLJF 2012 has grown from 12 days to 16. The 2012 edition saw a number of gigs played simultaneously, in the main concert hall and just across the way in the comfy surrounds of the Old Heaven Bookstore, which doubles as a funky record and CD shop and a charming café to boot.

Without a doubt, however, the most significant change from the first edition has been the introduction of a series of talks related to all things jazz. There were talks given by Chinese speakers on eight days, with subjects covering the blues, jazz appreciation, independent European jazz labels, a history of Taiwanese jazz from swing to contemporary improvisation, European improvised music, the last 30 years of Chinese jazz, and the pseudo-exoticism of jazz.


As a representative of All About Jazz, the author's talk entitled "Death, Rebirth and the New Revolution: Trends in Jazz in the Last Quarter of a Century" drew a brave crowd prepared to sit through a 2-hour talk in English, translated step-by-step into Chinese. To be honest, two hours-longer than a football match or a movie-was way too long for any of the talks—for the audience, translator and speaker alike. Towards the end I felt a little like Fidel Castro with the bit between his teeth, haranguing a crowd unable to leave. Feedback from the audiences for all the talks was, however, overwhelmingly positive and it's to be hoped that this educational side to the OLJF will continue, though perhaps in a shorter format.

The music staged at the OLJF covered a very broad range, as is almost the norm at jazz festivals these days. The organizers, however, deserve credit for the adventurous nature of the program, given that the Shenzhen audience is relatively new to jazz/improvised music of this nature. The reason for the festival's length, and the fact that there were just two bands playing concise, one-hour sets, was done so as not to bombard the audience with too much of a good thing, as Fei Teng explained: "We want to ease the audience slowly into jazz music."


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