OCT-LOFT Jazz Festival: Shenzhen, China, October 8-23, 2012
There were plenty of high quality performances throughout OLJF 2012, and virtuosity in abundance. Pianist Nicholas Bouloukos of the Greco Nubian Trio impressed with his dramatic runs the length of the keys, but it was the trio's original take on Greek traditional music that will linger in the memory. Saxophonist Alec Haavik and drummer/percussionist Chris Trzcinski had to be alert to the pianist's odd meter changes, but despite the unpredictable flow of the music it basically swung, not exactly in a traditional way, but it swung nevertheless. Haavik-another New Yorker-was an energetic presence, and even he seemed to be happily awed by Bouloukos' dazzling technique.
Bouloukos has a long association with jazz in China, dating back to 2002, when he founded the Shanghai Youth Jazz Orchestra a multi-national ensemble with an age range of 10 to 17. Seeking a fresh challenge, Bouloukos moved to Shenzhen a couple of years ago, and he is clearly impressed with the OLJF: "Having been a part of jazz festivals in Asia for a long time, and in China since they started, I can say I like what they are doing here," says Bouloukos. "They're piecing together the educational aspect with the talks and lectures and they're trying to keep the festival affordable."
As for as the variety of artists on display, Bouloukos has slightly mixed feelings: "The audiences are discovering people they might not ever have heard of before, which is cool. I think the festival is doing a brilliant job," he says. "It is a little ironic, however, that there was only one African-American playing. The festival maybe leans a little too much towards Europe. That's just my personal feeling, but overall they're doing a great job"
In Shenzhen, as in Shanghai, Bouloukos is sowing the seeds of the future of jazz here, by starting up a Shenzhen Youth Jazz orchestra: "We've just started recruiting for the Shenzhen Youth Jazz Orchestra," he says. "It'll be the same model as in Shanghai, but if I get the backing it'll be larger. I'd like to have several bands of different age groups, maybe forty or fifty kids and they can come up through the ranks, like a conservatory. When you're ten, twelve or fifteen, you don't forget those values."
Bouloukos' enthusiasm is palpable, and as for the chances of the Shenzhen Jazz Youth Orchestra playing the 2013 edition of the OLJF he is crystal clear: "You can put that in the calendar- assuming that we get it off the ground and assuming that it sounds good. If there is a group, they will be performing for sure."
As for the surprisingly young age demographic of the audience at Shenzhen, Bouloukos remarks: "It was about ten years ago when they first flew me down to Shenzhen to play a jazz gig, and I remember thinking, God, it's all 20-year olds girls, what a great place to be. And now, ten years later I'm a lot older but they're all 20-year old girls still," he says through laughter." It's a very, very young audience."
The young, relaxed atmosphere of the OLJF is something that pretty much all visitors comment upon, and it's clearly a refreshing change for many musicians: "There's a vibe here," says Bouloukos, "the audiences are great. It's a little hard to put my finger on it, but they're already blasé in Shanghai. They've seen everything. In Shenzhen they have more disposable income and they're a little more open-minded. They're either in college or getting out of college and they're not settled into a 9 to 9-a job they can't get away from."
The audience at OLJF was young, educated and curious, which for Bouloukos was a nice change from Shanghai: "They like to have a coffee and read; there's almost a pseudo-Japanese vibe here. They enjoy learning about culture, whereas in Shanghai nobody has time for that anymore. The vibe there had started to remind me of New Yorkeverybody has an angle. In Weibo or Shenzhen, I really don't know what 90% of the people who follow me do; they don't want to tell me. They just like my music."