The Chinese and all that Jazz 中國的節奏 zhōng guó de jié zòu

By Gregory Taylor The nightclubs in China rivaled any I had seen in the States only on a larger scale–I mean gymnasium size. The music was contemporary and rhythmic summoning the crowds to the dance floor. I heard R&B tunes from the O’Jays to Michael Jackson.  In more quaint settings, I heard a young man accompanying himself on the keyboard while singing the tunes of Nat King Cole. The Mainland Chinese have discovered Black America, or should I say its musical art form.  Dare I say their interest seems to be more pervasive and intense than that of the American Born Chinese (ABCs).   It appears even the stoically reserved Chinese can’t resist the rhythms of R&B and the free-flowing expression of Jazz.  Indeed, the latter might explain the Mainlander’s embracing of Jazz for its unfettered self-expression. While I was studying Chinese I had a classmate named Victor Siu.  Victor was both a Music and Chinese major.  One day I heard him play the piano.  What he played astounded me.  Here was a Chinese person playing Jazz piano.  I was so surprised at what I was hearing that it encouraged me to start playing the piano again.  There was a bit of irony here, in between Chinese classes Victor would show me some jazz licks, and I would show him what Chinese characters were what. I recently interviewed Victor, who is now the music teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in Oakland .  He teaches primarily Chinese music and its varying instruments from the erhu to the moon guitar.  His first love, however, is still Jazz.  When I asked Victor what attracted him to Jazz music he stated it was when he first heard Dee Spencer, a music teacher at SFSU, play the piano.  Victor stated, “I couldn’t believe it was the same instrument that I played; I couldn’t believe it was the same instrument, but with completely different sounds.”  Prior to that Victor had been trained to play classically.  His mother is a well-known music teacher in the Chinese community, and his father and grand-father were also musicians.  So, it was inevitable that he would be involved with music. Victor stated that he took jazz theory classes and a lot of African American Studies courses.  He jokingly stated, “I like February, because of Black history month and Chinese New Year.”  His favorite piano player of all-time was Nat King Cole, everybody that performed on the Motown label, and he loves anything by Sam Cooke.  One day Victor will figure out a way to meld Chinese instruments with Jazz music forming a gumbo of Chinese-Afro Gruel. Send comments to: gregoryktaylor@yahoo.com
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