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

By Gregory

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 that Chinese love 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.  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 seems 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 .
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