JQ Whitcomb has been deep in Shanghai’s jazz scene since arriving in 2003, performing regularly all over town as well as teaching at the JZ School and directing the music side of things at China’s biggest foreign-owned radio broadcaster, Soulfire. Today, he writes about the best jazz acts that hit Shanghai this year.
This year has seen a good amount of jazz action, increasing steadily in line with the growth of the jazz scene (and market) in Shanghai this past decade. Despite the jazz boom, seminal location JZ Club still reins as the jazz location of the city, since it’s one of the few clubs who’ll host more obscure and esoteric jazz acts.
And in that vein, the JZ Festival ranks highly on our list this year, being the biggest jazz event (maybe the biggest live music event too?) of the year and unprecedented in its execution after 4 years plagued with rain and other issues. Check out that and four other great jazz gigs to come to the city this year.
1. JZ Music Festival (Century Park, October): For the first time in this festival’s 5-year history, this past October’s JZ Festival enjoyed pristine sunny weather. Just the thing to compliment a great turnout and an excellent eclectic mix of music groups. The opening Friday night concert at Yunfeng theater, DeeDee Bridgewater backed by the JZ All-star Big Band, by itself put the festival’s status over the top.
And though the daytime Saturday/Sunday part of the festival’s biggest stage was focused on rock and pop music, the smaller jazz stage alone still counts as the best two days of jazz music this city experienced this year. With 15 or so bands ranging from rocking Danish organ trio Ibrahim Electric to Israeli Dixieland band Isradixie accompanying the parade of happy festival-goers out the gates at the very end, it was a significant event in Shanghai’s jazz history.
2. Iiro Rantala Trio (JZ Club, August): There’s always a few slightly (or a bit too) wacky groups who play at JZ every year, but this was the perfect mix of wacky, fun and virtuosic. This fun group featured pianist Iiro together with a guitarist and a beat boxer, who while each was individually awesome already, together they brought the house down.
3. Ryan Kisor and Willie Jones quartet (Oriental Arts Center, December): The final concert of the monthly Sunday afternoon jazz concert series at the Oriental Arts Center was easily the best this year. Ryan Kisor is one of those trumpet players who plasters you to your seat with his burning horn lines, but who can just as easily pull out a gorgeous velvety tone for ballads. Fellow New Yorker Willie Jones tore it up on drums, while Shanghai’s own EJ Parker held it down on bass and Xia Jia from Beijing joined on piano to round out the group.
4. Twocities in tune concert series (twocities gallery, monthly all year): Maybe we’re stretching the rules here by featuring an entire concert series, but most people still don’t realize some of the best jazz concerts in the city happen not at jazz clubs or theaters, but at this art gallery in M50. It’s probably this very reason that the concerts are so good, because they’re a bit of a hidden gem that only attracts real listeners, instead of the hipsters who go to the jazz clubs to see and be seen (you know who you are). Pianist Steve Sweeting works with different vocalists at each concert, sometimes individually and sometimes with a few together, and always has some fun new musical flights to feature each show.
5. Jazz Folk (JZ Club, April): Hong Kong-based bass player Peter Scherr stops through town with at least a few different jazz groups every year on their tours around the mainland, and this one was by far the most brilliant group he brought this year. Joined by Australians Matt McMahon (composition/piano) and Simon Barker (drums), this group took familiar rock and folk music to some jazz extremes, balancing perfectly the fine line between accessibility and intense creativity.