All that jazz — festivals bring great acts to town
By Nie Xin
MUSIC festivals have only been around in China for the past decade, but Shanghai now boasts numerous high-profile annual events that offer a great variety of music.
Autumn is peak season for festivals as the weather cools down and there’s usually less rain. Two jazz festivals — JZ Festival and Shanghai Jazz Week — take place in October.
Marking its 10th anniversary, the JZ Festival has put together its most distinguished lineup of musicians to date, with Grammy-winning American guitarist Pat Metheny kicking off the 3-day event on October 17 with his first-ever performance in China. Fans can only attend this exclusive show if they have a 2-day pass for the festival (check www.jzmg.net/eg/jzfestival for details).
Funk master Bootsy Collins, two-time Grammy winner Marcus Miller and 2014 Grammy recipient Snarky Puppy are also in the JZ Festival lineup along with critically acclaimed artists Jojo Mayer, Laura Fygi and Jazzanova Live. Hong Kong pop diva Sandy Lam and Cui Jian, “the godfather of Chinese rock music,” will also perform.
If that doesn’t whet the appetite, there’s also harmonica virtuoso Gianluca Littera, singer Sinne Eeg and solo guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. All three will be performing at one of 10 stages at Expo Park.
In addition to bringing top international acts to town, JZ Festival continues attracting some of the best musical talent China has to offer.
Nationally recognized vocalists Chang Shilei, Tia Ray and Hu Shasha will be performing on the River Stage. Top Chinese jazz singers Coco Zhao, Jasmine Chen and Jonas Seetoh will feature on the Blue Grass Stage along with trumpet player Li Xiaochuan.
Before the JZ Festival even starts blowing its horns, Shanghai Jazz Week (October 2-4) will have come and gone. Six heavyweight jazz shows will be staged at Pudong Riverside Square, and more than 30 others will be held in jazz bars, hotel lounges and other venues around the city.
With both events taking place in the same month, organizers of both admit that it may confuse casual fans. At the same time, they are keen to highlight the different acts lined up, giving music fans more choices.
Voision Xi, organizer of JZ Festival, says, “What worries us most is the two festivals confusing audiences because the names are similar and the events will be held close together,” Xi says. “But we do hope that there are more and more music festivals, forming a good competitive environment that energizes the market.”
The one overlapping act is Cui, who is scheduled to perform at both festivals.
Xi doesn’t see it as a problem, however.
“Bass master Marcus Miller will perform with Cui at the JZ Festival. Funk and rock will clash on stage,” he says. “This performance is only available during the 10th anniversary celebration.”
Cui’s relationship with the JZ Festival goes back to its first year, when he performed at JZ Club. Ren Yuqing, the festival’s founder, was once the bassist in Cui’s band.
Li Hui, executive vice president of Moisson Communications, organizer of Shanghai Jazz Week, says they are expanding to include other genres of music.
“Jazz week used to be a pure jazz event,” Li says. “But jazz stands for freedom and multiple possibilities in music. Cui is a great example of how we can break with tradition and open a new page in jazz week.”
Grammy and Tony Award-winning diva Dee Dee Bridgewater and emerging jazz star Anthony Strong will also hit the stage during Shanghai Jazz Week.
The event has attracted big names like Diana Krall, Michael Buble, Chris Botti, Lisa Ono and Joanna Wong over the course of its 10-year history.
Shanghai Jazz Week has kept its October lineup — aside from Strong, Bridgewater and Cui — more of a mystery as organizers are waiting for more artists to confirm.
Although jazz is obviously the heart and soul of the JZ Festival, influences ranging from traditional Peking opera to electronica will be heard this year.
“Jazz stands for the spirit of freedom and participation,” Xi says. “A metropolitan city like Shanghai needs a music festival with jazz at the core. But combining it with electronica, soul, funk, R&B, pop and folk will make it more accessible to average fans.”
More than 40,000 people are expected to attend this year’s outdoor festivities at the Expo Park. In addition to live performances there will be opportunities to meet festival musicians, enjoy fine food and wine, and browse the latest arts and fashion.
Xi says they have already sold 30 percent more tickets for this year’s event compared to last year.
Shanghai also boasts the Jue Festival, Midi Festival, Strawberry Festival, SSO Summer Music Festival, World Music Week, Baoshan Music Festival, Daning Music Festival and others.
This is a good thing, Xi says.
“The charm of music festivals is that you have so many choices,” the organizer says, “and it brings musicians and music lovers together.”