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Jazz band of brothers stumble in music

By Yao Minji (Shanghai Daily)

09:53, October 19, 2012

(Shanghai Daily)

RJ Big Band, a Shanghai all-Chinese jazz band, has stumbled into its second year, after numerous challenges since its more than 20 members - students, white collars and professional musicians - first bonded last October. RJ stands for Real and Jazz.

Among all Chinese cities, cosmopolitan Shanghai has enjoyed the richest tradition of jazz, the imported music from the West. Early jazz performances in the city can be traced back to 1930s.

Shanghai residents are known for appreciating this very different music style, and some jazz bars have been running for nearly 20 years.

Yet, it is not easy for a non-commercial jazz band to survive, when its members prefer to get together and improvise instead of performing for a paying audience.

"It hasn't been an easy year. We have moved six times since January (to find space)," Gu Yixin, the band's clarinet player and manager, tells Shanghai Daily. Rehearsal space has been the major problem since the band was founded.

Musicians have tried what many other artists are doing - collaborating with a neighborhood committee, which has space and funds for cultural events. They have been directed to promote culture, one of the pillars of the country's Five-Year Plan.

But it hasn't worked out. "The gap between our music concepts is simply too great to allow collaboration," Gu, a full-time administrator at the Shanghai Music Conservatory, recalls.

He adds that some organizations or committees who are willing to provide space ask them to perform non-jazz music, including revolutionary or patriotic songs. Some groups simply equate jazz with classic English pop, a common misunderstanding.

"We do include some old pop songs in our repertoire because they really cheer up the audiences, but that's definitely not the focus of our band. We simply enjoy playing interesting jazz melodies and improving our own skills," says Qian Mu, the band's art director and conductor.

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