Jazz vibe

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 February, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 February, 2004, 12:00am

San Li Tun, Beijing's answer to Lan Kwai Fong, is home to one of the city's more pleasant bars, called Jazz-Ya. Serving Japanese noodles and Yanjing beer on draft, it plays modern jazz on a CD player - but contrary to the suggestive name, it does not feature live music. In fact, there are few live jazz clubs in town.

The best established is the CD Jazz Cafe, whose manager and part-owner, Liu Yuan, is the saxophonist in the rock band founded by Cui Jian, whose anti-establishment songs are associated with the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The club, just down the road from the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel, is situated in a charming space in the tree-lined grounds of the Agricultural Exhibition Hall. Liu's band plays impressive modern jazz in the John Coltrane mode on Friday and Saturday nights, watched by a gregarious mix of students and professionals, both expatriate and local. Its only significant competition is the Big Easy, in Chaoyang Park, a rambling two storey building reminiscent of New Orleans, with a blues band led by a long-time expat and international school teacher, Humble Mike.

But there is a groundswell of interest in creating new places for jazz. For example, a restaurant called The Orchard, which serves quality western food in a renovated courtyard hotel in the northern suburbs, plans to experiment with a jazz band. Musicians are hunting down unassuming bars that could become the next 'Village Vanguard', New York's most famous jazz spot. They may have some help. In the centre, the much-touted Central Business District - currently nothing more than a collection of building sites and glossy brochures - will, in two years, be full of top-end residential towers and office buildings.

Already, they are beginning to compete for the pay cheques of the investment bankers, lawyers and accountants working in the area. Just as the Jazz Club in Hong Kong helped bring in wealthy, older expats to serve Alan Zeman's restaurants, they believe jazz could attract Beijing's high-rollers to what the property developers hope will be a flourishing city centre.

Of course, that depends on what Beijing looks - or feels - like in two years. Downtown could become a sterile site, much like midtown New York city, driving culture out to the fringes. Or, it could develop neighbourhoods with the charm of Hollywood Road. Time will tell.