Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong-based jazz musicians are now commuting regularly to Shanghai, and some have even relocated there. One of those is trumpeter Toby Mak, who I saw on a recent visit to the city at the Peace Hotel Jazz Bar, sitting in with a modified line-up of the Theo Crocker Sextet.

Crocker was away, but Mak and the band - which included Hong Kong-based pianist Allen Youngblood - were sounding good, or in Youngblood's case as good as was possible on an out-of-tune piano with several broken strings.

The hotel, which closed in 2007, reopened last year after renovations under the management of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. A lot was obviously spent on sprucing it up, and it seemed a shame that a few more yuan hadn't being shelled out to keep the musical equipment in good working order. The room also needed a better sound system.

Visitors should still drop in though. The bar itself, of course, was the place where the foundations for Shanghai's jazz revival were laid. After 1949, jazz in China was effectively banned until 1980 when a group of veteran musicians who had played in the city's nightclubs before the revolution began a residency in the bar that continues to this day.

Several of the founders have passed on, but replacements have been found, and the band appear every night unless they are away on tour. The oldest member of the group is now aged 90, and the youngest 65.

The Old Jazz Band appear nightly at 7pm, and the Theo Crocker Sextet from 10pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

A lot of the jazz played in Shanghai is designed to evoke the city's pre-Japanese invasion period, much as the restoration of the classic buildings on the Bund has been. Nevertheless a range of different styles can be heard.

At the Cotton Club in Huaihai Road, according to musical director and guitarist Gregory Smith, the house band have been together for more than a decade. 'There were few places of any kind to hear live music in Shanghai back in the early days, and even less for jazz or blues,' he recalls. 'The scene has since developed quite rapidly and there are now many venues to hear live jazz any night of the week.'

Acts confirmed for this year's JZ Shanghai Music Festival, to be held from October 15 to 23, include famed pianist McCoy Tyner, and the Lawrence Ku Sextet.

Take Three

Three of the best venues in Shanghai to hear live jazz.

- The Cotton Club ( the design concept and name are intended to evoke the 1930s, but the music is just as likely to be modern jazz or blues.

- The House of Blues and Jazz ( live music every night except Mondays, and a jam session every Sunday.

- The resident band, Tony Hall's Blues Mission, are from Boston. JZ Club ( a mixture of local and international players can be heard here every day of the year, and most styles of small-group and big-band jazz are presented.

-The club also organises the annual JZ Shanghai Music Festival.