Blue Notes: City Jazz, Hong Kong Summer Jazz Festival
Jazz festivals generally require much advance planning, but this month Hong Kong is going to get one that's been organised almost by accident.
City Jazz: Hong Kong Summer Jazz Festival, presented by the Hong Kong Big Band Jazz Federation with the support of the Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra (SNJO), has been pulled together at short notice by guitarist, record producer and sound engineer Skip Moy. He says it will present the cream of local jazz talent - in concert at City Hall and in gigs at smaller club-style venues - over a week from May 28 to June 3.
In March, Moy heard from SNJO leader Taka Hirohama, who told him that he had booked the City Hall Theatre for two days in June, but didn't have anything ready to present. "My original plan was only to fill up the two days at City Hall," says Moy. "However, we quickly found we could not accommodate all the local groups. So I solicited everyone's help, in particular Joyce Peng who has two music establishments - Joyce is Not Here and Peel Fresco - and asked her to book activities from May 31 to June 1."
Soon Moy also had Backstage and Gecko on board. "What started as a small two-day event has now mushroomed into a week-long festival," he says.
"The idea behind City Jazz is to get the entire city involved in community driven jazz concerts by local artists. Promoters often neglect the artists here. This will be the first time a great portion of the city's jazz artists will have a dedicated few nights, and the opportunity to be part of one big jazz festival. Not everyone will have time to go to City Hall, but they might have time to come to some of the other participating venues. We hope that there can be more social interaction between the artists and audiences."
Moy says that as well as locally born players, we have resident musicians here from the mainland, the US, Australia, the Philippines, Canada, Brazil, Uruguay, Germany, Sweden, Africa, India, Sri Lanka and other countries. "A lot of musicians are finding Hong Kong attractive in terms of work and living. When groups get together to perform it looks like a mini United Nations of musicians," he says.
City Jazz begins on May 28 at Gecko with Brigitte Mitchell's regular Tuesday night residency, followed on May 29 at the same venue by singer and percussionist Michelle Carrillo and Friends. The programme at Backstage for May 30 has not yet been finalised, but on May 31 singer Angelita Li will appear with a group which also includes star guitarist Eugene Pao.
There will be music on May 31 at Joyce Is Not Here and at Peel Fresco. On June 1 at Joyce Is Not Here singer Jennifer Palor will perform with guitarist Dan Lavelle, and at Peel Fresco Moy will perform with "nu jazz" band Jostrio, pianist Jezrael Lucero and guests.
The big nights at the City Hall Theatre have been split, broadly speaking, into acoustic and electric evenings. June 2 is the electric night, featuring the Basic Notes Big Band, 1980s fusion jazz outfit Soul Traders, and Bella Elektra, a new group featuring a frontline of saxophone, trumpet and a DJ. Oscar Azhur and Michael Garcia are handling sax and trumpet respectively. Finishing off the night will be the Ginger Kwan Group, performing music from her new CD, Kwantum Leap.
The acoustic night on June 3 will begin with the Hong Kong Youth Jazz Orchestra followed by the Joao Mascarenhas Brazilian Jazz Trio, Allen Youngblood and Jazbalaya featuring Blaine Whittaker on saxophone, and the Eugene Pao Organ Trio.
The show and the festival come to a fitting end with the Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra, featuring singer Elaine Liu, and a number of special guests from among the other festival performers. Tickets are available in advance from Urbtix for the City Hall Theatre shows.
Three of the venues for City Jazz and reasons to check them out.
Backstage, 1/F, 52-54 Wellington St, Central, tel: 2167 8985. Jazz isn't all that's on the menu at this restaurant cum music venue, but it features prominently in the live music mix, and some of Hong Kong's best jazz musicians are attracted by sound quality here.
Gecko, LG/F Ezra Lane, 15-19 Hollywood Rd, Central, tel: 2537 4680. Intimate is the word for this tiny bar. "Social interaction" with the artists here isn't just possible - it's more or less unavoidable. Late-night live jazz is led by vocalists Brigitte Mitchell or Michelle Carrillo Tuesdays or Wednesdays year-round, unless one of them is out of town.
Peel Fresco Music Lounge, 49 Peel St, Central, tel: 2540 2046. One of the larger club-style live music venues in town, Peel Fresco would be a great late-night jazz joint if the neighbours didn't keep complaining about the noise. Shows now start at about 8.30pm. Many of the City Jazz festival artists are regulars.