Blue Notes jazz column - this year in review

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 6:31pm

Looking back on jazz in Hong Kong in 2013, it was an outstanding year for performances by international artists, getting off to a strong start with the Hong Kong Arts Festival bringing over the remarkable young bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding.

At next year's festival, jazz and world music are well integrated in the bill, with performers straddling both areas. Singers Gregory Porter and Madeleine Peyroux, pianist Roberto Fonseca, and guitarist John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension will all be good to hear in person.

In October, the Hong Kong Jazz Association's Sixth Hong Kong International Jazz Festival presented a cosmopolitan mix of jazz and world-music acts, including Swiss-born singer-guitarist Eliane Amherd, Croatian vocalist Ines Trickovic, South Korean pianist and composer Jangeun "JB" Bae, the Soren Bebe Trio from Denmark, and Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson with his Liberetto Trio.

Jazz World proprietor Clarence Chang, no longer involved with the jazz association, began his own concert series, which reached a climax in November with a performance by Herbie Hancock.

Other artists featured in the Jazz World Live Series were South Korean ensemble Winterplay, harmonica virtuoso Hendrik Meurkens with his Brazilian Fantasy Band featuring local stars Angelita Li and Eugene Pao, fusion band Tribal Tech featuring guitarist Scott Henderson, the father and son jazz guitar duo of Ulf and Eric Wakenius, acoustic guitarist Kotaro Oshio, and ukulele hero Jake Shimabukuro.

That's quite a list of concerts, some better attended than others. Chang seems to have found a workable business model with Jazz World Live. He can take chances on the lesser-known European artists he admires, and cover any losses with big names such as Hancock, or artists with a pop aspect and a substantial local following such as Shimabukuro and Winterplay.

That achievement makes him Hong Kong's "man of the year" in jazz for 2013 - and he seems determined to maintain the momentum he has built up in the new year. His first concert in 2014 will take place on February 16, and features guitarist Larry Carlton.

There were also a lot of good gigs featuring local performers, many of them at Grappa's Cellar which continued to host The Stray Katz Big Band on the first Saturday of every month, and the Victoria Jazz Band on the first Wednesday, plus occasional special performances presented by Allen Youngblood in his Kinetic Soundscapes Series.

The blues also got a hearing at Grappa's, which is evolving into a performance venue for both music and stand-up comedy. The pairings of harmonica man Henry Chung and Eugene Pao, summoning up his inner bluesman, were popular.

The China Coast Jazzmen continued to keep Ned Kelly's Last Stand buzzing, with guest appearances from musicians coming through town on cruise ships. During its 41st year in business, it maintained its admirable policy of live music seven nights a week, with no cover charge.

The Fringe Club also continued to present live jazz, and in April put on one of the most enjoyable gigs of the year at City Hall with the fifth concert in the Swing for All Series under the banner, "We Got Rhythm Let's Swing & Drum", featuring the Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra plus special guests.

Hong Kong is still without a dedicated jazz club, but a significant number of talented local and expatriate musicians are keeping jazz alive in various venues ranging from hotel bars and lobbies to SoHo restaurants and bars. Go out and see them more often. They deserve your support.

Meanwhile, in addition to the deaths this month of pianist Stan Tracey and guitarist Jim Hall, we lost drummers Chico Hamilton and Ronald Shannon Jackson, pianists Cedar Walton, Mullgrew Miller, Paul Smith, Bebo Valdes, Marian McPartland and George Gruntz, and guitarist Johnny Smith.

British trad jazz had a particularly bad year with the deaths of bandleaders Kenny Ball (trumpet) and Terry Lightfoot (clarinet).

Other noteworthy losses were Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs, and jazz writer and historian Jim Godbolt. There were many more, but that's too sombre a note to end on.

Take Three

Three favourite jazz albums released over the year.

  • Without a Net (2013, Blue Note): the Wayne Shorter Quartet marks the 80-year-old jazz great's return to the label with an album that captures some of its remarkable chemistry in concert.


  • That's It! (2013, Legacy): New Orleans institution the Preservation Hall Jazz Band draws on its rich musical heritage of distinctly 21st-century Crescent City jazz.


  • The Flying Pig (2013, Resteamed Records): new music from Tracey, recorded in one day in January. It has a first world war theme for the conflict's centenary next year.