GROWING up in Hong Kong in the early 1960s, Ted Lo heard, as Omar Khayyam put it, 'the brave music of a distant drum'. The beat was syncopated and the drummer was playing jazz. This week Lo, now one of the most sought-after jazz keyboard players in the United States, is bringing it all back home with a stint at the Jazz Club beginning on Wednesday. Lo has travelled a long way since leaving Hong Kong but still has fond recollections of his teenage years in the territory. Jazz was a new and exciting sound at the time, and a number of radio and television shows featured the music under a US-sponsored cultural programme. In Hong Kong, many of these were presented by the prominent Chinese columnist Greenstreet Kan, who, as a result, probably had the best collection of jazz records in town. Lo's parents knew Kan well and the budding pianist grew up with the sound. 'Greenie turned me on to a few artists I had never heard before. We used to hang out at his penthouse and he had this large selection of albums that nobody else had at that time,' Lo explains. He had the chance to follow up that early interest when he moved to Canada to complete his high school education. Lo's organ teacher became his second jazz mentor, but he began working on his future career in earnest when he enrolled at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. 'I actually learned more by being in Boston than from school. As well as Berklee they have the New England Conservatory, which had a great jazz department at that time, and there were a lot of local clubs to play in. It was a great place to learn,' he recalls. In fact, Lo played his first recording session while at Berklee. He dived in at the deep end on a cut which featured one of the all-time greats of the alto sax, the late Cannonball Adderley. 'I just met him briefly. We'd done the basic track already and he came in and did the overdub. I was thrilled to be on the same date with him,' Lo recalls. Lo graduated in 1976 but stayed in the Boston area, working as a freelance keyboardist. His reputation as a jazz sideman grew considerably when he moved to New York in 1979, making his mark with flautist Herbie Mann's group, Family of Mann. This drew the attention of former Miles Davis bassist Ron Carter, whose quartet he joined. Word about his talents spread, and Lo started to get calls to show up for concert and recording dates. Although he has done relatively little work as a leader, Lo has been remarkably prolific as a hired gun. Artists he has worked with include Astrud Gilberto, Noel Pointer, Eric Gale, Phyllis Hyman, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Eric Marienthal and Dave Valentin. 'I have done three albums of my own but mostly I've freelanced. Right now I'm working with Gregory Hines, who is great. Michael Franks is also very nice. There are a couple of guys I'm not that crazy about working with,' Lo says, maintaining a discreet silence about who they are. But one artist he was particularly pleased to find himself in the studio with was Herbie Hancock, one of his musical heroes. 'He was producing one of Airto's albums so I met him in the studio and we had a lot of fun. Just meeting him was fantastic. After we were done with that session he came around and just played for me for about half an hour. That was total inspiration,' he recalls. Another artist Lo is always happy to work with is guitarist Eugene Pao, for whom he co-produced an album which will be released once a distribution deal has been negotiated. 'Eugene's excellent. He has a record deal with Blue Note in Japan and it's going great,' Lo enthuses. The two performed together during this year's Hong Kong Arts Festival and Pao's group will be backing Lo for his Jazz Club sets which will also include some of the guitarist's own material. 'The first time we met was in Hong Kong about two years ago, but apparently his parents knew mine. It's a small world,' Lo says. The Arts Festival appearance was an emotional homecoming for Lo as an artist. He had never performed his own compositions here, and the Jazz Club residency seemed a logical follow-through. Although the overall standard of musicianship in Hong Kong has risen over the past few years, Lo and Pao remain the only local players to have established serious international reputations. It is probably not a coincidence that both completed their college educations in North America. 'There aren't too many jazz musicians in Hong Kong that have time to grow in music, Eugene is the exception. At least there is a jazz club now and more exposure to concerts, but other local musicians they haven't really established a decent standard yet,' Lo observes. Lo's Jazz Club shows will have a heavy emphasis on his electronic keyboard work and will be, he says 'out of the mainstream'. 'I don't know how many keyboards I'll be able to get on the stage. I know they have limited space, but all the writing now is electronics based,' he explains. But however many instruments Lo manages to set up, the shows promise to be something out of the ordinary.