City Weekend

Meet the all-girl group jazzing up Hong Kong’s music scene with an emphasis on improvisation

From reworkings of classic Chinese songs to original scores, Jazz Ladies are out to make every show different

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2018, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 10:41am

With the frenetic pace of life in Hong Kong, upbeat songs are often the soundtrack to the city, but for a more cultured, relaxed vibe, Jazz Ladies are the ones to turn to.

The all-female group only formed at the beginning of the year, but have already jazzed up the city’s music scene with three public performances, including their most recent show, Jazz Up Kowloon.

The ladies have finely honed their craft of creating a moody but intimate connection with their audiences while showcasing their charismatic personalities.

“With us, even when we play the same song, there is a different outcome every single time, and the feeling is amazing,” says Joyce Cheung Pui-chih, the band’s keyboard player. “What’s even more attractive is how spontaneous it is – there are surprises every time we play together, even if it’s the same tune.”

The excitement is shared by the rest of the group – their vocalist and saxophonist.

“We play original music with some arrangements of Chinese tunes, which is not common practice in the industry, but we just love to promote those tunes. When we are performing, we focus on interacting with the audience both on stage and off stage ... sometimes we make jokes to connect with everyone in the room,” vocalist Clover Lei Wen, 27, says.

“In jazz, there is improvisation, which means making up new melodic solo lines or accompaniment parts. The song choice doesn’t always have to be straight jazz, it can be other popular songs as well.”

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Cheung, 25, adds: “Our sheets of music only contain the tempo, the rhythm, a few notes and the chords, so it’s completely up to the musician to decide what kind of style they want to perform in, such as going for a longer introduction or settling for just going right into the melody.”

It was the idea of Zoe Ng Sum-yee, the group’s saxophonist, to gather the other two musicians together to form a group, the aim being to create music the three shared a passion for.

But the journey was not easy.

You can imagine the difficulties when there are only so many jazz musicians in the city, let alone finding females
Zoe Ng, saxophonist

“The two girls have been living in different places and only returned to Hong Kong recently,” Ng says. “It was fate that brought us together at this specific time, and the desire to be in a girl band.”

The 38-year-old says there is not enough support from the government for jazz and jazz study.

“There are a small handful of institutions that offer it as a major area of study. That was a problem I realised when I was looking for bandmates. You can imagine the difficulties when there are only so many jazz musicians in the city, let alone finding females.”

Other than producing great music, the trio say, the beauty of being in a single-sex group is that it’s always girls night out.

“We get to talk about girlie stuff. The music we produce is of course the number one topic of our discussions, but another concern of ours is our presentation. With guys, it’s mostly a dress shirt and trousers, but with the girls we get to talk about what to wear and whether to have our hair up or down, and we get together to do our make-up for the shows. There’s always so much to talk about – it’s a sisterhood kind of feeling,” Lei says.

And it wasn’t just their love of jazz that brought them together – rather it was a shared mission.

“We want to show that women can have a strong personality, too,” Lei says. “By having an all-girl group in show business, it’s sending a message that we can do whatever we wish and nothing will get in the way of our success as long as we unite and fight together.”