Hong Kong musicians Daniel Chu and Jill Vidal team up to perform at Freespace Jazz Fest

  • The local artists reflect on their love of the genre and the city’s growing jazz scene
  • The five-day event will be held at West Kowloon Cultural District and feature more than 50 performances on five stages, as well as film screenings and an art market
Kelly Fung |

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Pianist Daniel Chu (left) and singer Jill Vidal will come together as the Daniel Chu Supergroup at this year’s Freespace Jazz Fest at West Kowloon Cultural District. Photo: Xiaomei Chen.

Avant-garde pianist and composer Daniel Chu Siu-kai and Cantopop star Jill Vidal have found a spot to shine in Hong Kong’s jazz scene.

The dream team, coming together as the Daniel Chu Supergroup, will hit the stage at this year’s Freespace Jazz Fest at West Kowloon Cultural District, performing three instrumental originals composed by Chu and two jazz classics featuring Vidal as the vocalist.

“Hongkongers have had a tough two years. So as an artist, sometimes you make artistic statements on a proper stage indoors. But this year, I had no such thoughts – I only want to play music outdoors ... I want to get my body moving with the audience. I want to see them bobbing their heads, feeling the music and being comfortable,” said the 24-year-old Chu, one of the many talented musicians on the line up of top-notch artists offering a vibrant mix of jazz and R&B.

The five-day event, featuring more than 50 musical performances on five stages, will be held from October 26-30. The festival also includes film screenings and an arts and crafts market.

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Smooth sailing and tunes

Vidal and Chu’s collaboration has been smooth and spontaneous – no verbal cues are needed when music fills the air.

“I guess it’s because of our backgrounds. I am an improviser. Jill grew up in a live music context,” Chu said.

“For me, [our collaboration] is like a full circle – a family moment. Though it is one thing after another, we experience it as a family. It’s just very precious.”

“It feels so surreal, like I’m dreaming,” the 40-year-old Vidal added.

Singer Jill Vidal said the experience of collaborating with Chu feels “surreal”. Photo: Xiaomei Chen.

Vidal recalled singing jazz in a lounge with her father when she was 18.

“Most of the songs we sang were standard jazz. So I studied and immersed myself in listening to different types of jazz,” she said.

What Vidal likes most about jazz is the genre’s rich history and tradition of expression.

“Musically and lyrically, it revolves around social, racial, and political messages. So [the musicians] would also talk about suffering. It means a lot to hear their stories,” she said.

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“I don’t get many chances to sing R&B or jazz songs, so I really treasure this opportunity and want to do more, even in my own music.”

When asked how her Filipino roots have nurtured her love of music, Vidal said that community spirit makes music an everyday language in her family.

“We gather as a family and eat or play music ... we would sing together because my father’s brothers are also musicians. So when I was young, I always saw them playing their instruments,” she recalled.

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Hong Kong’s growing jazz scene

Chu, who started as a classical pianist, studied piano performance and songwriting at Berklee College of Music in the US. He graduated with the highest distinctions at the age of 20.

The musician, who returned to Hong Kong in 2018, called his jazz style “fusiony”. His muse is the American singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder, a trailblazer in the industry known for blending different genres.

Chu praised the internet age for allowing people to explore different kinds of music, saying, “every piece of music is one click away. You can listen to something you have never heard before and get hooked on it. Because of this, everyone has become more open-minded.”

Daniel Chu studied piano performance and songwriting at Berklee College of Music in the US before coming back to Hong Kong. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

With the ebb and flow of talent coming and going, Chu believes that the local jazz scene is moving in a healthy direction.

“There are more and more jazz musicians in Hong Kong. Some are home-grown, while others have studied overseas and returned to the city. I’m one of them.”

“There are more online and in-person communities that appreciate jazz music. Our group does not just play jazz, but much of our work is filled with jazz elements. We take inspiration from great Black American music,” he said.

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Asked if he would compare the local scene to the epicentre of jazz, New York, Chu said that “the grass is not always greener on the other side” and what he appreciates about the city’s jazz scene is its self-taught spirit.

“Hong Kong doesn’t have many resources for jazz. In the US, students can choose to major in jazz studies. However, we don’t have a university in Hong Kong that offers a music major in jazz,” he explained, adding that he is currently studying his MPhil in Ethnomusicology, focusing on jazz in Hong Kong.

There are many things that Hong Kong can learn from New York, Chu said, such as growing an audience and giving musicians residencies – regular gigs – at performance venues.

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“Hong Kong doesn’t have these things yet, but I believe we will soon.”

Chu said that this year’s Jazz Fest is a testimony to the growing presence of the city’s jazz scene.

“Comparison is pointless – New York is the epicentre of jazz. Everyone will go there. But can Hong Kong become the epicentre of jazz in Asia? That is the question, and I believe that we can.”

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