First China Jazz Festival Features Special Guests, Seminars
Posted 12/31/2012

The house lights dim, a hush falls over the crowd and a lonely video camera on a 30-foot boom slowly moves toward center stage as Mr. Zhang Xiaolu, director of the Jazz Studies Program at Shanghai Conservatory of Music, walks briskly from the stage wings: “Please welcome to the stage, for the final concert of our festival, one of the greatest jazz saxophonists of our time, Eric Marienthal and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Big Band!” The audience explodes into applause, whistles, screams and cheers. This is the start of the final concert of the First China Jazz Education Festival in Shanghai on Nov. 22–24.

At the official opening of the festival on Friday morning, Nov. 23, the president of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Professor Xu Shuya, welcomed participants from throughout China, as well as guest students from the Rangsit University Big Band in Bangkok, Thailand. In addition, he gave special recognition to Xiaolu, who is executive director of the First China Jazz Education Festival. It was Xiaolu’s vision, jazz expertise and knowledge of the needs of music education in China that made the festival a reality. He was able to present to the president, through the Conservatory Board of Directors, a solid plan of jazz educational classes, seminars and events, as well as local and international sponsors that would make the festival possible.

Marienthal, a former member of Chick Corea Elektric Band, was the featured guest artist for the festival. Although this was the saxophonist’s first trip to China, he has a huge following there. This is due in part to his many recordings, but also because of the exposure he has received from the saxophone organization Sax China, which has more than 11,000 members. Clinicians for the festival were Gary Hobbs, University of Oregon; David Glenn, Whitman College; Dan Gailey, University of Kansas; Clint Ashlock, University of Kansas; and Richard Sussman, Manhattan School of Music.

Over a three-day period, the festival served as a catalyst to bring together high schools, universities and five of the nine major conservatories of music in China. Jazz groups, both large and small, performed before clinicians and enthusiastic students, teachers and local supporters.

After each school jazz ensemble’s performance, the artist/clinicians shared ideas with the students on improvisation, style, literature and interpretation. At the same time, classes throughout the day were presented for students in all levels of improvisation, as well as master classes on specific instruments. Because of the strong interest in jazz, a separate track for teachers was designed for those who wanted to know more about the teaching of jazz: How to Teach Jazz Improvisation, How to Work with Rhythm Sections, How to Start a Jazz Program and other topics were designed specifically for China music educators. Each clinic or master class presented in English had a Chinese translator from the conservatory.

After the Saturday-evening festival concert, all were invited to the JZ Club, one of the largest jazz event promoters in China, for a jam session with local musicians. The following day, the artist/clinicians left Shanghai for other provinces in China to present master classes and clinics to students who were not able to attend the festival.

For all those who were in attendance, it was the first time students in China had attended an event of this type where artists and clinicians worked directly with students. Tang Diming, a student bassist from Beijing, said, “The best seminar ever! It’s a great pleasure to work with all the master teachers … I hope it will happen again.”

Edward Zhang, a student jazz guitarist from Nanjing, China, said, “It’s great to see and hear all the combos and students from all over the country working on jazz music … I’m very impressed by their skills and level of performance.” One could sense the feeling of energy and excitement throughout the three days and the lasting impression it would have on the jazz talents of the next generation.

For China and the rest of the world, the First China Jazz Education Festival was a giant step forward for jazz education.

Gene Aitken is on the faculty at the Shanghai and Xinghai Conservatories of Music. He is director of the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music Faculty Big Band and music supervisor of the Taipei Jazz Orchestra. In addition, he is event director for the First China Jazz Education Festival in China.


Saxophonists Wilson Chen (left) and Eric Marienthal (Photo: Clint Ashlock)

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