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Preview: JZ Music Festival

This year the JZ Music Festival is swelling like the bulging cheeks of a trumpet player. There are more acts, a wider range of genres and new venues to fit everyone in. TALK spoke with organiser Mark Elliott, UK acid jazz ensemble Us3 and local reggae rabble-rousers, Lions of Puxi.

Last year’s Shanghai Jazz Festival was a great success, with Giles Peterson, Joanna Wang and more creating an enclave of awesome in Jing’an Park. This year, the festival is even more ambitious. A showcase of Shanghai jazz musicians and American chanteuse Dee Dee Bridgewater (pictured) will open the festival on Friday16 October with a concert at the Yunfeng Theatre, before 37 bands and 20 DJs take to three stages – jazz, rock/folk and electrograss – in Century Park on Saturday and Sunday. 

“We had no choice about the move,” says organiser Mark Elliott. “Jing’an Park was too small. We sold out last year. Century Park was an obvious choice, and if this year is successful, I think I can speak on behalf of the team at JZ when I say we’d like to stay there in future.” 

The additional room allows JZ to bring together, and keep separate, acts as diverse as Cold Fairyland, Israeli dixie outfit Isradixie, Chinese rockfather Cui Jian, DJ Ben Huang and Catherine Lambert, whose character, a hotel lounge singer, beds Bill Murray’s in Lost in Translation

The decision to also use Yunfeng Theatre, Elliott says, reflects the breadth of music on show.

“Forgive me for the obvious answer, but of course I want to see Dee Dee Bridgewater"

“Some styles of music lend themselves to an outdoor party atmosphere which is the direction we’re aiming at for Pudong. Other styles require an attentive and quiet audience. So our festival has both parts, expressed through two locations.”

While the festival has a broad program, at least some of which will appeal to most, the fest’s target audience is distinct from other outdoor music festivals in China such as InMusic and Modern Sky. 

“Officially our target audience is 25 to 45 year olds,” Elliott says. They also aimed to keep the prices low “to make sure we’re not an exclusive high-brow event.”

Also, “with more music variety in 2009 we’re going to attract a wider target audience. It’ll be predominantly Chinese of course. What we hope is that some of the people who come to see household names performing will also be attracted by some of the other acts going on.”

With regards to his own top picks, Elliott says, “Forgive me for the obvious answer, but of course I want to see Dee Dee Bridgewater with the JZ Big Band conducted by Nicholas Bouloukos.”

JZ Music Festival. 16-18 October.

RMB 150 for one day, or 200 for both.



What About Us3?

Even if you don’t know the track name, you’re sure to recognise the sound of ‘Cantaloop’, Us3’s biggest hit. It was what they played in cafés before St. Germaine came along. The London jazz rap group are one of the headliners at the upcoming JZ Music Festival, and TALK interviewed the band’s musician in chief, Geoff Wilkinson.

Us3 was very nearly over before it began. In the early ‘90s Us3 started getting some serious radio play with a track called ‘The Band Played the Boogie’, which samples Grant Green’s ‘Sookie Sookie’, originally released under Blue Note Records. EMI, the record company that owns the rights to Blue Note’s songs, called Geoff Wilkinson into their offices for a sit down. Somehow, Wilkinson managed to turn a conversation about potential copyright infringement and lawsuits into an all-access pass to the back-catalogue of Blue Note Records.

“At the time,” Wilkinson says, “the marriage of hip hop and jazz was a hot topic, as was the whole sampling issue. Other hip hop acts like Gang Starr and Stetsasonic were already flirting with jazz, and I said to the guy in our first meeting that if they let me use the Blue Note back-catalogue as a sampling resource it could be the ultimate fusion. I was also aware that it shouldn’t just be a retrospective thing though, which is why I also featured a lot of young jazz musicians from the growing London scene then. In a way it was a typical Blue Note thing to do, it was adventurous and forward thinking of the label to allow me to do it.”

Instead of making the expected d**k move, EMI and Blue Note paved the way for the seven Us3 albums that followed.


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