Fri, Jan 10, 2003 - Page 17 News List

Making a home for Taiwan Jazz

They don't claim to rival Wynton Marsalis or B.B. King, but the Dizzy Jazz Band is the closest thing that Taiwan jazz has to a home

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Members of the Dizzy Jazz Band rehearse at the band's studio in Taipei.

PHOTO: IAN BARTHOLOMEW, TAIPEI TIMES

The jazz all-stars they are not, but the people gathering at the inconspicuous offices of the Dizzy Jazz Band (底細爵士樂團) off Kuangfu South Road are the living heart of Taiwan's jazz community. Not that Taiwan has a very big jazz community -- but it has seen its share of small groups scattered about the island, most of which have come and gone, forming, breaking up and reforming in the way bands do. But for the last 23 years, the Dizzy Jazz Band has kept on. Many of the faces have changed, but over the years many jazz musicians of many ilks have found shelter in its open arms.

This Friday, Dizzy Jazz Band will be performing at Taipei's Chungshan Hall, one of its irregular public performances that draw a growing body of fans who simply find them irresistible. "When we first formed, our public performances were attended mostly by friends of band members, but now there are many who regard themselves as part of the Dizzy community," said the avuncular Jeff Ken (耿浩然), who has been with the group since its inception.

Ken has few illusions that Dizzy is going to be rivaling big-name imported acts anytime soon but takes pride in the warmth and enthusiasm that Dizzy has been able to maintain over so many years. "Everyone is here because they want to be here, he said. It is not like we make much money at it." But then money is not what it is about -- it's all about the music and the camaraderie.

"Pretty much everything we make goes back into maintaining this place," Ken said. While the office is somewhat ramshackle, the basement recording studio and rehearsal area is an invaluable resource for Taiwan's hard-pressed jazz musicians.

It all started with eight musicians who'd just finished their national service and wanted somewhere to practice. From this eight-man combo, whose occasional performances proved relatively popular, support grew and now Dizzy fields two big bands, a youth band, a Latin band and a jazz combo. It is remarkable in being one of the only amateur big bands able to play major venues, and even more remarkable for the emphasis it places on training and creating an environment for jazz music. Public performances are the exception rather than the rule. "But naturally we want to show people what we have achieved," Ken said.

Dizzy is made up of people from all walks of life. Predictably there are a large number of music teachers, and but there are also businessmen, marketing executives, engineers, a scuba-diving instructor and even a Taoist priest-in-training. There are even a number of professional musicians.

The atmosphere in the rehearsal room is serious. A sales executive surnamed Lin conducts. There is occasional backchat about the interpretation of the music, then the practice continues after partial consensus. "We don't like to enforce an interpretation too much," Ken said with a wry smile. Jazz for him and other band members is very much about personal expression, and space is allowed for people to do what they want.

"It might not always be quite right," Ken said, "but it has its own logic. The music itself provides enough of a framework." Fondly looking at a board covered with the photographs of 20 years of performances and rehearsals, Ken pointed out many who are professional musicians. Speaking of one he said: "He always complains when he comes to play with us. So I told him he needn't come if he didn't like it. But now and again he still comes back."

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