It's not easy being a jazz pioneer in a city like Taipei, but Geddy Lin (
The guitarist and club owner is found looking after business at his hangout on Roosevelt Road, trying to talk above the music. ("I like it loud," he shouts) and keeping an eye on a band he's been mentoring.
It's about 11:30pm and around 50 people cluster around in the basement of the cozy, soft-lit club, most of them students or friends of the band. Sitting around tables or leaning against the bar, they seem to be listening intently to the music, some with their chins on their hands. The band isn't bad and business is brisk.
Not bad for a Tuesday night in SARS-affected Taipei. On Fridays and Saturdays, Riverside will be heaving, as a guest group, or one of the many house jazz bands the place has spawned, takes to the stage.
Everyone wants to talk to Geddy, so he takes the phone someone puts in his hand and manages to hold a conversation despite the noise. He asks for drinks from the waitress and says that it has taken three years of work for him to build up business.
Now, he has a successful club that plays his favorite music, despite the fact that jazz is a musical genre for a discerning few in Taipei and not many more outside the city. He also has a 24-track recording studio, a bar, restaurant and nascent record label. His day jobs include teaching, performing as a studio artist on mainstream rock and pop albums (most recently for Stef Sun (Su Yanzi, 孫燕姿) and touring.
"Yeah, I know that jazz isn't popular," he says and gestures toward the band and around the club. "That's why I built this. I couldn't find a place when I came back here [from studying in the US]. So, I wanted to create a showcase for jazz. It's really hard to find a stage in Taiwan."
Ten years ago he was a rock musician, a singer and guitarist who released two albums. But unlike some other local ex-rockers, who have turned to electronica, or gone pop and then bust, he was saved, by Pat Metheney in concert. "He totally changed my mind ... I just went, `Wow!'" Geddy says of that defining moment.
Now in his mid-30s, Geddy is evangelical about jazz. "It gets people high in a spiritual way. I like to joke that rock is for preachers, jazz is for teachers," he says and explains that he studied music at National Taiwan University and abroad at the Musician Institute B.I.T. in Hollywood. "I learned to appreciate jazz."
"Most people have no idea of jazz. For them, music's like an entertainment, it's not so serious. Jazz is hard to listen to, but the point of making them listen is to appreciate the music."
His approach to jazz is partly technical and academic as a result of his training, and he has a theory that it plugs into a universal language of emotional highs and lows.
He has tried to fuse traditional Chinese instruments and melodies with jazz, but with mixed success. He says the Chinese pentatonic scale (five-notes) is hard to combine with the Western scale (seven notes). "I'm Taiwanese, so I want to express myself in my language," he says in good English. "Jazz is primarily an American or European language and it's hard to put the two together."
He also says that without a long or particularly strong tradition of jazz in Taipei it is still hard to build and maintain a scene that can support its musicians. "We want to produce original music, new jazz, and not just copy."