Sun, Oct 30, 2005 - Page 18 News List

Gao Pei-hwa is the accidental super star

A trip to Taiwan gave Gao his show business break, but after 13 years of success he turned his back on the commercial music industry

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Gao was at the top of his field and then gave it all up to run a bar.

PHOTO: GAIVN PHIPPS, TAIPEI TIMES

Ask the average expat who Corbett Wall is and chances are they'll know him as the musically minded proprietor of the popular Taipei live music venue The Living Room. Ask a 30-something year old local the same question, however, and the answer will be very different.

For many Wall, or Gao Pei-hwa (高培華) as he's better known, is best remembered for popularizing easy listening saxophone music in Taiwan at a time when the charts were packed with nothing but rudimentary Mando-pop and outdated folk tunes.

While others wait years to see their name up in lights for Wall the transition from backpacker tourist/English teacher to seminal superstar happened almost overnight. Within two months of being in Taiwan he'd been introduced to leading record company executives and had signed a record deal with a major local label. Within a year he was fast on his way to becoming the nation's most popular easy listening jazz saxophonist. And it was all quite unintentional.

Wall initially intended to fly directly to Japan after graduating from university in the US, then spend time with his mother and check out the Tokyo jazz scene. He was, however, persuaded by a friend who was living in Taipei to stopover in Taiwan. Landing in Taiwan with nothing but his saxophone, a mountain bike and a backpack Wall nearly left before he'd had time to sample his first bottle of Taiwan Beer.

"I got pretty freaked out. I looked Asian, but wasn't. It was pretty weird," he said. "I nearly got killed when I got sandwiched between two buses while riding a motorcycle on the second day. I figured that I'd seen enough by then and had better leave."

His buddy had other plans. Unbeknown to Wall the friend had signed him up for a temporary teaching job at a language school. It might not have been quite what Wall wanted, but the unanticipated job offer was to pave the way for his future success.

Having told the students all about his musical background they arranged an extracurricular excursion to the then popular live music venue The Ploughman's Inn. There he was introduced to the house Dixieland band. On hearing of Wall's prowess on the saxophone they invited him to join them for a jam session.

"I planned to play one song but was asked to join in for [virtually] the entire set," said Wall. "I got a call from the guitarist later in the week telling me that he'd organized another gig for us at the Apocalypse Now beerhouse."

With only a few days to go before his planned departure from Taiwan Wall figured that he had nothing to lose -- if he was going to perform one last gig in Taipei Wall figured he would do it in style. He purchased a gaudy green suit and a bright red tie from Hsimenting and took to the stage of the up-market beerhouse.

Wall and the band proved an instant hit with the audience and was asked by the bar's owner to make a monthlong commitment. Once again Wall cancelled his flight plans and decided to remain in Taiwan for a few more weeks.

"It was the only jazz scene in Taipei at the time. When I was being offered NT$60,000 per month and free food to play jazz for three hours a night it was hard to turn down," he said. "So I called my mother and cancelled the trip to Japan, again."

Two weeks into the contract Wall was introduced to a group of record company executives one of who just happened to be the co-founder of Rock Records (滾石唱片) Sam Duann (段鍾潭). Duann and his fellow record company executives were so taken by what they heard that they there and then asked Wall if he would like to sign a two-year three album deal.

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