Fri, Jul 27, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Get jazzed about jazz

This year's Taipei International Jazz Festival continues the tradition of bringing international artists to Taiwan to jam, teach and play

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thierry Gutman on drums and John Ruocco on sax.

When the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) fled to Taiwan after the civil war, conservatism was the order of the day, and even in the arts, emphasis was put on the classics rather than the contemporary.

Now Taiwan is playing catchup, and one effect of this has been the gradual emergence of a jazz scene. That it is now established as part of the cultural mainstream is more than proven by CKS Cultural Center playing host to a jazz festival in late August and early September, the Taichung Jazz Festival in October, and first up in this summer of jazz, the Taipei International Jazz Festival (TIJF), which begins this weekend.

In its fourth year, the festival - which drew over 20,000 people last year - is much more than the two free concerts featuring international jazz musicians in Da-an Forest Park today and tomorrow.

"The artists come here for twelve days and have a heavy teaching schedule," said Hsieh.

Lasting one week and using a workshop format, the Taipei International Summer Jazz Academy (TISJA), which organizes the event, has invited seven international and two local jazz musicians to teach, lecture and jam with the 90 local musicians accepted into the academy. At the end of each day there is a two-hour open jam where students working with different instruments have an opportunity to play together.

"Most international artists at the National Concert Hall or Taichung Jazz Festival stay for one day or one night - [some] not even 24 hours - and then they leave," said Hsieh Chi-pin (謝啟彬), a professional jazz violinist and co-founder of the festival.

Having artists stay for one day, says Hsieh, provides an opportunity to hear great jazz but does little to increase jazz awareness.

"It works very well because our background is classical music [where] you need discipline," he said. "But in jazz you are searching for freedom and being expressive. So we need to find a balance," Hsieh said.

Jazz began making inroads into Taiwan in the late 1960s and early 1970s - brought in with the American GI's stationed here - but was confined to a peripheral role in the television and entertainment industry and didn't flourish as it's own unique art form.

"They all looked like American big bands," Hsieh said.

Though the jazz pub Blue Note opened in the mid-1970s, it was only in the early 1990s when Brown Sugar brought in international jazz acts to play in a bar setting that jazz starting coming into its own. For local musicians, however, Blue Note still stands as a monument for providing local jazz artists a venue to play.

"I played at Blue Note for one year. It really helped me get off the ground," said Borking Liao (寥柏鈞), a professional jazz drummer who says the Jazz Academy is a perfect venue to meet and jam with professional musicians.

The 26-year old has played drums for nine years, four of which have been devoted exclusively to jazz. He manages to earn a living playing - a rarity among jazz musicians because there are no agents in Taiwan devoted specifically to jazz and few gigs to play.

Liao studied plastic arts rather than music because universities don't offer courses in jazz. Indeed, though modern music has made it on to the curriculum at high school and university, classical music is still the standard taught for performance.

The lineup of international jazz artists performing today and tomorrow largely hails from Europe.

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