Fri, Jun 20, 2008 - Page 13 News List

Jazz blossoms in Taipei

The Taipei International Jazz Festival, now in its fifth year, has expanded with a month-long program of gigs all over the city

By David Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

At last year’s Taipei International Jazz Festival, the audience witnessed firsthand the essence of jazz.

It was a typically hot and humid summer night at Da-an Forest Park (大安森林公園), and Dutch trumpeter Saskia Laroo had just begun her set when a power outage struck. The outdoor amphitheater went dark, and the stage crew scrambled to get the sound system working, but to no avail.

Laroo ditched the microphones. She walked out into the audience and started playing. Soon enough, the other musicians came down from the stage with their horns and joined in. The crowd erupted into cheers, and started to dance and clap along. A parade formed, with the musicians leading the way.

“You could call that jazz improvisation,” chuckled Hsieh Chi-pin (謝啟彬), a jazz violinist and one of the founders of the festival. Now in its fifth year, the festival has expanded from one weekend in its first year into six weekends of live jazz performances at various venues in Taipei, and launches tomorrow at the Beitou Hot Springs Museum (北投溫泉博物館).

After that evening, Hsieh and his co-organizers received calls from Taipei arts organizations asking for “advice” on how to hold “such exciting performances.” Many thought the power outage was planned as part of the event, he said.

“But believe me,” Hsieh said an interview earlier this week, “we don’t want any power outages this year — the improvised excitement of this year’s festival will be exclusively in the music.”

Besides, Hsieh is concentrating on a bigger ambition —helping Taipei’s blossoming jazz scene mature. In addition to the festival, he and his wife, pianist Chang Kai-ya (張凱雅), have seen enrolment increase by more than double at the Taipei International Summer Jazz Academy (TISJA), a one-week summer camp they founded in 2004.

The TISJA, which coincides with the festival, has helped to cultivate local groups, and many of the performers at this year’s festival are returning students from the camp. Gary “the Tunafish” Tan (陳凌鶴) is a relative newcomer to jazz, having started just six years ago. He says that from his experience, TISJA enables people in Taiwan to “get a good jazz education.”

The 38-year-old already has his own group, the Tunafish Jazz Quartet (鮪魚爵士四重奏), which plays at the festival tomorrow (see the schedule for details). Tan was inspired to learn jazz after watching Chang play at the Blue Note (藍調) in Taipei. He had studied classical piano as a child, but the way Chang played fascinated him. “I became curious how to generate those sounds,” he said.

The camp “helped me to pick up [a lot of skills] within a very short time,” said Tan. It also gave him performance experience, which is an important part of TISJA, in addition to theory and technique.

Tan, who is the Vice President of Polaris Securities Co (寶來證券), recalls his first experience on stage: “I felt more nervous than I did when doing trading.”

But jazz continues to be a labor of love for Tan — although his work and family keeps him busy, he gigs whenever he can with his band, which plays jazz standards and some Latin numbers.

Another rising star in Taipei’s jazz scene is Gin Lin (林華勁), who also studied at TISJA and performs in the festival on July 5. The 26-year-old guitarist says he was inspired by one of the TISJA instructors, US saxophonist John Ruocco: “He said if jazz is the only thing you are passionate about, then don’t hesitate to do it. I decided to devote myself [to this music].”

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