Tonight and tomorrow, Taipei will be offering a taste of the Jazz Age when two orchestras team up to perform at Zhongshan Hall (中山堂) as part of Hong Kong week.
The Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra of Hong Kong and Taipei’s own Groovin’ Jazz Orchestra (GJO/搖擺爵士大樂團), which each have at least 17 members, will share a stage, taking turns playing swing jazz classics from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, and even performing some numbers together — a friendly version of the “battle of the bands” during the big band era.
The two orchestras will be playing in a fitting locale, the Guangfu Auditorium (光復廳) on the second floor of Zhongshan Hall (台北市中山堂), which was built in 1936 by the Japanese. The Guangfu Auditorium is actually a large room that used to serve as a banquet hall for foreign dignitaries, and one easily imagines it as the site of a ballroom soiree. The Western-style room is both majestic and intimate, with a second floor viewing balcony that surrounds the main floor and chandelier lights hanging from the ceiling.
But the concert won’t be a stuffy occasion where people sit in their chairs and clap politely. Concert-goers should expect to get on the dance floor as two swing dance groups, Hong Kong Swings and Taipei Swing will be there to liven up the atmosphere.
The event jibes with one of Hong Kong Week’s main themes — promoting cultural exchanges between Hong Kong and Taipei.
JC Cheng (鄭榮昌) of Taipei Swing, who helped organize the event, says one impetus for the concert was to hold a “social” dance event for Hong Kong Swings and Taipei Swing.
But all are welcome and encouraged to dance. If you’ve never danced the Lindyhop or the Charleston, don’t worry. Cheng says that the orchestras will play a slower number during the night to allow the dancers to teach novices and beginners some basic steps.
“We want to interact with audience members who don’t know how to dance,” said Cheng, who has been active in Taipei’s swing dance scene for at least four years. And interest is staring to grow. In addition to Taipei Swing, which has a dozen or so core members and a constant stream of students, several other university groups and schools such as the Lumi Dance School are also dancing and teaching swing.
The dance’s appeal, as well as swing jazz, should be immediate to anyone who attends the show tonight and tomorrow, says Cheng. “Swing is very free and relaxing music. If you can move your feet, you can dance swing.”
Tickets are a relatively pricey NT$1,200, but this will be a rare and special night and it should be worth it. The price includes two drinks — soft drinks, beer and red wine will be served.
Unfortunately, those two drinks will be all you get. Nor will there be a bar selling drinks or flowing champagne fountains to help take your mind back to the Jazz Age. As Zhongshan Hall is an official historical site, wary building administrators are not letting organizers sell a full-fledged bar.
But it might be worth remembering that swing jazz was once the music of youth and rebellion, the punk music of that era. Sneak a whiskey flask in if you must — just don’t tell them I sent you.
■ Tonight and tomorrow, 7:30pm, Zhongshan Hall (台北市中山堂), 98 Yanping S Rd, Taipei City (台北市延平南路98號). Admission is NT$1,200, tickets available at the door and through www.artsticket.com.tw
Sting is scheduled to play at Taipei Arena (台北小巨蛋) on Dec. 1 as part of his Back to Bass tour. According to Setlist.fm, on this tour, he has mostly performed songs from Ten Summoner’s Tales (1993) and Sacred Love (2003) and Police songs. A tip: if you’re a Sting fan, consider splurging and a get decent seat. The sound from the nosebleed seats at Taipei Arena is usually awful.