Witnessing the birth of Taiwan cool

Chipin and Kaiya Duo Project are an oasis in Taipei's jazz desert, with a series of shows winding up in the coming weeks


Fri, Jul 09, 2004 - Page 17

Hsieh Chippin (謝啟彬) and Chang Kaiya (張凱雅), expectant parents and dynamic jazz duo, are counting down to their last performance at Taipei's Corridor Cafe (迴廊咖啡館). They will have finished presenting 44 themes, including jazz greats, style, and history, since returning to Taiwan two years ago from Belgium.

Coming themes will be "Jazz in 1959" tonight, "The Music of Weather Report" on July 23, and two "Chipin and Kaiya at the Corridor Retrospective" performances on Aug. 6 and Aug. 20.

"Jazz in 1959" will be a grand tour of several great albums in the history of jazz that came out in that year, with the likes of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, John Coltrane's Giant Steps, and Dave Brubeck's Time Out topping the list. The subsequent performance, a tribute to Weather Report, is a love letter to the compositions of Wayne Shorter. The retrospectives will consist of programs chosen through an audience vote from past performances.

Determined to live up to "real jazz" and "real art," Hsieh and Chang dish up standards familiar to Western audiences with strings of original solos and duet improvisation. They weave in and out of each other's music, taking advantage of their mobility as a duo and their mutual understanding as a married couple. Hsieh drives the music forward with increasing intensity on the violin, while Chang fills the space around him at the piano, maintaining several lines at once.

But the local crowd, not privy to jazz and its history, tends to be estranged from this sort of performance. To remedy this, Hsieh ad-libs little speeches between the numbers. Humming, beat-boxing, and playing bits to demonstrate elements of jazz in their music, he warms the audience to him with non-stop local cultural references and jokes.

Hsieh calls it a "Taiwanese sense of humor," which is also an active element playing in their music. "We may play with the vocabulary of a foreign music, but we're Taiwanese at heart." Their first album, Impressions of Taiwan, is dedicated to their happy childhood memories of home.

Many audience members are longtime fans who have turned a Friday evening out into a relaxed learning experience. Following the programs closely, some even take notes during the performance and buy each album suggested on Hsieh and Chang's Web site.

"It's very difficult to survive in Taiwan as a jazz musician," says Hsieh. "You don't have much of an audience, and you're too often relegated to the status of background music. Many musicians simply play in circles and follow rigid forms because that is all the audience demands."

"But we respect our audience," he said, "and we want them to understand the spirit, the essence of what we're doing."

"There's no need to hide this knowledge," Chang interjects. "We had to learn it, too."

Trained as classical musicians during college in Taiwan, Hsieh and Chang discovered jazz 10 years ago and started "hanging around" the jazz scene. "But there really wasn't anywhere to go," Hsieh said. "It was fun, but having been through rigorous musical training, we knew there had to be more inner content to jazz than what we were hearing in Taiwan."

Five years in at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels opened new horizons -- but left the two musicians wondering where the jazz was in Taiwan.

"We made rounds at clubs in Taiwan after returning," Chang said, "but to be honest, we couldn't find any instrumentalists who shared our ideals."

"Somehow, we never expected to be doing a duo project," Hsieh said. "But we didn't want all our learning to go to waste."

Asked if there was an active jazz scene in Taiwan, Hsieh gave a reluctant yes. "There is starting to be one," he said. "A lot of young people are picking it up nowadays, but there's still a long way to go. As older musicians, we've got to help cultivate an environment for them."

Geddy Lin (林正如), longtime jazz advocate and leader of the jazz band J.E.G. that plays weekly at Riverside Cafe (河岸流言) agrees. "There aren't enough mature musicians yet," he said. "There were virtually no jazz musicians in Taiwan 20 years ago, and those of us in our 30s are the oldest generation. But the last five years or so have shown a spike of growth in our ranks."

This summer, Hsieh and Chang are co-sponsoring the first annual Taiwan International Summer Jazz Academy, a week-long camp at the end of August for aspiring jazz musicians. Teachers include their own teachers from Brussels, and other contacts in the US and in Holland.

"We're hoping to introduce the students early to all that jazz can be," Chang said. "We ourselves were only able to access it late in our careers."

And after the baby arrives?

"We'll rest a while," Hsieh said.

Performance note:

What: Chipin and Kaiya's Duo Project

Where: Corridor Cafe, on the first floor of the NTU Multipurpose Gynamsium, at the intersection of Xinhai Road (辛亥路) and Xinsheng S. Rd. (新生南路)

Phone: (02) 83695656

When: 8 pm tonight, and on July 23, Aug. 6 and Aug. 20

Admission: NT$250, includes drink

Web site: http://www.chipin-kaiya.com