The Last Leg.....
After a bit of time to relax and hang out in Shanghai we were gearing up for our next concert which was at the JZ Festival in Wuhan. Wuhan is one of the largest cities in China and was a five hour train journey from Shanghai. We were looking forward to this one as we were joined by UK trumpeter Steve Fishwick who happened to be over at the same time doing some work for Leeds College of Music. We had never worked with Steve before so we had an hour to run through the material at the soundcheck and figure out the arrangements. Stage time soon approached and the room filled up and we had a great gig playing to yet another full and enthusiastic audience. This was the first time we had performed the material with a second horn and it added a whole new dimension to the music. Steve totally nailed it and the audience clearly appreciated this new exciting and spontaneous addition to the music. After the gig we were all ready to get some sleep and recover from the traveling but instead we were whisked off to a local bar for a few drinks which ended up in a jam session with the local funk band.
Our next stop was the city of Nanjing. This city was the capital of China before Beijing and is home to one of the most prestigious music academies in China which is where we delivered our first or two workshops. They had a particularly large number of saxophone students here all very keen to learn about jazz music. After speaking to one of the saxophone teachers it became clear just how new jazz music is to the Chinese people. There is a growing interest in the music among the younger generation but very few people that have the knowledge to teach it so the result is lots of very proficient students with beautiful sounds and highly developed techniques but no clear idea in terms of applying what they have in a jazz context. It was nice to spend some time with them working on playing blues and demonstrating the fundamentals of stylistic improvisation. We also spent some time on material and albums to get hold of and to study. It is clear to see that jazz music is a new and fascinating thing here and is at the start of growing into something that I am sure will become hugely popular.
The next day we made our way to the other side of the city to give a series of presentations to the students at the NNRA Reading Academy. This was particularly interesting as it was a brand new academy which did not have an arts department so we were dealing with non music students. We played some of our music and explained to them some of the concepts we were working on and generally what it was like to live as a musician day to day in London. We were met with the same levels of enthusiasm that we had seen from the past music students but in very different ways. They were keen to share with us the images and emotions the music we played left them with which was very refreshing and actually quite fascinating for us to hear from them. The day we spent at the NNRA happened to be one of the most rewarding experiences for us which was a surprise as we were expecting it to be quite a challenge. After a few days working with the students of Nanjing we were excited to head to our final destination of Beijing.
Arriving in Beijing was mind blowing, the scale of the city is incredible and hidden among the vast concrete towers are dozens of areas of natural beauty. Our first gig here was at the DDC Club which was a cool small venue with an out door bar and courtyard in the center of the city and a venue that has earned the title of Beijing's favorite music venue for 2015.
Next we had a day off in Beijing so while Eric spent the day at the China drum show hanging out with the likes of Dave Weckl (see photo below!!) Max, Rachel (our tour manager) and myself set out to explore as much of the city as possible. The highlight was definitely the Forbidden City. The forbidden city was once home to the Chinese emperors and closed off to the public. Any attempts to enter the city uninvited were met with the death penalty! Now luckily the majority of the city has been made open to the public and has been immaculately preserved. It is vast and home to some beautiful views, treasures that have been gifted to the emperors who had lived there and also some spectacular shrines and gardens.
After a day of exploration we were ready for a night out with Rachel and some of her friends from Beijing. We were taken to a local "hot pot" restaurant. These kind of establishments are set up with a vat of boiling water in the center of every table. You then order your favorite raw meats that would come thinly sliced. You then cook the meat yourself in the boiling water and eat with various sauces and vegetables. Rachel and her friends ordered for us and first up was a raw sheep stomach! This was definitely one of the most "cultural" meals of the trip!
Before we knew it we were at the last day of the tour and gave a performance and clinic as part of the China Drum Summit. We were sharing the bill with some iconic drummers including Dave Weckl and Billy Cobham. Eric took over answering many questions on approaches to jazz drumming and explaining his approach to the music we perform as Partikel. It was a great way to end the tour performing to such an appreciative and enthusiastic audience.
Getting to spend a month in a country that was totally new to the three of us and that is home to such a hugely rich and interesting culture so far removed from what we are used to in the UK was a real privilege and an experience that we will never forget. We would like to thank Rachel Zhang (www.ihearjazz.com) for tirelessly working on organizing the tour, guiding us through the trip and being so much fun to work with! You are a legend.