Do The Shanghai Shuffle

Jun 2, 2011

The port city of Shanghai, now China's most populous, had a thriving jazz scene prior to Communist control in 1949. Now, with economic restrictions relaxed and development booming, the scene is coming to life again — at least it would seem, from news about Shanghai jazz musicians lately.

A recent story in The Stamford Times (Connecticut) profiles a musician named Alec Haavik, originally from Norwalk, Conn. At 40, he was once a journeyman musician in the U.S., eventually taking up the saxophone in college and earning a master's degree in jazz composition at Manhattan School of Music. But he's been based in Shanghai for six years now, where, according to the article, he "has been described by a Chinese music critic as a 'highlight of the Shanghai jazz scene, known for his maniacal performances, a seemingly inexhaustible wardrobe of fabulous suits and his multi-textured, genre-bending, hyper-expansive, death-defying jazz compositions.'" Not bad.

That reminded me of a comment that vocalist (and JazzSet host) Dee Dee Bridgewater made not long ago while doing an interview with NPR's Tell Me More. When asked by host Michel Martin about her upcoming projects, she mentioned that she was producing a new album by trumpeter Theo Croker — it'll be the first recording project on her own label. After the jump, here's a sample from the studio:

Croker happens to be the grandson of the legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham. He also happens to be based in Shanghai these days (where Google informs us that he gigs with some frequency with Alec Haavik). And in a short interview with journalist David Adler, Croker talked about his regular gig there: "We're playing five nights a week in one venue — you don't do that in New York. Sometimes we forget we're in a hotel, because we're really throwin' down. You walk through the lobby and the lounge, and then you're in a jazz bar that has the decor of the '30s. But we're in there playing super hard-core jazz."

(Editorial intrusion: Here's a jazz band that plays in public five nights a week, every week! Is there anywhere else this happens, anywhere?)

I'll admit that I know little else about the Shanghai jazz scene — I'd be grateful if anyone were to point out some interesting Internet resources about it. I would ask one other question: What about the Chinese musicians making jazz in Shanghai? We know that vocalist Coco Zhao (2007 NPR performance-interview here) has toured stateside a few times — and when there's smoke, there's usually fire.

*Re: the title of this post. Listen for the Louis Armstrong solo.

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