Let me start this by stating that Jazz is not my thing. Not at all. It instantly brings to mind Starbucks-esque nondescript croonings that send me to sleep faster than just about anything.
With that in mind the rest of this post is about Jazz. Twice.
It was with some trepidation that I found myself paying a visit to the Backstreet Jazz Bar, situated in the lovely environs of Guangzhou’s Ersha Island. Around the corner is the Xinghai Concert Hall, and at the end of the street is the Pearl River. You can’t be any better situated.
The bar is a two storey glass building set inside a bamboo forest. A lower ‘Jazz’ floor opens out into a small upstairs restaurant area, and the two are joined together, and with the outside world, by a complicated series of stairs, bridges, and sliding doors. The decor is dark, metallic, and subdued, with lots of glass and mirrors. I nearly fell over myself at the entrance, thinking I was going to hit something that wasn’t there.
The restaurant ostensibly serves Latin-American styled food, although it borders on the generic American Italian. The prices are high and portions are small. Drinks, although available in a wide array of forms, are equally served in small quantities. Ask for a glass of wine and you’ll think yourself the butt of a joke; drink it fast otherwise the meagre serving will evaporate.
The staff are overly fussy, hovering far too much, and going out of their way to interfere with your table. Sometimes you just don’t care if your napkin is perfectly aligned with the dessert spoon.
The food itself is very tasty, even though the chocolate pudding was burnt.
At around 8.30 a quartet of musicians arrive on the tiny downstairs stage, boasting musicians from Canada, Russia, Brazil, and China. Quite a mix. A smooth talking Geraldo Lucio sings, trying his best to draw the small crowd into the music. Herein lies the main problem with the Backstreet: it’s too big and the crowds are too small. The music is excellent, and Lucio prowls the audience trying to get some feedback, but they are too thin and from a very different cultural background to provide him what he wants.
Given more publicity this place could be hot. It certainly has no trouble attracting international musicians, but no amount of bravado can hide the empty seats and the subdued responses. I may not know much about Jazz, but I know that there should be a buzz about it. Talking with Lucio and the pianist Doug Louie afterwards, they are very well aware of this.
My second Jazz outing was courtesy of Max Raabe und das Palast Orchester, a visiting Jazz group from Germany, playing at the aforementioned Xinghai Concert Hall. This was a different style of Jazz entirely, adopting 1930’s hits (both German and English speaking), as well as interpreting classic Chinese songs. Max Raabe’s siky smooth performance was backed up with a 20 strong orchestra, and a lot of humour. Very well done.
So, despite all my best intentions I found myself enjoying both experiences. I’m not sure I can even define what Jazz is anymore, because it certainly isn’t what Starbucks play. Are you listening guys? Play us something different.