Do you ever get tired of listening to Johann-Sebastian Bach and Metallica? I sometimes do. Luckily, every summer in the heart of Sapporo, we get the chance to experience a different flavor of music at the Sapporo City Jazz Festival.
I don’t think I need to tell anyone what jazz is. Everybody has heard at least once in their lives Louis Armstrong’s syncopations or Ella Fitzgerald’s scat improvisations. Yet a little known fact about jazz is that while it’s probably the most popular of music genres, it’s also the least well understood. You don’t believe me? Try asking your friends: “Do you like jazz?” I’m sure 90% of them will tell you they do – just because it’s uncool not to. Then try asking them what artists they like and what their favorite recordings are and you’ll get a very evasive answer, if any at all. By the way, I’m one of those guys.
To help me remedy this, I took my very good friend Tomoko, a long-time jazz enthusiast, to the Sapporo City Jazz Festival under the white marquee in Odori Park (West 2).
The Sapporo City Jazz organizers put together a wonderful array of talent each year, and it was difficult to choose who to see. A number of Japanese and foreign artists appealed, but we finally hit upon the Chinese all-female group, “Beijing”: the girls don’t offer a traditional jazz sound, rather they are part of the movement to “sex up” classical music that started with Vanessa Mae and which has spawned a string of girl groups across the globe.
The string-based quintet (they seem to have left 2 of their 7 members behind) strutted and posed their way through selections from a range of genres; the Hollywood standard “My Favorite Things” to Carol King to Japanese pop tunes to Vivaldi. Interspersed with these were a selection of original pieces that included the soaring anthem (used as the campaign theme song for the 2008 Beijing Olympics) “2008飛翔” and the delightful “Start”.
Fashionable and hi-tech, the girls presented a slick, well-produced show that pleased both the ear and the eye, and none of the girls would seem out of place on the cover of a fashion magazine. The one fault, according to Tomoko’s practiced ear, was that the nuance of their music was sometimes lost behind poor song choices and the over-powering synthesized accompaniment. Personally, I think the group could stick to what they do best a little more, and not play quite so much to pre-conceived audience tastes. It was their original work that was the highlight of the evening for me and, truth be told, I found some of the other material a touch disappointing. Nevertheless, it was a great evening and if you have the chance next year, you should definitely give it a try!
Let me also take a moment to praise the event in general. The White Rock Stage was excellent, and though it doesn’t have the acoustics of a concert hall like Kitara, on a hot sultry evening it was cool and pleasant to feed on Jambalaya and Chicken Gumbo, and wash it down with a glass of white wine.
The organizers should be applauded for making Jazz, in its many styles, accessible to the people of Sapporo and I look forward to the 2011 version of the festival, where maybe I can re-acquaint myself with the girls from “Beijing”. Hope to see you there!
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