Wordwise 126 A2854

Sapporo City Jazz: A night with “Beijing”!

  • 2010.08.07

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!


でも、札幌の中心部では “札幌シティジャズ フェスティバル”というのが毎年夏に開催されていて、そこで色々な種類の音楽を楽しめるんです。

そんなことないって? じゃあ、友達にジャズが好き?って聞いてみてください。


彼女たちの音楽は、伝統的なジャズというよりはヴァネッサ・メイを始めとするようなクラシック音楽をもっと面白くしようという動きの中から生まれたみたいです。弦楽器を中心に構成されていたその5人組は(7人メンバーのうち2人が来ていなかった)、ハリウッドの名曲“My Favorite Things”から日本のポップソング、そしてヴィヴァルディまで色々なジャンルの曲に乗ってカッコ良く歩いたり、ポーズを取っていました。