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Jazzing up the music scene

(China Daily) Venue hits the high notes as top performer pays homage to its influence in his career.

East Shore Live Jazz Cafe is a popular venue dedicated, as the name suggests, to that brand of music. Located near Beijing’s Houhai Lake, jazz fans come to the wood-paneled bar to enjoy musicians from home and abroad.

As a teenager, Xu Zhitong went to the cafe every Thursday. He loved the atmosphere.

Xu started to learn the piano at 4 and could play jazz drum at 7. Xu also had opportunity to jam with the musicians there, including drummer Wu Yongheng, when he was just 13.

“Jazz emphasizes spontaneity and personal expression,” says Xu.”When jazz musicians perform together, they listen to each other and communicate with their instruments. You need to know about their mindsets and then you will fall in love with jazz.”

Now 26, Xu graduated from the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich, Germany, with a doctorate degree in jazz performance in 2019. Because of the pandemic, he stayed in Munich for a year and returned to China in September.

On Jan 23, he will give a concert along with his musician friends, including bassist Zhang Ke, singer Zhang Ying and pianist Huang Jianyi, at the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing.

“When I started to prepare for this concert, I wanted it to be a reunion of old friends since I’ve been away from home for a year,” says Xu. “All of the musicians, who will perform with me onstage, have seen my growth as a drummer. It will be an emotional and memorable night.”

Xu named the concert “jazz fairy tale”, hoping to conjure up images with his original music. The concert’s name in Chinese is Jue Shi Tong Hua, which also echoes his name. “It will cover songs I wrote over the past few years and speak for my development as a musician,” he says.

One of the songs Xu is going to perform is titled Story of Beginning, which he wrote in 2015. He was 21 years old then and it is one of the first original songs Xu wrote. He describes the song as “the first one that delivers his musical ideas thoroughly and clearly”.

Other works Xu will perform in the concert include Confucius’ Dream, in which the young musician combines Chinese musical elements with his unique jazz language, and A Wandering Rabbit, which he portrays a little rabbit running in the forest after it gets lost.

Last year, like many people, Xu slowed down his schedule due to the outbreak and spent time alone. This enabled him to create more music and reflect upon his past works. A new song, titled Love You 3,000, was born. Instead of a romantic love song, it is dedicated to families, Xu says.

“When Tony Stark is told by his daughter Morgan ‘I love you 3000’ in the movie Avengers: Endgame, it is one of the most heartwarming and touching scenes. The dialogue between Iron Man and his daughter is deeply rooted in the hearts of many people. Though Iron Man died, his love for his daughter is forever,” says Xu.”I want to say the same line to my family too especially when I am away from home.”

Born in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, Xu was introduced to music by his father, who is a drummer of a local rock band and a music educator. Luckily, Xu’s experience of learning music was not a solitary one because his twin brother Xu Zhihan also learned music as a child and is a guitarist studying in Germany now.

“Thanks to my father, we were trained with solid techniques and avoided making mistakes while we learned to play music. With my brother, I played music in a fun way. In the beginning, we played as a rock band and after both of us got to learn about jazz, we played jazzy sounds,” says Xu Zhitong.

“I am so lucky to have someone grow up with me and play music with me all along,” says Xu Zhitong.

In 2011, he embarked on his journey to study in Germany. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from the Conservatory of Wurzburg before his furthered his studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich to get his master’s degree.

During his study in Germany, Xu Zhitong gained stage experience by performing with big bands, such as the Landes Jugend Jazz Orchester Brandenburg and the band based in the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich.

“He is such a young talented musician, who can deliver his music ideas with rich colors and solid techniques,” said the presenter on BR Klassik radio, Germany, who interviewed Xu Zhitong in 2018.

“He is one of my top students. He has a born talent for music, which will shine on any stage in the world,” said professor Andreas Kissenbeck, a pianist and composer, of Xu Zhitong.

In 2021, the drummer will focus on giving live performances in China and launch workshops, hoping to share his knowledge and experiences with more young jazz learners and jazz lovers in the country.

“I will have more programs bringing all kinds of jazz, from avant-garde to experimental, standards to original compositions. I want more people in China to get to know jazz and fall in love it,” Xu Zhitong says.

Source: By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-16 12:19

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