China Underground > China Views > Jasmine Chen: East Meets West in Jazz, Interview

Jasmine Chen: East Meets West in Jazz, Interview

Shanghai’s Most Outstanding Jazz Singer, Songwriter, and Cultural Ambassador of Jazz.

Jasmine Chen is a jazz singer and songwriter, born in Liaoning province, who lives in Shanghai. She was born into a family of professional folk dancers and actors and was trained to be a concert pianist before falling in love with jazz while studying at England’s prestigious Leeds College of Music. She returned to China in 2005 to pursue her passion, introducing China’s rich musical legacy to the world of jazz. She has subsequently become one of China’s most prominent jazz musicians, blending Western songs with original Chinese lyrics. Her unique perspective connects one culture to another, spanning the gap between traditional Chinese songs and the West’s jazz legacy, as well and between forgotten folk song and contemporary jazz singing. Jasmine worked together with many famous musicians across the globe, including Hawaiian guitarist and Grammy award nominee Jeff Peterson; Brazilian guitarist, singer and songwriter Filo Machado; Singaporean piano master Jeremy Monteiro; and Hungarian pianist and composer Bela Szakcsi Lakatos. She has also performed with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra and the Shanghai Traditional Music Orchestra. She played herself in the 2018 hit film Crazy Rich Asians, directed by Jon M. Chu. Six of her songs are in the film, and three are included on the soundtrack. Beside her film work, she is an ambassador for jazz music and culture. She is actively involved in charitable work for Educating Rural Girls in China, the Renewal Project, and the Cambodian Children’s Fund, among others.

Jasmine Chen’s profiles on Facebook and Instagram

Music has always been a big part of your life, I read that you were trained as a pianist from the age of 4. When did you first realize that you had a jazz singer inside you? What are your first memories related to jazz?

I started to realize I had a passion for jazz at the age of 20, during my studies at Leeds College of Music (now Leeds Music Conservatoire). Opting for a minor in singing, due to my longstanding interest in vocal performance, I was fortunate that my vocal teacher specialized in jazz. This led me to begin jazz singing under her guidance. I found myself captivated by jazz standards, such as ‘Cry Me A River.’ Reflecting on my initial encounters with jazz, they trace back to when I was 17 or 18 years old, living in my hometown in China. Prior to my studies in the UK, I purchased a Chinese music magazine dedicated to introducing Western music to Chinese audiences. That particular issue, focused on jazz, included a CD—a collection of songs discussed within its pages. It was my first exposure to legends like Louis Armstrong and Jobim. That experience was unforgettable and has profoundly impacted my memories.

Jasmine has presented TEDx talks and often speaks about jazz, music, and the cultural context for any number of audiences, from corporations to universities and arts organizations

002 Chen Yinxi (Jasmine) Jazz Singer

You studied in England, can you tell us about this period of your education?

I was studying for my A-Level in a music course in Liverpool and later pursued an undergraduate degree in music studies in Leeds, majoring in piano performance. It was an eye-opening experience for me; there were many different lessons I could sign up for, such as jazz arrangement, music production, improvisation, and many more, which I had never experienced before. Additionally, I teamed up with other students from the jazz course to rehearse and perform as a band. We even recorded demos in collaboration with music production students. The college was very supportive, allowing me to try many different things to enhance my musical abilities in general. This experience built a great foundation for me as a professional musician a few years later.

What does jazz represent for you? Which artists have influenced you the most? What are your greatest satisfactions as a jazz singer?

For me, jazz represents freedom, creativity, and collaboration, with everyone creating their own sound and voice. It continues to be a vibrant and evolving art form. Icons like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Cassandra Wilson, A.C. Jobim, Peggy Lee, and Amy Winehouse have all been influential. My greatest satisfaction comes from being myself on stage, creating my own style of singing and performing, and interpreting music in our unique ways with other musicians. I love the appreciation shown by the audience during and after a song, as the energy flows between musicians and the audience in the venue. Jazz also connects me to the world, bridging east and west, crossing cultures and languages. It allows me to travel and see the world, learning from different backgrounds.

Jasmine possesses a unique and unusual ability to navigate between two worlds and select the finest of what each has to offer. This trait helped her develop a large following among both Chinese and Western audiences, and she has captivated audiences worldwide

You are an established name in Shanghai’s jazz scene. What is the jazz music atmosphere like? What distinguishes it from cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, New York, etc? Is there any relation or connection between jazz cities?

Shanghai’s jazz scene is vibrant, with many young Chinese jazz musicians emerging. These artists have honed their skills at music conservatoires both in China and abroad, bringing a fresh, energetic perspective to the scene. Additionally, experienced foreign musicians based in Shanghai contribute to both education and performance, collectively elevating the level of jazz in China. Although Shanghai is relatively young as a jazz city compared to others, the musicians here maintain strong connections with their counterparts in established jazz cities. They collaborate on musical projects, performances, and recordings, facilitating numerous intercity exchanges.

In Europe, there is a cliché that says that jazz is music only for intellectuals and connoisseurs. Does that thought exist also in China? Are young people present and participating in jazz concerts?

The jazz audience in China spans a wide age range, from young to old. Young people frequently visit jazz clubs and concerts to enjoy live music, and they also listen to jazz through online streaming platforms.

You experimented with diverse combinations of Chinese components in jazz and you sing both English and Mandarin. What is your concept of innovation related to jazz music?

I would like to be the bridge between the east and the West, introducing one to the other.

She play herself in the movie about the vital power of music “As Time Goes By In Shanghai”

003 Chen Yinxi (Jasmine) Jazz Singer

Jasmine’s energy and vibrations connect people from theintimate stage of Shanghai’s JZ Club to the big lights of Rotterdam’s Northsea Jazz Festival

Your contributions comprise both music on the soundtrack and appearances in parts within the film itself. Can you tell us more about how you became involved with the film Crazy Rich Asians? How did you prepare your performance for the film?

It was an unexpected experience for me. The story began with an email I received in March 2017, inquiring whether I was interested in singing a few soundtracks and appearing in a movie as myself. Initially, I thought it was spam, but after revisiting it a week later, I noticed the email address originated from the official Warner Brothers website. Consequently, I responded with questions about the movie. Their reply was genuine, and they sent over the script, prompting me to agree. Film director John Chu had precise ideas for the movie’s music. He provided me with a song list ranging from the 1930s to the ‘60s in Shanghai, all of which I was well acquainted with. Therefore, I spent a few days recording my vocal parts in a Shanghai recording studio and then sent them to LA for mixing. Playing myself in the movie offered a unique experience, as it was my first acting role. Despite portraying myself, it differed significantly from live stage performances. It required the involvement of numerous people just to film a single scene, even if for only a few seconds. I found myself repeating the same phrases 5 to 15 times, striving to maintain consistent energy throughout. The preparation focused on delivering my best vocal performance and presence in front of the camera, as it would be immortalized in history.

008 Chen Yinxi (Jasmine) Jazz Singer

Who would you like to collaborate with in the future? What are your next goals and commitments?

I don’t have specific plans now, but I would love to collaborate more with South American musicians because I have a huge passion for South American music, bossa nova, latino, choro… I would love to do some crossover music albums together.

What would you recommend to anyone wanting to pursue a career like yours?

Never stop learning, find what you are good at in music, always try to collaborate with different musicians, be open-minded; grab any opportunities to perform or create music. If music is your passion, cling to it steadfastly. While the journey may not be simple, perseverance will eventually reveal its value.

Photos courtesy of Jasmine Chen

Last Updated on 2024/03/11

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