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Blue Note jazz club continues China expansion

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    Posted: 18 Sep 2019 at 10:59am

Jazz musicians play at the Blue Note Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Blue Note Beijing

The Jazz Wall of Fame at the Blue Note Beijing Photo: Bi Mengying/GT

Entrance of Blue Note Beijing Photo: Courtesy of Blue Note Beijing

Jazz musicians play at the Blue Note Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Blue Note Beijing

Blue Note, one of the most prominent names in jazz around the world, opened its second China branch in Shanghai on Friday. 

First opened in 1981 in New York City, the club currently maintains locations in several major cities across various continents such as Milan, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. Jonathan Lee, the influential Taiwan musician, was deeply impressed by the live performances on display when visiting the Blue Note in New York and this planted the seed for him to one day introduce the famous club to China. 

With Lee's support, the Blue Note signed an agreement with the Beijing Yinghuan Culture Media Company in 2014, setting the stage for the jazz brand's debut in China. 

"I hoped that in some city in China, music lovers can hop into a cab and go across a few streets and have the opportunity to appreciate live performances from top-level musicians from around the world," Lee said at the opening ceremony of Blue Note Beijing on September 13, 2016. 

Artistic space

The jazz club's location in Beijing, Qianmen No. 23, was chosen after careful consideration. Close to Tiananmen Square, Qianmen No. 23 is located right in the heart of the city. 

Built in 1903, Qianmen No.23 was home to the US embassy until 1949. Afterwards, the site became part of the offices of China's foreign ministry. Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People's Republic of China, spent much time working there. 

In 1971, the site also witnessed the historic talks between Zhou and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, during the latter's secret trip to China. The talks led to then US president Richard Nixon's visit to China the following year and the beginning of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Around the 1980s, the building became a hotel, following which period, several fancy foreign restaurants and high-end jewelry shops opened there.   

The club's managers have spent $6.5 million to transform the building into a space that cultivates a free and immersive atmosphere of jazz. The new entrance, a ramp leading to a basement-level door, creates a sense of mystery and distances the club from its surroundings.   

Walking down the ramp, visitors can see the club's Jazz Wall of Fame, which is filled with photos of the reputed jazz musicians and artists who have performed at the club. At the entrance of the two-story music hall, waiters in suits lead guests to tables arranged around the stage on the first floor. The second floor is a private seating area where guests can watch performances from above.      

Live entertainment 

"With the development of China's economy in the past three years, the desire for more diversified performances and arts continues to grow. Live performances, as one of the most popular forms of entertainment, will for sure be welcomed by consumers. Blue Note China not only suits the appetites of people who love jazz but also audiences who enjoy live jazz music as a way of life," Li Si, vice general manager of Yinghuan, told the Global Times. 

Among those who enjoy jazz live music as a way of life is Fan Baile, vice president of Beijing-based media company Trends Media Group. Having an extremely busy work schedule and a son with whom he wants to spend his time during the day on the weekends, Fan was in the market for a hobby that he could enjoy at night. After discovering jazz, he became a serious fan, often going to various venues across Beijing to take in authentic jazz performances.

"Of course, you can listen to jazz at home, which is good. But if you go to a live performance, it is so much more enjoyable," he said.

A patron of various jazz venues across the city, Fan has become friends with many other people who share his appreciation of jazz as well as some jazz musicians. 

Besides Blue Note, many local jazz bars, Jianghu Bar, Dusk Dawn Club, East Shore Live Jazz Café to name a few, are booming in the city with their different styles attracting various groups of artists and audiences.   

Building a market 

While these live performances are growing in China, jazz yet hasn't broken into the mainstream.  

To attract a broader range of customers, Blue Note has also put a great deal of thought into crafting a quality dining experience to go with its world-class performances.    

"We encourage the team to be creative. The chef invented our signature dessert called 'Whiplash,' the same name as the famous movie. It is quite popular, especially when there is a famous drummer playing on the stage," she said, mentioning the film about a demanding music teacher and his drummer student.

Li also noted that the club has been working hard to introduce jazz music to the general public and add a local touch to its music. 

"We invite hundreds of bands with their own various styles from all over the world, the US, Europe, South America and Asia. And we make use of social media, especially WeChat, to introduce jazz, its history, classifications and masters...," Li noted. 

"We've also been presenting our own jazz orchestra, the Blue Note China Big Band series for almost three years. In addition to jazz, we also invite a lot of Chinese artists, such as [rock musicians] Cui Jian and Wu Bai, to perform various types of music at Blue Note Beijing," she said.

While jazz is rather new for Beijing, Shanghai has a long relationship with the genre. The Paramount club in Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s is considered the birthplace of jazz in China. As for today, several big name jazz bar franchises entered the market long before Blue Note, such as Jazz at the Lincoln Center, whose headquarters are in New York, and the local JZ Club. 

With such stiff competition, how Blue Note interacts with the city's jazz landscape remains to be seen. 
from  http://www.globaltimes.cn
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