Vancouver drummer finds jazz, musical freedom on rise in China
By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published: November 28, 2015, 5:56 PM
Things ain’t what they used to be in East Asia, and especially in urban centers such as Beijing and Hong Kong, according to jazz drummer Gary Hobbs.
You might actually hear that sly Duke Ellington standard pouring from the doorway of a nightclub or conservatory these days — in a civilization that used to consider jazz music subversive, even pornographic, and definitely anti-communist.
…Hobbs, 67, …on his fourth teaching-and-performing junket to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong in late October. The centerpiece of the trip was the third annual China Drum Summit, hosted by the Beijing Contemporary Music Academy.
Hobbs was…“totally shocked,” he said, at the masses of Chinese music students displaying real talent and fire about this essentially American art form. Hobbs…found “massive conservatories full of all these brazen virtuosos” who are practicing the instruments…like their lives depend on it.
“I’m not sure why all of a sudden jazz is cool there,” he said, “but it is urgent.”
Fun and freedom
Hobbs’s 10-day October trip was packed full of concerts, classes and one-on-one clinics where he got to be the admired master. But he felt exactly like a nervous young student upon learning that he’d be teaching alongside…Billy Cobham…. “He’s a god to me,” said Hobbs, who started practicing for four hours a day after he heard he’d be meeting Cobham.
In China, where culture was long frozen as a matter of national policy, music of all sorts is now catching up.., Hobbs said. Everybody is deep into jazz.
“They really dig it, all these skinny young kids,” Hobbs said. “They really come out and support this music.”
What’s hooked them, he said, is what they were denied before: Freedom.