Based in Shanghai, China, Jiaowei Hu is a music writer who has been working closely with Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Blue Note China, JZ Music and Jazz at Lincoln Center Shanghai among others during the past five years. Through over 80 articles published online and in print, she is a true force behind the popularisation of jazz in China. Vocalist Ashaine White interviewed Jiaowei for the Women in Jazz Media Podcast in January; this is a condensed, edited version:
Tell us a little bit about you and how you got into jazz…
My interest in music first started when I began learning the piano aged six. I was classically trained and jazz was actually the last genre that I really got into, after moving on from classical through to rock, country, folk, electronic, etc. Up until as recently as twenty years ago, you didn’t really have a variety of music genres available in China through the mass media. You had to go and find them yourself and it was just by chance that I encountered the Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden album Jasmine in 2010 and felt immediately drawn by how lyrical, melodic and expressive it was.
And when did you get into writing about jazz?
I started writing about jazz around five years ago. It was actually through reading critics writing about classical music that I started to realise what in-depth criticism could do to help people better understand the arts.
Discovering jazz has totally changed my outlook on life and living, with its diversity, freedom, spontaneity and flow. It’s very enlightening and liberating and I just wanted to share it with people. At the end of 2015, I had my first article posted.
Discovering jazz has totally changed my outlook on life and living
Tell us about the jazz scene in China, where it’s only really just beginning…
Jazz is not a Chinese music, of course, so as it enters the country we’re witnessing a lot of absorbing and localisation, which is a good thing because people are working out their own style of jazz music, trying to understand it and play it out. This is the part I find most exciting to be witnessing.
Is it more popular in certain areas?
Beijing and Shanghai are driving the jazz scene forwards; for now, it’s still an urban art. It’s also where the resources in the entertainment industry are concentrated. Shenzhen is also another beating city. In recent years, Shenzhen has really been shining – especially with its jazz festival. Of course, it had to be cancelled last year.
You’ve been working with Blue Note China – what’s that like?
Blue Note Jazz Club in Shanghai has long been my biggest partner actually. Over the past four years, we’ve had a really valuable partnership and I’ve published somewhere over 60 articles with them. The marketing team there is an all-female department – just a wonderful bunch of open-minded women who really care about the music so I’ve really been enjoying the collaboration.
The other thing I really like about Blue Note is that, even though as a venue they have to pay attention to profits and operations of course, it’s still always the music first, audience first, always investing in the future of jazz. We all understand that jazz is still at its beginning in China and Blue Note really supports critical writing. They’re interested in introducing the music first, rather than just selling it. And this is the magic key to our long-term cooperation.
What would you say your favourite piece of writing is you’ve done for Blue Note?
One I really enjoyed was an Aaron Parks interview I did with them in 2019 – which was also published in English on All About Jazz. Also Danilo Pérez and Sachal Vasandani.
As you mentioned, Blue Note has a lot of women working for them, but do you think there’s any work that still needs to be done when it comes to gender equality within jazz in China?
Most people working in marketing and PR are female – but the local musicians are mostly men. So there’s a contrast there at the moment. That’s not just in jazz, but in classical too. At the moment, it’s hard to say if there is or will be any inequality among jazz writers, as it’s such early stages and there aren’t actually that many writers at all. It’s for us to wait and see.
It would be good for the Chinese jazz scene to get more international exposure
What do you think we could be doing to further popularise Chinese jazz internationally?
I’m a media person, that’s what I did for my degree, and so I believe it’s really essential that the music is being reported on, both abroad and at home. That’s what we’ve been trying to do: write about it, spread the word, tell the world what’s happening with jazz in China. I’ve spoken to a few pretty established international critics who had no idea about the Jazz at Lincoln Center club in Shanghai, which is amazing because it’s been there for four years now. It would be good for the Chinese jazz scene to get more international exposure as this would also raise awareness at home and that would bring in more investment.
What kind of impact has COVID had on the scene in China?
It’s not really a black or white answer. There have been lots of challenges but there have also been some opportunities. For example, with international travel cut down, a lot of the main jazz venues, which used to rely heavily on international artists, are now giving more domestic musicians a chance to play, which has given the local scene a chance to grow. So there are a lot of Chinese musicians coming up and having a chance to shine now, which is really great, because you really need that stage experience to mature. So in many ways COVID has actually accelerated the development of the domestic scene.