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Get Jazzy in Shenzhen - Shenzhen's best Jazz Spots

 2017-12-06    ThomasIronmonk    Activities    Shenzhen    1540  

“Jazz” and “Shenzhen.” Do these two words even belong in the same sentence together? What has a southern Chinese city of industry and commerce got to do with Dixieland or Chicago? Well, in this rapidly globalizing era of ours, a great deal. That’s because with money and sophistication comes the appetite to consume the urbane, the high-class and good quality: and in China, that means jazz. Jazz first made inroads in the Middle Kingdom in the 1920s and 30 when Black American musicians fleeing persecution at home found an audience in Shanghai. Their music even informed a local version of the popular music, namely singsong, while their groups kept the international quarters dancing into the wee hours.

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The revolution of 1949 put an end to all forms of “decadent” expression introduced by “foreign imperialists,” and it wasn’t until the reform era of the 1980s that Western music began to trickle into China again. The stream has now become a flood with imported and local versions of Western music, including jazz, informing the audio landscape of China. Shanghai was first to rekindle its jazz legacy, and others have followed suit. As Shenzhen, situated in the warm subtropics, emerges as the middle-class city, jazz is proving a popular way for the nouveau riche to get their rocks off.

Of course what actually constitutes jazz is always under debate. But whether you’re looking for a taste of some swinging standards or a touch of the new avant-garde Shenzhen’s eclectic palate of bars, restaurants and music festivals promises to deliver something for everyone.

Old Heaven, B10 and the OCT Jazz Festival

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Old Heaven Books is the hub of high culture in Shenzhen. Operated by local radio personality and music aficionado A’Fei the book & record shop occasionally puts on live performances from local and touring acts. Five minutes walk north of the bookstore is B10 Space, the city’s premier alternative live house, which regularly hosts rock, metal, folk, electro and of course, jazz acts. The venue is run by A’Fei’s long-time associate and friend the oil painter Teng Fei, and together the two Feis organize the annual OCT Jazz Festival each autumn. The festival veers heavily towards the avant-garde, with fusion and experimental acts topping the bill. And it has proved a huge success, a big draw with students, music fans and the curious coming out of the woodwork for this weeklong jazz carnival. 

Penny Black

Also located in the OCT Loft, this delightful outdoor venue flanked by palm trees, is where the trendy employees of the local design firms come to hang out after hours. The music, often performed by Sichuanese owner Bin Bin, is a repertoire of typical standards from the golden age of jazz. Overplayed in the West, these tracks have not yet lost their novelty value in the Middle Kingdom and the place regular packs out with young folk hungry for a fresh sound. The bar also regularly hosts Shenzhen expat jazz players, visiting musicians from Hong Kong and beyond as well as Silkroad music from Xinjiang in China’s Far West. If there’s a downside, it’s the costly drinks and, this being Shenzhen, the occasional heavy downpour. But hey, as the Drake song goes, “you can’t have everything”.

Jazz Garden

Located in the Window of the World theme park, well next door in a European-themed bar street to be exact, this is another open-air haunt where musicians congregate to show off their chops after dark. The owner is a guitarist of some repute while a strong selection of imported German and Belgian beers makes this a great place to chill out during the hot summer months.

CJW

This swanky Chinese lounge chain is catering to the top one percent. The name stands for Cigars, Jazz, and Wine, and it delivers all three: Foreign bands, expensive cocktails, and Havana cigars. The Shenzhen venue is located in the OCT Bay, a purpose-built leisure and tourism district in Nanshan; stone throw from the border with Hong Kong. It's popular with business types in designer suits sucking on cigars and swigging martinis while talking shop. But don’t let that put you off. The band is great, mixing soul, RnB, and funk with classic jazz.

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