Chinese jazz on eMusic & elsewhere (also posted in East Asian Studies)

One of the happiest surprises from thoroughly exploring StreetVoice was finding several nice, varied jazz 爵士 (jué shì) albums.  Before this spring, I hadn’t heard anything but cheesy, easy listening come out of the old country.  All of these listed here are from after 2015, so I wonder if an expert on jazz or an actual Chinese person can confirm that this is a relatively new and budding musical style, whereas Chinese folks have been rocking at least since Cui Jian in the 1980s, and jazz has a long history in neighboring Japan.

The most impressive group and spark for this post uses several traditional instruments, most prominently what sounds like the sheng 笙, and I doubt you’ve heard any jazz like 2018’s “Rooty Mental” album from A Root.  Half the album would better be categorized as world music, but it’s still pretty nifty, IMO.

Ying-Da Chen’s 2015 album “R.E.M Moods” gives the saxophone a good workout and is recommended for any fan of the instrument.  I don’t imagine it’s much better than average for jazz overall, but again, calling Taiwan’s jazz scene anything more than nascent would probably be a stretch.

The third album is from 2016, and watching them play in someone’s living room on Youtube might be more stimulating: Featuring a guzheng 古筝 in the lead probably isn’t even all that novel, as countless PRC easy listening albums try to spice up traditional folk music for the modern age, in the despicable tradition of “hooked on classics” (for all you vinyl crate diggers out there).  I’d almost call it a showcase for the instrument rather than a cohesive album, as the others mostly seem to provide pretty simple accompaniment.  Fans of the guzheng should also check out Xie Tianxiao’s hard rock music if all this jazz business is too soft.

There are at least a few more jazz albums on StreetVoice, but the last one already toes the line of my tolerance of easy listening.  Tokyo Chuo-Line is in fact Japanese guitar jazz but also my second favorite on StreetVoice.

Two you’ll probably have to go to Beijing to find on CD are Jazz Roller and 刘玥.  They share a guitarist and maybe another member, if I recall the Drum Tower area’s Indie Music sales attendant’s description, as I can imagine jazz musicians on the Mainland are in short supply for recording sessions.  In the case of the former, you’ll probably have an easier time searching for their 2017 album, “Flash Beats Bone” (闪鼓派) or just watch a short video of them in the studio:  Both feature longer songs and the occasional reminder that what you’re listening to is not from the West. It’s possible that iTunes has the group and album names mixed up, and that’s what I’m going on.  

The latter’s album is from 2018, entitled 闻竹 or “Bamboo’s Murmurs.”  Watching their 12-minute concert video here requires you to sit through half a minute of ads, but please do:

If you’d like to read more, this article gives a fair introduction:


  • The StreetVoice links above will obviously have to start somewhere other than eMusic now.  A more important update:  a grad school classmate of mine just made an hourlong documentary on the history of jazz in Asia available to stream.  Check it out!
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