Hear that sound? ... It’s jazzJapan has Tokyo Jazz and Yokohama Jazz Promenade. China has Shanghai International Jazz Week.
Thailand has its Thailand Jazz Festival. Malaysia hosts an annual Rainforest World Music Festival, and is about to have its first Penang Jazz Festival.
Well, the JVC Jazz Festival landed here last year ― two nights of concerts, with Pat Metheny headlining. There are some jazz clubs in Seoul, and elsewhere in Korea. But this is a difficult market for jazz, and a wide-scale, days-long celebration of jazz in the form of a festival is something that’s lacking here.
So it’s largely uncharted territory that the Jarasum International Jazz Festival will map out next weekend. For three days, from Sept. 10 to 12, more than a dozen musicians, local and from abroad, will perform on one of two outdoor stages on a small island in Gyeonggi province.
It’s not the first time a jazz festival has been tried in Korea. Back in 1997 Muju, a city in North Jeolla province, hosted a jazz festival headlined by such major names as Dianne Reeves, Terence Blanchard and McCoy Tyner. But it wasn’t successful enough to become an annual event.
Local jazz fans perked up when an affiliate of New York’s legendary Blue Note club opened in Gangnam. The club brought some impressive names to town ― Ron Carter, Kenny Garrett, Diana King ― but it hasn’t hosted a show since June, and its Web site is defunct.
“I believe there are devoted jazz fans in Korea, but the sponsorship is really hard to come by,” says Jang You-min, a staffer at the stylish Gangnam jazz club Once in a Blue Moon. “If only the finances of the jazz music market were viable.”
Still, there are positive signs. A few Korean jazz magazines have been launched recently. (Once in a Blue Moon had its own magazine at one point, but it folded a few years ago.)
And last year, the JVC Jazz Festival, which has a 20-year history in the United States and Europe, chose Seoul for its first venture into Asia. The concerts, with Metheny at the fore, were hugely popular, and the festival is due to return to Korea Nov. 4 and 5, with vocalist (and Muju jazz festival veteran) Dianne Reeves, among others.
Next weekend’s Jarasum festival will feature some lesser-known names: the Mike Stern band, Hiram Bullock, Chris Minh Doky, Asian Spirits. The festival has been timed to coincide with the Sixth Bukhangang Water Sports Festival, also on Jarasum island (or Jaraseom, as the name is also Romanized). And festival organizers are including non-jazz acts; the “party stage,” separate from the jazz stage, will feature hip-hop from local artists like Garion and DJ Wreckx.
Lim Jae-jin, president of the music production company Amp, who is organizing the festival with the support of the city of Gapyeong in Gyeonggi province, envisions the festival as being not just for music aficiandos, but for people who simply want to enjoy music in a comfortable picnic setting. “At most of these festivals abroad, you’ll find some serious music fans close to the stage, but most everyone else is hanging out in the back,” Lim said.
As this is the festival’s first time out, Jim admits to being somewhat worried about the outcome. But he sees potential in Korea, and elsewhere in Asia, for jazz festivals. So do others.
“Jazz festivals have played out in America and Europe for 80 some-odd years,” Lim said. “In Europe, it’s now all about electronic music. Asia is a new market.”
Jazz has a short history in Korea, as it does in much of Asia. While China, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand do have their jazz festivals, most of them, except for Japan’s, are either small or young.
The first Shanghai International Jazz Week was held just this summer, with six bands from countries such as Norway and France. By comparison, just to cite one Western festival, the lineup at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival includes more then 1,000 musicians. Thailand is lucky enough to have the patronage of a king who plays the saxophone and composes music.
Even in Japan, which is Asia’s strongest jazz market, the now-popular festival Tokyo Jazz was only launched two years ago. The music producer isn’t even a local; he’s Herbie Hancock, one of the most famous jazz pianists alive.
In an interview featured on the Tokyo Jazz Web site, Hancock calls Tokyo Jazz a festival for nonjazz fans. “We have provided a variety of music including Latin and African music as well as funk and fusion, and we would like to continue to introduce different music in the future... It’s a festival that you can enjoy even if you are not a jazz fan. Then when people go out the gate to go home, they have become jazz fans.”
Hancock also mentions a market that jazz promoters hope to tap into. “Various young people around the world often ask me, ‘I have never listend to jazz before, so what kind should I listen to?’”
The excitement about Asia is not there just because it’s a new market, or because China is a waking giant, but because the fans are young. “Artists come to Korea and are surprised by how young the fans are,” Lim says. “It gives them hope for the future, and they want to come back.”
Lim So-young, a manager at Korea’s C and L music label, points to some forms of jazz that young people like. “In Japan and Korea, jazz fans are into fusion jazz. Young people particularly like acid jazz.” And while she says the jazz market here is not stable yet, she also sees potential for growth.
At JVC, market research indicated that Asia was ready. Organizers estimate about 4,000 people attended. Jo Si-young, a project manager with MastMedia, which helped organize the event last year, recalls that the majority of the audience was in their 30s and 40s. “I was also surprised by how many people were in their 20s,” she says.
Not only are young fans becoming interested, Korea is developing young jazz artists. The first one Lim So-young names is Common Ground, a 12-piece big band that will be at the Jarasum Jazz Festival. Most of the members of Wave are in their 20s.
The Jarasum Jazz Festival is chance not only for the Korean public to hear established artists, it’s also an opportunity for young musicians to find an international audience. Lim Jae-jin has invited members of the International Jazz Festival Organization to a two-day symposium, the 2004 Seoul Jazz Meeting, and also to attend the Jarasum Jazz Festival.
He projects that the festival will take three years to really become established. But that’s the norm, considering that festivals like Pori Jazz Festival in Finland began with tickets sales of 3,000. Almost 40 years later, the festival attracts 120,000 listeners. While the festivals in Korea do not draw those numbers yet, one day they might.
Lim Jae-jin says, “The more I traveled abroad and saw jazz festivals, the more I felt like Korea needs this. I hope it becomes a summer tradition.”
Jazz fests coming soon to Korea and Japan
Jarasum International Jazz Festival, Sept. 10-12
The concept is live music on an island. Picnicking will be allowed, although restaurants will be setting up stalls. The mayor of Gapyeong promises plenty of barbecue.
“The way I see it, music is 40 percent of a great festival. A good vibe is the rest,” organizer Lim Jae-jin said.
The lineup includes jazz from The Mike Stern band, with Stern (formerly of Blood, Sweat and Tears) on guitar, Richard Bona on bass and Bob Franceschini on tenor sax. Hiram Bullock is another exceptional guitarist who will be performing; he was once part of David Letterman’s house band with Paul Schaffer.
Another performer on the lineup, Chris Minh Doky, a Denmark native, was once a bassist for Mike Stern. He’s come to prominence in his own right, with platinum awarded CD sales, and an invitation to play for Bill Clinton. Asian Spirits has members from five Asian countries, including Korea’s prominent saxophonist Lee Jeong-sik. Gentle Heart is a fusion jazz band, and the Esbjorn Svensson Trio hails from Sweden. The festival’s offerings also include hip-hop from Cho PD, Garion and DJ Wreckx.
Tokyo Jazz, Sept. 18-19
Jazz and other live music in the city, from funk to African, with none other than Herbie Hancock at the helm. He’ll also be performing, of course, as will Diane Reeves, the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Ensemble and Fried Pride, a Japanese duo who were recently in Korea.
Yokohama Jazz Promenade, Oct. 9-10
Yokohama is supposedly the first place where jazz was played in Japan. Last year, about 300 performances were given by a whopping 1,600 musicians, in live music clubs, eateries, music halls, warehouses and on street corners.
JVC Jazz Festival Korea, Nov. 4-5
Two nights of music at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. Thursday night’s lineup includes Kim Kwang-min, the ubiquitous Dianne Reeves and Rite of Strings; on Friday night, it’s Four of a Kind, Marcus Miller and Take 6. Kim is one of Korea’s most beloved jazz pianists. Last year, the festival also included a Korean, Na Youn-sun, who is currently based in France.
by Joe Yong-hee