• Liu Yuan has been influential in the development of jazz in China.

Liu Yuan has been influential in the development of jazz in China. (Photo : Wikimedia)

Jazz is becoming increasingly popular in Beijing thanks to dedicated musicians and influence from abroad, reported China Daily.

Liu Yuan, owner of East Shore Live Jazz Cafe in Beijing Houhai Lake area, is a 55-year-old saxophonist and a pioneer and promoter of jazz in the country.

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Liu's friend Luo Ning is a Chinese jazz pianist who recently returned from Cape Town, South Africa, for a Chinese Cultural Festival. Luo collaborated with several jazz musicians from South Africa to open the event backed by China's Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Arts and Culture of the Republic of South Africa.

"Usually the Chinese government sends acrobatic or Peking Opera troupes to do cultural-exchange programs abroad," said Liu. "This time, a Chinese jazz pianist represented the country to collaborate with world-level musicians. It's a big step for China's jazz scene."

Back in the 1980s, Liu, then a folk musician, first learned to play the saxophone, when there were only five or six professional jazz musicians in Beijing.

"We didn't have a place to perform jazz. Few people in China knew what jazz was. All the knowledge we had was from tapes and magazines, which were brought back by our friends from the West," said Liu.

In recent years, jazz is developing thanks to the Internet. More Chinese jazz musicians are working hard to create good music, and many international jazz musicians are coming to the country to perform.

Luo said that Liu will soon be flying to New York to record an album, "The Encounter of Light and Shadow," wherein he will be joined by jazz musicians from the United States including drummer Dave Weckl and trumpeter Randy Brecker.

Growing up, Luo was classically trained since the age of four. His father taught music at the local art center.

"My father recalls that I could play a song I heard from a movie without any training. I guess it was the instrument that chose me," Luo said.

Luo met Liu in 1996 when he came to Beijing to pursue his dream after graduating from Xinjiang Arts University.

"At that time, nearly all jazz musicians in Beijing came to Liu because he is well-known and determined to build a scene in the country," said Luo. "We learned and jammed together. Music is full of color and imagination to us."

One of Luo's works is entitled "Farewell My Concubine," inspired by the Peking Opera of the same name, performed by the late master Mei Lanfang.

Liu and Luo are optimistic about the future of jazz in China.

"I am very positive about the country's jazz scene because these people are the future," said Liu.