Sign In

X
GO TO TOP

JZ Club's Ren Yuqing

Apr 25, 2019

My name is Ren Yuqing. I’m a bass player. I started playing music in 1989. In 2003, I founded the original JZ jazz club on Fuxing Lu.

Before JZ, I played rock and roll. As a young man, I wanted to show the world who I was and what I thought about society. While I was exploring the world, I had a realization. A Japanese musician told me people who play music should have a social responsibility. I agree with him. A lot of musicians nowadays lack that sense of responsibility. To them, it’s about commercialism, not about music anymore.

Once I was asked what I wanted to do the most. I thought about it for a really long time and told him that I wanted to create my own music industry. That was in early 2000. The guy was startled and asked me if I even knew what “industry” meant.

Then I started a club, a place where musicians could perform the way they liked. I also wanted to change my lifestyle. Before it was just getting up, practicing music, cooking, practicing music again, teaching, recording, rehearsing and performing.

My identity has never changed. I am not a businessman. I am a musician. I am not promoting the sale of music. I am promoting music. I am a music promoter. It has never changed.

Shanghai"

I started my own club because others would not give me the stage to play jazz. I had to build my own stage for my own jazz. I used my own savings and some of my friends’ money to build the club.

When I was young, we did not have many options for music genres. Most young people were just starting to listen to mainstream pop music in the late 80s. I got into U2, Def Leppard, Metallica, and Red Hot Chili Peppers by chance. I was in a teacher-training art school and I studied painting. The class next to mine was a music class. Those naughty boys with long hair exposed me to rock and roll.

I am from Beijing but my dad is from here. When I stayed in Shanghai, our house was near the U.S. consulate. One July 4, I heard Bruce Springsteen playing from the speaker: “Born in the U.S.A., I was born in the U.S.A.” Super loud — they played it right next to my balcony. It sounded amazing!

Shanghai"

There was a radio show called “Marlboro’s Music World” that played so many types of western music. After I went back to Beijing, I started to find this kind of music by myself. I studied for a year in university and I dropped out. My parents forced me to go to university. By then, I was already quite connected in rock circles.

I am a musician and I needed to practice. I loved playing my guitar and I wanted to step up my game. That’s when jazz came into my life. I came across fusion jazz around 1993. John McLaughlin left a huge impression on me. His music was on a cassette that was copied a million times. We named it: “King of Technique”. That’s how jazz planted a seed in me. At the end of 1996, I finally joined a jazz band. I left Cui Jian’s band to join Liu Yuan. Cui once asked me if I had to choose one between rock and jazz, which one would I choose? I said jazz.

Shanghai"

Before I came back to Shanghai, there were people playing jazz already, but their skills were average and they were limited to playing music in small bars for foreigners or people from Hong Kong, Macao or Taiwan. I played in small bars in Beijing, too. But my audience was Cui Jian, Chen Daoming, and Jiang Wen – the icons of the arts and culture scene.

When I came to Shanghai for a job in 2000, the city was a blank slate. Nineteen years later, Shanghai has become the best city for culture. People in Guangzhou won't listen to hardcore music, people in Chengdu who eat chuanchuan and play poker games don’t care about hip hop, but the ordinary people living in Shanghai listen to jazz. This open-minded attitude comes from the bottom up.

Shanghai"

Things were different in the early 2000s. There was a shortage of artists, a shortage of platforms and venues, and society was not familiar with the concept. So we broke ground by creating more venues for artists to perform.

There were only a handful of venues in Shanghai at that time: the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, House of Blues and Jazz, Cotton Club… Then more and more foreigners came to the city, but the concept of JZ Club isn’t just about entertaining the foreign crowd. Unlike the older jazz venues in Shanghai, running shows similar to hotel gigs – they changed the band every three months or so – JZ Club is like a concert hall: there's a new show every day, and every month there's a band touring from overseas. I wanted it to be like a real jazz bar, rather than an open bar with a jazz band inside.

Shanghai"

There's never a right time to launch a music festival. The first JZ Festival was in 2003 when we opened our first club. I remember there were only two jazz bands in Shanghai and four in Beijing. That’s it. Even now, I still don't care if our festival will attract an audience or not. The point of organizing a festival is to educate the crowd.

Shanghai"

Our original goal for the JZ Festival has never changed. In fact, it's becoming more authentic. That's why our music festival is getting smaller. I only want to do what I really want to do. I don't want to book really big names for our festival. Many artists that debuted at JZ Festival are now big names in the music world: Cheer Chen, Li Jian, Tia Ray... As the market becomes more chaotic, you must truly understand what you want to do in order to make progress.

My plan for the next five years is just making more good music. We will try very hard to make good albums, promote good musicians, and cultivate young talent. The JZ School is a full-time school. Kids are training from 10am to 8pm every day, Monday to Friday. We have a forty-year-old who quit his job and studied here as well. He's a musician based in Beijing now. Aside from us, there's no top-notch, systematic contemporary music education in China. There are too many people picking the fruits, but not enough people planting trees and tending flowers. And these are the most crucial things. Social responsibility can bring true happiness.

Shanghai"

JZ Spring happens from April 27 to May 1, across Jing'an.

TELL EVERYONE

VENUES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE:

  • JZ School

    • Address
      2/F, No 12, 280 Wukang Lu, near Hunan Lu
      武康路280弄12号2楼, 近湖南路
    • Phone
      5403 6475

    This music school offers music training for all ages starting from 18 months and all levels with faculty consisting of foreign and local instructors. The school also hosts a number of open workshops, masters classes and other community events. Read more

  • JZ Club (Found 158)

    • Address
      B1/F, 158 Julu Lu, near Ruijin Yi Lu
      巨鹿路158号B1楼, 近瑞金一路
    • Phone
      5309 8221

    Doubling in capacity from their storied space which closed last year on Fuxing Lu, the new JZ Club is oriented as a proper theater space / concert hall, with a stage set up at one end and basically the entire rest of the club a general audience table seating area, a... Read more

  • Wooden Box

    • Address
      9 Qinghai Lu, near Nanjing Xi Lu
      青海路9号, 近南京西路
    • Phone
      5213 2965

    The smallest, possibly chillest member of the JZ family, this comfortable little café near the Nanjing Xi Lu metro stop is a good bet for light live music like folk, jazz, and bluegrass most evenings. Nice patio. They also do lunch sets and happy hour. Read more

  • House of Blues and Jazz

    • Address
      60 Fuzhou Lu, near the Bund
      福州路60号, 近外滩
    • Phone
      6323 2779

    The House of Blues and Jazz moved to the Bund from its original Maoming Lu location (opened in 1995) around 2008. It's an upgrade, for sure. Big two-story space with live music nightly. Music is generally good, and includes a lot of soul and funk standards (Motown,... Read more

  • Cotton's (Xinhua Lu)

    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      294 Xinhua Lu, near Dingxi Lu
      新华路294号, 近定西路
    • Phone
      6282 6897

    Cotton's on Xinhua Lu is the expansion location of the original Cotton's on Anting Lu, which is one of the most popular patio bars in Shanghai. They've replicated the formula exactly in the new neighbourhood, and Cotton's Xinhua has a large outdoor patio abutting an... Read more

  • Cotton's (Anting Lu)

    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      132 Anting Lu, near Jianguo Xi Lu
      安亭路132号, 近建国西路
    • Phone
      6433 7995

    Cotton's chilled-out villa atmosphere is also the place to go if you're not used to Chinese food and don't plan on becoming acclimated. They've done a good job of creating a pretty spot where foreigners can feel like they are in any city. The old outdoor dining area... Read more

[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a weekly SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

Most recent: