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Interview: Coco Zhao

Sep 12, 2008 | 12:09 Fri

The Shanghai Jazz Festival is taking place at Jing An Park next weekend. Jazz hands!

To get a little more insight on the festival itself and the highlights, SmSh called up Shanghai's most beloved jazz vocalist Coco Zhao to find out who he's looking forward to seeing and learn more about the festival itself.

Please read this Wire post for the ticketing info.

SmSh: Can you talk a little bit about the festival this year?

Coco: I think generally we wanted to have just a big party with lots of musicians coming from local and overseas, gathering in Shanghai, to create a platform so that musicians can learn from each other, and also that music lovers can have a good time.

SmSh: Who are you looking to seeing?

Coco: I would say I'm looking forward to seeing Gilles Peterson. He is one of my favorite jazz DJs. Well, I shouldn't call him a jazz DJ, he's more of a radio DJ and he has a great music collection from lots of different genres from jazz to electronic, from latin to folk -- but related to jazz. And I think a lot of the musicians from my generation are inspired by his music so I'm really looking forward to seeing that. Also looking forward to seeing Incognito, a great funk band. I think its going to be a great party the night they are playing. I'm also looking forward to seeing YAA, a Japanese band. They're friends of mine and we're collaborating on some music together. So I've heard them play many times is Japan and Shanghai, so I'm looking forward to seeing them as well.

Also, Alec and the Big Band as well... but the top three is my top list.

SmSh: So there seems to be a whole range of music being performed -- folk and pop -- do you think they'll be a different crowd coming out?

Coco: I think so.

Is that new this year or was it like that last year?

Coco: It's more this year I think. Last year was still more... well, the first year was more jazz, the second year was more jazz and contemporary and some electronic as well, and this year its really expanded... you know, there is pop, there is folk, and there is more rock this year too I think.

SmSh: So I hear there lots of big names performing in terms of Chinese Jazz. Can you talk more about that? For example, the "first Chinese jazz pianist," Jin Fo?

Coco: Oh yeah, Jin Fo is really good. Actually we play together sometimes, and I think this time he is going to bring his band, which plays music mixed a little bit with Chinese opera and a little bit of electronic as well. So that's going to be really interesting. Actually I'm looking forward to that as well, I forgot to mention that.

Um also for Chinese pop music there is Xu Bei and Joanna Wong. I don't know their music that well actually so I can't say too much about it, but we'll see...

SmSh: Are they popular with kids, like pop stars?

Coco: Actually, Joanna Wong is more popular with white collar workers so it's not really kid's music. Actually the stuff of hers I've heard is more like Nora Jones or Lisa Ono -- a little bit of a jazz touch but more pop I would say.

SmSh: So are you looking forward to performing in the festival? Do you get nervous?

Coco: No... it's like a big family party.

SmSh: But there's going to be thousands of people there. Doesn't that make you nervous at all?

Well, it will be a big family party then. [Laughs.]

SmSh: So what projects are you working on? Are you recording? I noticed you recently performed at Lounge 18 with two other vocalists. Is that a regular thing?

Coco: Yeah, we're planning to do it as a regular thing. We've called it Quintessence and every time we do a concert we invoke the five different senses. We do different genres of music with different musicians, but there is the three core vocalists for the project. [Read an interview with fellow Quintessence vocalist Heidi Krenn here].

Also I'm doing other stuff with a Swiss band, a German band, and a Japanese band which is YAA, but also I'm working with my own band [The Possicobilities] to produce our second album.

SmSh: When is that coming out?

Coco: Oh I don't know. Maybe soon. We're such lazy bastards. [Laughs.]

SmSh: So where can people get the first album then?

Coco: Oh people can get it at the JZ club, and all these book shops in Shanghai, or

SmSh: So on the promotional material you've been described as "the symbol of Shanghai jazz." How do you respond to that?

Coco: Oh, I don't really like to label anything or anyone, including myself. So I'm honored that people say that but I think there is many great musicians in Shanghai and they all can speak for Shanghai's jazz scene, and so I'm just really glad I can be a part of this -- part of the family.