Guitarist Gary Lucas reinterprets old Shanghai songs

By Zhang Lulu
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 28, 2013
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American guitarist Gary Lucas is going to stage a concert of old Shanghai songs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York on Oct 4 and 5, featuring the music of 30s stars Bai Guang and Zhou Xuan. [photo by Sjaniek Schaap]

Old Shanghai songs have always been an inspiration for Chinese musicians and artists, but they have also long fascinated American guitarist Gary Lucas, who will stage a concert featuring his reinterpretation of these songs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York on Oct 4 and 5.

The upcoming concert, entitled "The Edge of Heaven”, will feature songs originally by Bai Guang and Zhou Xuan, two of the biggest Chinese music and film stars of the 1930s, when Shanghai was known as the "Paris of the East.” Lucas’ covers include”Old Dreams”, "Songstress on the Edge of Heaven” and "Night in Shanghai”, which he performs with a blues inflection.

The show will feature visual projections of old Shanghai street scenes and beautiful images from period movie magazines, calendars and advertising, so as to create a beautiful visual backdrop for the songs, according to Lucas. Lucas was first drawn to the old Shanghai songs when he lived in Taipei in 1976. "It was the most alluring hybrid of Eastern and Western influences I'd ever heard -- each song was a little treasure, shimmering, melodic and exotic in its mixture of Tin Pan Alley, swing and jazz and Chinese influences,” he said.

Speaking of his experimentation in bringing the old Shanghai songs and the American sensibility together, Lucas explained, "There are many affinities in the Chinese pentatonic scale with American blues and roots scales, and I have tried to stay as true as possible to the feel and spirit of the original recordings, even down to performing each number in its original key, while still giving them my own post-modern twist.”

Gary Lucas made an album named "The Edge of Heaven”in 2001 which reached number one on the World Music charts in Canada and was chosen as one of the Best Discs of the Year by the French newspaper Libération. He also performed, along with his band Gods and Monsters and two female vocalists -- Sally Kwok and Mo Hai Jing, at both the 64th Holland Festival in Amsterdam and the 28th Nijmegen Music Meeting in 2011, receiving standing ovations.

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