The beating soul of music

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A picture taken in the 1940s features Zheng (first from left) playing at Paramount, a renowned club and dance hall in Shanghai.[Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

Looking back at his school days, Lu recalls Zheng being an industrious teacher who frequently translated symphony music pieces for the orchestra to the double bass and piano to make training more interesting.

"He also compiled lots of Chinese folk music for the orchestra. He is a great jazz musician, too," Lu says.

In 1947, when he was still a student, Zheng joined China's first jazz ensemble, the Jimmy King Jazz Band, which played adaptations of the latest pop songs to large crowds at Paramount, a renowned club and dance hall in Shanghai. When the Hollywood movie Bathing Beauty premiered at the Grand Cinema in Shanghai, the ensemble founder Jimmy King bought four tickets for Zheng, who watched the performance four times in one day. The young man returned with mental notes that allowed the Jimmy King Jazz Band to play the very same songs at Paramount the next day.

Zheng later became the double bass principal player at the municipal orchestra when many expatriate members of the jazz band left.

In 1956, popular concerts resumed in Shanghai under the instruction of mayor Chen Yi. Zheng was appointed to organize Shanghai's first light music orchestra and took over the conducting wand. In the 1980s, Zheng brought together his friends to form a band of gray-haired musicians that played at the invitation of the Peace Hotel on the Bund. It was 40 years since the last time jazz music was played in the city, but Zheng was never a step out of beat.

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