Hip-hop and remixed dance music are the main sounds in Shanghai's nightlife, but jazz has found its lower-key and very solid niche.
Newcomers are often surprised by the few long-standing and vigorous clubs and the outstanding musicians from all over the world.
American tenor and soprano-saxophonist Alec Haavik was amazed by Shanghai four years ago when he came on a three-month performance contract. Now, he speaks fluent Chinese and has become a highlight in the jazz scene.
Haavik performs at the famous JZ club every Thursday and will hold a concert this Sunday at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center in Pudong.
The 38-year-old musician, best known for his improvisation and explosive energy at live performances, will challenge himself by restructuring classical music at the concert, titled "Life Death and Everything Else."
"The concert is a wonderful opportunity for me to explore possibilities and challenge myself. My goal has been to restructure classical works. So I'm not performing it as it was written," says Haavik. "Rather, I'm taking the compositional ideas and rearranging them so that the piece contains both the original meaning of the composer and also something from my perspective."
For the concert, he is improvising on works that he always loved - Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," which Messiaen and his friends first performed in 1941 in a German prison camp for 5,000 fellow prisoners; Schoenberg's "String Trio" completed in 22 days after his heart attack and near-death experience and Bach's beautiful spiritual tribute, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire."
Haavik will add two pieces that he composed for the birth of his son and daughter - they include the recorded sound of the children's heartbeats in the womb. The repertoire is strikingly different from what he usually performs at JZ as part of the band Alec Haavik Friction Five.
"My life's goal is expression through music, and then you'll ask, 'What are you going to express?' So it's really interesting for me to put these pieces together, the music I love, and the music coming out from my own experience," says Haavik.
Holding a master's degree from the Manhattan School of Music, Haavik played in both rock bands and jazz bars in New York City before moving to Shanghai. The saxophonist got interested in music in elementary school and has played many different instruments and styles.
As a jazz musician, Haavik acknowledges his rock influences and he masterfully adds raw and funky rock flavor into the free jazz genre. His first CD "Rocks" blends the styles of Led Zeppelin, Steve Lacy and John Coltrane. And he even recorded a Led Zeppelin song "Four Sticks" in his second CD to pay tribute to his favorite rock 'n' roll band.
"I did play in rock bands for a while after graduation and rock music is also powerfully expressive. But jazz is a really complete human expression through music with a lot of improvisations, indicating a lot more open meaning and space of expression," Haavik explains.
He sums up his four years in Shanghai as "fantastic" and plans to stay for a long time with his family. He was attracted by the city and the jazz scene since he first performed in 2005.
"It's a very fulfilling time for me to work on my arts and also have exchanges with all the great musicians I have met in Shanghai. Great musicians from all over the world are coming here. And I want to be part of a great music community for all of my life," concludes Haavik.
Date: January 11, 3pm
Address: 425 Dingxiang Rd, Pudong
Tickets: 100-200 yuan
Tel: 962-388, 6854-1234
(Shanghai Daily January 8, 2009)