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THE COLUMBIAN: Vancouver drummer finds jazz, musical freedom on rise in China
Things ain't what they used to be in East Asia, and especially in urban centers such as Beijing and Hong Kong, according to jazz drummer Gary Hobbs.
You might actually hear that sly Duke Ellington standard pouring from the doorway of a nightclub or conservatory these days -- in a civilization that used to consider jazz music subversive, even pornographic, and definitely anti-communist.
That big red chill is thawing fast, according to Vancouver native Hobbs, 67, who went on his fourth teaching-and-performing junket to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong in late October. The centerpiece of the trip was the third annual China Drum Summit, hosted by the Beijing Contemporary Music Academy.
Hobbs was away for 10 days and was "totally shocked," he said, at the masses of Chinese music students displaying real talent and fire about this essentially American art form. Hobbs said he found "massive conservatories full of all these brazen virtuosos" who are practicing the instruments with the biggest, boldest voices -- brassy saxophones, earth-quaking drums -- like their lives depend on it.
It stems from the rising Chinese standard of living, Hobbs surmised, and from the opening-up of a society that was officially closed to outside cultural influences for decades.
"I'm not sure why all of a sudden jazz is cool there," he said, "but it is urgent."
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GARY HOBBS: From Kenton to Goats
Gary Hobbs became a legend in his own time as the drummer who joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra right out of college, following such class acts as Gene Krupa and Shelley Manne.
At 59, with 38 years of gigging behind him, he is still the guy who drives big bands, undaunted by tempo changes or polyrhythms. But with smaller groups, Hobbs is also the guy on the cajon set, who coaxes organic Latin rhythms from wooden boxes and goat hooves.
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Hades Ladies, from Gary Hobbs' "Of My Times" is one of the featured tracks for Origin Records "The Music You Need" televison commercial campaign. The 5 commercials are currently in rotation on MSNBC, CNN, BET, Comedy Central and other channels on Comcast Cable in Seattle and soon expanding to other markets.
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