"I love playing at D-22. It's genre-bending," muses saxophonist Nathaniel Gao as he sips red wine between sets on a mellow Sunday night at D-22. "But don't quote that. I hate the term 'genre.'" It's an understandable sentiment for Beijing's hottest jazz band which calls home a rollicking rock club known for fostering experimental noise. But every Sunday, the Red Hand Jazz Band turns D-22 into a sultry lounge with a few sets of jazz, straight up.
Weekly appearances since last November have led to recent high profile performances at 2 Kolegas and Yugong Yishan. They played the Nine Gates Jazz Festival last month. Wudaokou's best-kept secret is most definitely out.
"Are we really hitting the downtown crowd?" Gao laughs, "I didn't know that." Gao downplays the band's recent success, preferring to enthuse about his band mates. He is joined by Xia Jia (piano) and Wen Zhiyong (trumpet), who've been playing together since the age of 10, along with Xiao Dou (drums) and Da Huai (bass).
Though the downtown crowds are now jumping on the Red Hand bandwagon, Gao is unfazed by the sudden attention. "It's nice to be playing more often, but all our shows downtown only happened because Xia Jia and Wen Zhiyong are well-established musicians and have been playing these venues for years."
The local jazz scene tends to be dominated by laowais, but Red Hand can claim they're nine-tenths native (Gao is a half Chinese). Jazz may be an American art form, but Red Hand is laying down very local roots.
"Most jazz groups in Beijing are playing covers or just play long jam sessions," Gao explains, "but we are trying to push for original compositions. We want to see where jazz can go in Beijing. Xia Jia has written a lot of pieces that people say sound very 'Chinese,' yet it's still clearly jazz." For Gao, the appeal of playing high profile gigs isn't in the celebrity, rather that he in bringing jazz to new audiences.
But pushing jazz to the masses isn't the Red Hand agenda. "We just want to get better and better," Gao maintains. And even though they are now regularly seeing stage time at bigger and better venues in town, D-22 remains their favorite place to play. "In terms of acoustics, it's simply the best," Gao concludes. "We don't even need mics and the crowd is always attentive."
Catch the post-bop buzz at Yugong Yishan on June 20, or trek out to Haidian
for one their regular Sunday night gigs, where it all started.
Red Hand Jazz Band
Tiem:June 20, Yugong Yishan
Every Sunday, D-22