The premise was a jazz club in Shanghai. The reputation for great musicianship, wonderful music, and settings to match had been buried in my mind for years. I always wondered if I would get the opportunity. I had actually given up on the idea, until Saturday night. The proposal was jazz in Shanghai; my dream was about meet reality.
In hindsight, there were questions I should have been asking. What type of jazz? What kind of ambience? Did they have a vocalist?
My assumptions were on multiple levels. It seems obvious that everyone knows what makes jazz a genre. While the settings and style of jazz vary, there are common themes that permeate every jazz performance. From standards to improvisation, jazz invokes a style of playing an listening.
As I walked up the stairs to Brown Sugar, I knew this was not what I expected. The crowds were already moving to the music. The thumb of the bass speakers could have been many genres, none of them jazz. The vocalist was the opposite of a jazz icon like Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, or Diane Krall.
I had no idea how to react. It was loud. It was smoky. It was jumping.
Sometimes the unexpected brings out the worst in a group. In one case, “when the seven days of their [Paul and friends] purification were nearly up, some Jews from around Ephesus spotted him in the Temple. At once they turned the place upside-down.” (Acts 21.27) In our case, our group look around, wondered aloud, and decided to reset our expectations and enjoy some R&B.
Life comes with all kinds of twists. I did not expect to listen to R&B delivered by American singer in Shanghai. I know that this was not my first choice. I also know that the experience was fun, different, and memorable. I came with a broader view of Shanghai. I spent time with friends, enjoying the acts being played out all around me. My quest for Shanghai jazz remains a dream. And yet, the experience will linger for a long time.