Jazz in China? It seems incongruous, but that was the beauty of the trip for the University of Missouri–St. Louis faculty and student jazz combo that visited the country last month.
“We were all there for the music,” said Jim Widner, director of jazz studies at UMSL.
He led the combo in their performances at Beijing Jiaotong University, Shanghai University of Political Science and Law and Northwest Polytechnic University in Xi’an.
“It was amazing playing to an audience of almost a thousand in Xi’an,” Widner said. “Culturally, it was different, but people loved us.”
In return, the host schools treated their American visitors to traditional Chinese music. Michael Ferrante (pictured second from left), a senior business administration major and saxophonist, enjoyed the cultural exchange.
“We had the chance to listen to traditional Chinese music, and I gained new insight and respect for Chinese music and culture in general,” he said. “Before the trip, I had never even had the chance to hear, in a live setting, some of the instruments they played.”
Jazz was a big hit with the locals as well.
“After each concert listeners would tell us they really enjoyed our music and would ask us to take pictures with them,” Ferrante said. “It made us feel like we were famous.”
In addition to the performances, there was some sightseeing.
“We got to experience a good range of China, the more traditional, rural areas and then Shanghai – with all the lights and full of so many people,” Widner said.
Still, the most memorable part for Ferrante was the jazz.
“Being able to share the American art form of jazz with multiple Chinese audiences was a great feeling,” he said. “We may have interested people who had never given jazz a chance before and even inspired some of them to begin playing it.”
This year’s trip is a result of the exchange formed with Northwest Polytechnic University in 2014, a relationship that came about after UMSL Chancellor Tom George and music Professor Barbara Harbach visited the school. It is one of many exchanges UMSL has formed and maintained over the years through its International Studies and Programs.