Eyeing jazz empire, Blue Note club expands to China

(MENAFN- AFP) Blue Note, one of the world's best-known jazz clubs, announced an expansion Thursday to China as it banks on a growing appetite for live performances among moneyed consumers.

The club, based in New York's Greenwich Village, said it would open a Blue Note Beijing in the Chinese capital in March, and within three years spread to Shanghai and Taiwan's capital Taipei.

Blue Note will also open next year on Honolulu's Waikiki beach, a location chosen in no small part due to the popularity of Hawaii with Asian tourists.

The move comes as Western musicians from veteran pop stars to classical orchestras look to expand their footprint in China, eyeing future growth in the maturing economy of 1.3 billion people.

"Do I believe there is a large demand for jazz in China right now No, not necessarily. But I believe we can help develop the music and the market," said Steven Bensusan, president of the Blue Note Entertainment Group.

Bensusan said the 250-patron club could distinguish itself in China by offering an intimate concert accompanied by food, which will be adapted to local tastes.

"In some senses, it's not like buying a concert ticket and just relying on the artist to draw people," he told AFP.

"It's more about a venue. It's a lifestyle place, it's a place for people to experience the music, even not knowing who the musicians are," he said.

Aptly for a venue devoted to the American-born art form, Blue Note Beijing will set up in the renovated site of the former US embassy near Tiananmen Square.

The complex -- a group of elegant stone buildings around a grassy courtyard -- dates from 1903 and briefly served as the Beijing base of the Dalai Lama before the Tibetan leader's flight into exile. It now houses several high-end businesses.

- Jazz roots and renewal -

Blue Note is taking a page from its success in Japan, where it opened a club in Tokyo in 1988 and later in the industrial hub of Nagoya.

Bensusan said that the cases were not an exact parallel, as Japan had a dedicated jazz scene well before Blue Note.

But he said that the club has succeeded in building Blue Note's brand, with Japanese visitors now making up a significant portion of the clientele at the original New York venue.

While jazz is smaller in China, it is not new. Shanghai had a vibrant jazz scene amid its roaring nightlife in the 1920s and 1930s, with swing era trumpet legend Buck Clayton starting his career in the cosmopolitan city before returning to the United States.

Clayton was a major influence on Li Jinhui, often called the father of Chinese pop music. But jazz grew out of favor with the communist takeover and was considered decadent during the Cultural Revolution.

Since the economic boom started in the 1990s, Shanghai has again developed a jazz scene.

Even many non-connoisseurs know the smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G, whose tune "Going Home" is routinely played at China's shopping malls and other venues to announce, as the song title indicates, that it is closing time.

- Regional jazz networks -

Blue Note Beijing plans two shows every night except Monday. Bensusan said that at least one night each week would be devoted to local talent.

Once clubs open in Shanghai and Taipei, Bensusan hopes to create a network for jazz musicians to tour across Asia.

He said Blue Note was considering South Korea for an additional club, although no plans have been set.

Blue Note opened its first European club in Milan in 2003.

Bensusan said Blue Note was also mulling an eventual expansion to Paris and London.

Despite their established jazz scenes, Bensusan said that the European capitals were not saturated and that Blue Note could create a similar European network for touring.

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