Sonic Calligraphy performs at Cape 3 in Qingdao on October 13, 2012. Check out an interview with Peggy Chew, lead vocalist for the band. For info on tickets, pls contact Neil or Niki at 187.0542.0575 or 138.5327.6763.
Sonic Calligraphy, Chinese American jazz singer Peggy Chew and Swiss musicians Adrian Frey, piano and WIlly Kotoun, percussion, create a kaleidoscope of new musical sounds with grooves and improvisation where modern jazz concepts meet Asian sensibilities. They are joined for the China tour 2012 by renowned guqin player Wu Na.
Together they present a hypnotic and unique cross-cultural blend of music with folk melodies from China, poetry from the Tang dynasty, jazz standards, and songs from the pianist sung with the singer’s lyrics.
The band is touring China in the fall of 2012, including Qingdao as well as Beijing, Shanghai, Changsha, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen on their itinerary.
How did you end up in Europe?
To make a long story short, I was performing with a street band playing jazz and pop songs all around Europe. When I came to Switzerland in 1990, I began performing as a soloist and a member of a vocal quartet in a big band. Many other opportunities followed where I could sing in different jazz and vocal groups as well as lead my own band. I also found work teaching jazz vocals at the jazz schools in Luzern and Basel. During this time, I met my partner, Swiss pianist, Adrian Frey, which further explains why Switzerland is my home now.
How did you meet Coco Zhao and Wu Na?
Sonic Calligraphy began originally as a duo project between myself on vocals and Swiss pianist Adrian Frey. We began playing jazz standards and Chinese songs were added as they grew out of my search to explore my Chinese roots. During our first visit to China in 2002 and performing as a duo , Adrian and I met Coco in Shanghai. We jammed together and had such a good time that we stayed in contact. Each time we went to China for another concert tour, we always got together with Coco.
In 2008, “Sonic Calligraphy“ was selected by the Swiss arts foundation, Pro Helvetia to participate in their “Swiss Chinese Cultural Explorations“ program. This allowed us to receive funding which helped us to realize our dream of creating a cross cultural collaboration with musicians from China. We already knew that we wanted Coco to be part of our group. We also wanted someone to play a traditional instrument and Coco recommended his colleague, Wu Na, who is playing the gu qin, the traditional seven string zither.
We didn’t know what to expect when we all met for the first time in 2009 to rehearse in Shanghai for a series of concerts. After we played through a few songs together and began improvising, it was clear that we had a special chemistry together. It has been an exciting challenge to bring such unusual instrumentation together: piano, percussion, gu qin and two voices (male and female) singing in English, Chinese and wordlessly.
[Editor’s note: Due to a scheduling conflict, singer Coco Zhao is not appearing with Sonic Calligraphy in Qingdao. We regret missing out on this outstanding performer’s talents – you might catch him on The Voice of China.]
How do you get ready for a China tour, are there any issues with time difference, equipment, travel?
Since our group is very compact in size and instrumentation, we don’t have any problems with arranging travel with equipment. The time difference doesn’t really affect us since we arrive from Switzerland a few days before the first concert to rehearse the program. By the time we play the first concert, we have adjusted to the new rhythm in China. This concert tour will be our fourth time in China so we feel familiar with the conditions here.
What is the best gig you have played with this band?
Each gig has its special atmosphere depending on the audience, the venue, and the energy of the group. Some memorable moments have been where the audience is especially vocal when they like what you’re doing and they are giving you your full attention. When Adrian and I performed for the first time in China in 2002, I will always remember the moment when we played our jazz rendition of the Chinese folk song “Lan Hua Hua“ in Beijing.
We knew something special was happening when the audience began to shout and sing enthusiastically with us. Before we had played this song, we performed several jazz standards in English where the audience applauded politely but as soon as we began our set of Chinese folksongs with jazz arrangments and harmonies, the audience warmed up quickly!
Having Coco and Wu Na in the band, we have an immediate contact with a Chinese audience since they are well known musicians. One of our funniest moments was performing together in Hangzhou and a male dance artist spontaneously jumped on the stage to dance while Coco and I sang “All Blues.“
Do you have a set list planned already for the Qingdao show?
The set list will be based on our repertoire of Chinese folk songs, Chinese and American poetry, the “Great American Songbook“ and original compositions by Adrian Frey. Our music crosses over into new musical territory and sounds which are influenced by jazz and improvisation.
What have been the biggest challenges/rewards for you as an ethnic Chinese to come to China as a performer?
Being in China has been very rewarding because it has given me a chance to connect with my family roots since I am an American born Chinese whose parents come from Guangdong province. As a jazz singer, I am always searching for new material where I can explore various facets of my imagination. Because of my Chinese background, I wanted to explore the Chinese music that I had heard growing up in my home. Singing these Chinese songs is not only a musical development but also a journey to embrace my family heritage.
Who are your musical influences?
I love the idea that jazz allows me to take in all types of musical influences and to create something new. I also have a lot of respect for the roots of the music so my favorite jazz singers cover a wide spectrum from the older generation like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter to the younger generation like Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding. My mentor, the jazz singer, Jay Clayton from New York, has inspired me to take risks with my singing.
Any special news for the Qingdao crowd?
We have such fond memories of Qingdao from our last concert in 2009 so we are very excited to have the chance to come again to share our musical soundscape. We hope that the Qingdao crowd will be open to experiencing our new world of sounds and feelings that combine jazz, improvisation and Chinese music and poetry together.
Sonic Calligraphy 10.13.2012