THREE, TWO, one: the lights of the room go out and the spotlight shines on stage. The main MC stands in the middle, ready to introduce the main performers for the evening. After a few minutes of ice-breaking, she exclaims “This, I have to say. You will be surely surprised by this performance”. The stage goes dark once again and a warm applause from the audience spreads around the room. The spotlight shines even brighter now, ready to welcome the artists. An attractive man and a young woman enter the room and get seated. As the man softly touches the strings of his guitar and the woman sings out the first words of the song, one can feel the chill through one’s body. The entire room goes quiet, and only the soothing music of these two artists is to be heard.
Hidden Stories, Hidden Talents
The two artists are Hata Shuji, the man with the guitar, and Nan A-jin, a vocalist with a powerful voice. As a group, they are known as La Duo. Hata Shuji and Nan had their separate ways as underground musicians until fate united them a few years ago. The two met at “Jazz Story”, a live café where Nan was performing at the time. “As soon as I heard her sing, I could not stop thinking about her voice. I chased her down and kept asking her to cooperate until she finally answered yes,” says Hata Shuji. “I googled him, and since he was already an acknowledged artist in Japan, I hesitantly said yes,” replies Nan, reflecting on the past. The two decided to form a team and call it “La Duo” (meaning “The Two” in Latin). Since then, they have been performing at jazz cafes and bars all around the country and performing every month at “Jazz and the City.”
A Concert with No Limits
La Duo is yet only one of the hundreds of artists that have performed in “Jazz and the City,” since the concert’s start in May 2010. Currently there are 17 different teams performing and more than 1,500 “Jazz and the City” concerts have taken place as of now. It is held each Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and has attracted more than 200,000 audience members so far, making it the top-selling concert online. Lee Myung-shin, who has been one of the main MCs of the concert over the years, claims that each performing team has its own color. “Each team has its own style of music,” she says. “Some of them sing their own songs, while others sing other artists’ songs in their own, jazzy way.” Since the repertory of each differs significantly from others’, the audience can experience and enjoy different music styles from different artists and instruments each visit.
The performers of the concert may have changed over the years, but two things remain constant: the concert’s theme and its purpose. The theme has always remained as a “talk-show jazz concert,” where artists and fans can meet, interact, and “talk.” Its purpose, however, is more unique and meaningful. Many people are surprised to find out that the ticket price for each concert is only \1,000. What is more surprising, though, is the fact that all of the proceeds are donated to children with hearing disabilities through the KT Culture Center. The aim of the center is to improve the lives of hearing-impaired children by providing them with hearing-aid kits and other necessities. “The performances are great, the tickets are affordable, and the income all together used for a good cause. Why would anyone want to miss it?” says Lee.
When jazz meets pop
The repertory of each “Jazz and the City” concert, usually consists of famous pop songs, rearranged into a jazzy, sticky style. During the La Duo concert held on Nov. 24, 2013, the audience members were caught in this “jazz fantasy”, in surprise of how music can be so lively and colorful with only a guitar and a voice. “There is hardly ever any jazz group with only two members. The majority have different instruments, and different styles. But still, La Duo is unique in its own way” says the main MC.
On Nov. 8, another concert by Lee Seong-kyong & Jazzmate was completely different from that of La Duo. Lee, the main vocalist and a quartet of flute, piano, drums, and base also performed Jazz music, but in a completely different way. While La Duo’s songs were mostly bright and uplifting, Lee Seong-kyong & Jazzmate’s were more blue and gloomy, perfectly fitting with the weather of a cold, breezy afternoon. As there were several instruments involved, the group was able to produce a more complex and mysterious sound that engaged the audience members till the end.
All of the “Jazz and the City” concerts are distinct from each other, since “every team has a color of its own. I find myself looking forward to each day of the concert, knowing that it will be a new musical experience” says Lee, the MC. Generally, as the concert proceeds like a light talk-show in a small but cozy space, the audience members have the opportunity to chat and interact with the artists, ask questions, and get to know them at least a little bit better in between the songs. There are also several surprise events between songs, including birthday celebrations, prizes, and even marriage proposals, allowing the viewers to actively participate in the program. “I had never been in a jazz concert before. It was truly a blast, and I am definitely coming again,” says audience member Park Jong-hyuk.
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The audience is absorbed into the dreamy world of jazz music, and wakes up after a seemingly brief 90 minutes of performance. The 17 different teams that make “Jazz and the City” concert possible, are all paradigms of passionate, devoted jazz musicians that use their voice and talents for a plausible cause. Their efforts become an escape from reality for all listeners and a melody for the hearing-impaired. May they too, one day, enjoy the beautiful and inspiring music of Jazz.