The photo shoot at Orange Peel Music Lounge hasn’t even started, and our three guests have already picked up their instruments and started jamming. And they make it look easy, improvising, spontaneously responding to each other’s playing. It’s apparent how tribalism is fundamental among jazz musicians. ‘In Hong Kong the jazz scene is so small that members know each other personally. But we have our own close-knit circle that plays together often,’ says Justin Siu, a double bass player.
Tjoe Man-cheung, a guitarist who returned from the UK recently, says Hong Kong is missing the jazz events that drive interest and encourage musicians. ‘In a lot of places overseas, jazz can be heard at the myriad music festivals and touring shows, and performers gather after shows to jam,’ he says. ‘The number of performers and performance opportunities in Hong Kong is nowhere near as many as overseas.’
Yet the scene has grown considerably over the past decade. Patrick Lui, a classically trained pianist, thinks jazz students today have it good compared with his youth. ‘It blew my mind when I first encountered improvisational jazz. The thing is I couldn’t find a proper way to learn the art,’ he says. ‘Now with more jazz teachers and courses, not to mention online resources, young musicians are attracted to the local jazz scene.’
But right now the three are absorbed in their jamming. Jazz musicians in Hong Kong frequently need to play other kinds of music to supplement their incomes, so any chance to go back to jazz is a good session. ‘There is room for musicians to grow in Hong Kong, but we’re short of performing venues, so I hope that will improve in the future,’ says Siu. Indeed, it seems jazz is on the rise right now thanks to the Oscar success of La La Land – and Hong Kong’s scene will surely ride this wave.