First Annual Asian-American Jazz Festival Announced for October 30 – November 1

Hitomi Oba
Brian Wong

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Over the years, Asian-Americans have been a big part of the American jazz scene, particularly on the West Coast. However, despite efforts on the part of artists like Jon Jang with his AsianImprov Records or Anthony Brown with his Asian-American Orchestra to establish a stronger identity for this subgroup of jazz players, and despite the influx of a new generation of gifted artists like Helen Sung, Hiromi and Grace Kelly, for the most part they have often gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

Organizers of the First Annual Asian-American Jazz Festival hope to change things. The Festival takes place October 30 – November 1 in downtown Los Angeles and includes performances by Hiromi, Charmaine Clamor, Korean group Prelude and Mon David, and many other Asian American artists.

Festival director Paul Im told JT that the idea for the festival came from his regular job as the presenter or talent booker at the Café Metropole in Los Angeles. “What I noticed was that there were a lot of Asian-American artists doing great things both locally and nationally. They were making significant inroads in the jazz world. I decided to present a festival in one cohesive way.” He said that the festival started small when he first discussed it with his cohorts back in December 2008, but that things changed in due time. “We were just going to present some shows at the club, but it sort of grew.”

Even though Im is an Asian-American and an experienced music and art presenter, he said that even he was surprised at how many talented Asian-American jazz artists were out there. “The more I did it, the more it reinforced by original vision for the festival. I realized that there were all these artists from all different communities, not just in Los Angeles, and in time I made more and more connections. It’s been a great experience for me.” In case you’re wondering why an artist like Hiromi, a native Japanese citizen, is part of the festival, Im said that they made a conscious choice for the festival to include international artists who are making an impact on the U.S. jazz scene. “I wanted the festival to be as inclusive as possible. Jazz has always been an inclusive and multi-cultural music. It came from a country of immigrants. Every culture can come into jazz and make its statement and even change the music somehow. And I noticed that many of our artists have strong ties to Asian culture. There is truly interconnected identity among the musicians and communities.”

Connecting the communities was an important goal for Im, not just for the higher idealistic purpose, but also for the basics of audience development. Im said that the festival is relying on support from the local Asian-American communities for both an audience and sponsorship. “Did you know that Koreatown in Los Angeles has the largest number of Korean-Americans currently in the U.S.? So far the local Japanese, Korean and Filipino communities have been so supportive. We’ve gotten lots of media coverage and have plenty of sponsorship from local organizations and individuals.” Even the artwork is done by an Asian-American, Brian Wong, a jazz composer and pianist who is also performing at the festival.

The festival takes place on Friday and Saturday with 12-14 artists performing at Café Metropole and on Sunday the festival moves to a bigger venue for two shows at the Japanese-American National Museum’s outdoor amphitheatre. For more information about the festival, you can visit the festival’s web site.