Jazz at the JZ Club                                                    October, 2009

Went with Jonathan Gong Wei, one of the IIT students from four years ago, to the JZ Club, a jazz club on Nanshan Road next to West Lake.  I invited two of my fellow faculty members, Wu De Gang (Dominick) and Zheng Li, to join us.

Nanshan Road is the place to see and be seen in Hangzhou.  It runs adjacent to West Lake, so the views across the river are beautiful.  Think of the view of downtown Chicago from the Fullerton Avenue bridge over the pond at night, or the view of downtown from the Planetarium. Except that the lake here is small enough to see across, and in the distance are hills lit up with lights from houses, and the moon is out, and the city has worked very hard to make this area attractive to the "gold collared workers" that my friend Bob Yovovich talks about.

The upshot of it is that even though the bars and restaurants and clubs are expensive, and have a lot of foreigners in them, the lakefront is free and open to everyone.  The park betweeen Nanshan Road and the lake varies in width, but here it is about 200 feet, so there is a lot of room for a lot of people to wander and stop and sit and hold hands and have a drink.  The city does fountain shows in the lake at night (sort of like the Las Vegas water show thing with water spraying in all directions from cannons at the surface that pivot or rotate).   There is coordinated music and plenty of vendors for cokes and beer and snacks and plenty of public washrooms (clean!).   This is one of the few areas in Hangzhou (and in China, I think) in which there are a lot of old urban trees, and the trees canopy the street, so the effect is very soft and human scale and just … beautiful.   Not all the buildings are new, and even some of the new ones have been designed to look older.   There is a bronze slightly 3D map of Old Hangzhou set in the sidewalk at one of the little openings in the walkway along the lake.  Date of map impression, probably 1900.   Size of map, about 30 feet by 20 feet.  Lots of older residents looking at the map, trying to find where their parents lived- or maybe where the new expressway is.  Hint- its not on that map, either.    At least two locations in enlarged sidewalk openings where people dance.  Not tai chi (although maybe they do that in the morning) and not waltz, but good old fashioned Texas Chinese line dancing.   With two hundred people dancing.  I think the two-step music came after we walked past.

I misread the time that the JZ Club opens (8:30) and we started off from the school a little early.  So Ms. Zheng and Mr. Wu and I got dinner at the Zhejiang University student cafeteria.  Zhejiang University is one of the best schools in China, and the cafeteria is proof of that (since they don’t have a football team, they need some way to tangibly demonstrate superiority).   We ordered at the counter, and the place is big and noisy and full of students, but the food is remarkably good and remarkably cheap.  Food is way better than the food at ZUST.   Zhejiang University has an old urban campus, narrow streets with big trees and some old buildings mixed in with new.

Neither Mr. Wu nor Ms. Zheng had ever been to the JZ Club, which again demonstrates the isolation of academics from the real world (not only the U of C economics department).   Or maybe it just demonstrates the inability of faculty to afford $60 bottles of not very good Spanish wine.   Mr. Wu, who looks to be about 30, is a self-described homebody, so he is not a candidate for too many future JZ Club adventures.   But they both had a good time, with the wine and the music and talking with Gong Wei.   After about half an hour, we were joined at our table by Ms. Sun, who is one of the owners.   From Gong Wei, her story is that about twelve years ago, she was a secretary in a government department.  She quit to start a coffee bar, did that for seven or eight years, and about six months ago opened JZ (with partners).    Ms. Sun supplied us with a bottle of champagne, which helped everyone’s mood as well.  Works in China, just like in the US.

Hard to tell right away, but the location and the prices and the milieu  suggest that Ms. Sun will do fine at JZ. Another capitalist success story.   The club is in an old brick house, on Nanshan Road right across from the lake.   Ms. Sun, or whoever the designer was, chose to keep the 1930s heavy timber framing and the effect, with modern lighting and furnishings in the old structure, are the equal of anything you can find on West Randolph Street or the West Loop.   Again, beautiful.  There are three levels, and the stairway is decorated with framed pictures of musicians and what purports to be a 33-1/3 record of their work- Peterson, Gillespie, Rollins, Davis, Coltrane, George Clinton (maybe not).   The third floor looks out onto west lake through some big trees.  I told Ms. Sun that I was from the government, and  the government needed her land and building for housing for some very important people and that, sadly, she would have to move out.   I thought it was worth a try, but she wasn't buying it ... or selling.  The location and view and building are sui generis.

The band was four guys- four black guys- from the US, who like a lot of groups, I guess, are in China sort of on tour, and play a few nights here and there.   Started with soft jazz, okay, good for the surroundings, and by the second set were cranking a little more.   When we left about 11:30,  they had just hit Sweet Home Chicago.   The crowd loved it. Mix of Chinese and foreigners, I don’t think any other Americans, but some guys who looked more Brit and Australian  (the Captain England and Captain Australia headbands gave them away).    No one dancing on tables, but everyone having a good time.

I don’t want anyone to think that there are no downsides to life in Hangzhou.  I just got through reading More Hangzhou (English, of course), which is sort of a Chicago magazine-Time Out Chicago.  Ads, restaurant listings and reviews, club happenings, and the cover this month ….. the three year history of the Hangzhou Harlequins Rugby Club.   I wonder if I can get replacement screws for my ankle if I get tackled wrong in a match ….   But the downside.   In the restaurant listings, and goings-on this month, is a ad celebrating a month of ….. Canadian Food.   The Canadian Food Festival is at Cafe Le Rendevous in the Landison Plaza Hotel.   ‘Nuff said.