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A Chinese-American embraces Shanghai's historic take on his jazz music. Kelly Chung Dawson reports from New York.
In 1935, the notorious Shanghai gangster Du Yuesheng ordered the composer and musician Li Jinhui to create the first all-Chinese jazz group, the Clear Wind Dance Band.
As early as 1927, Li had been experimenting with "Sinofied jazz", merging Western big-band sounds with chord and meter variations on traditional Chinese folk instruments.
Clear Wind played to boozy backroom crowds and was perceived by many as a form of cultural corruption. The music was almost immediately labeled "pornographic" and was later entirely banned in China.
Shanghai jazz had only a brief heyday, but Dave Liang, former Bad Boy Records producer and founder of the electronica group Shanghai Restoration Project, was deeply inspired when he first heard the music on a trip to Shanghai's Peace Hotel 15 years ago.
Shanghai Restoration Project is Liang's attempt to recapture that spirit, combining nostalgia for old Shanghai not with the sounds of bygone eras but au courant Western genres of hip-hop and electronica.
"One thing I was really aware of growing up as a Chinese-American was that most of the types of music that are popular here did not originate in China," says Liang, who was born to immigrant parents in Kansas and grew up in New York State.
"When I heard Shanghai jazz, that was the first time I felt that there was music that could speak to both my Chinese and Western backgrounds.
"Then when I started composing music myself, I was searching for music that reflected parts of me. As someone who never felt like I fully fit in with any one demographic, this was a way for me to tell all the stories I had stored up, probably subconsciously in a way that spoke best to me."
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