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Min Xiao-Fen’s Blue Pipa Quartet 閔小芬的藍調琵琶 (New York)

One of the key instruments in Chinese music, the pipa has a rich and storied legacy stretching back nearly two thousand years. Few artists have done more to both honor and reinvent that history than renowned pipa soloist, vocalist and composer Min Xiao-Fen. Classically trained in her native China, Ms. Min was an acclaimed traditional music soloist before relocating to the United States and forging a new path for her instrument alongside many of the leading lights in modern jazz, free improvisation, experimental and contemporary classical music.

In Ms. Min’s music, east and west, tradition and innovation, discipline and spontaneity, ancient past and unexplored future all flow together like streams joining in one vibrant river. The Village Voice has lauded her as an artist who “has taken her ancient Chinese string instrument into the future,” while the New York Times has raved that her singular work “has traversed a sweeping musical odyssey.” Min’s expressive, uncategorizable voice has found her collaborating with such inventive luminaries as Wadada Leo Smith, Derek Bailey, Randy Weston, John Zorn, Christian Marclay and Björk.

While she remains an in-demand interpreter of traditional Chinese repertoire, recording and performing with many of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, Min has found particular inspiration in discovering new settings for the ancient pipa. Min’s Blue Pipa Trio, with guitarist Steve Salerno and bassist Dean Johnson, offers a fresh perspective on a little-known history that predates her own. Taking legendary jazz trumpeter Buck Clayton’s influential tenure in China as a point of departure, the trio commingles Kansas City swing with the music of Li Jinhui, the “Father of Chinese popular music.” The project, titled “From Harlem to Shanghai and Back,” is a compelling blend of seemingly unrelated musical traditions, into which she also stirs influences of classic jazz and bluegrass.

Min Xiao-Fen’s FROM HARLEM TO SHANGHAI AND BACK recasts the work of legendary jazz trumpeter Buck Clayton, Chinese composer Li Jinhui, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, along with Ms. Min’s own compositions. Jazz trumpeter and composer Buck Clayton was a leading member of Count Basie’s Old Testament orchestra. He brought Kansas City Swing to Shanghai in the mid-1930s and worked closely with the father of Chinese popular music Li Jinhui, who contributed hundreds of songs to the Chinese musical canon. Clayton is credited for helping close the gap between American jazz and traditional Chinese music. His effect on Li’s music helped ushered in a brief era of “Chinese jazz” and helped change musical history.

Buck Huckles – Buck Clayton & Reunion – Li Jinhui
Arranged by Min Xiao-Fen & Steve Salerno
Min Xiao-Fen – pipa
Steve Salerno – guitar
Dean Johnson – bass
Satoshi Takeishi – drums