My early Beijing days included more than a few nights listening to Ah-Q Jazz Arkestra at CD Jazz Cafe. I recently interviewed Matt Roberts, a fixture on the city’s music scene and a member of Ah-Q, which recently released its first CD – Yi Nian.
BB: I always associate Ah-Q with CD Jazz Cafe. How did you guys get that gig?
MR: I had been playing at the CD for a long time, usually on Saturday nights as part of Liu Yuan‘s everlasting jam quintet. I was looking to do something new musically, and worked out an arrangement with the owner of CD to allow the Ah-Q Jazz Arkestra to play on Thursday nights, which were usually slow, for a percentage of the bar. We bore all the risk, and it was our responsibility to bring in an audience – or not get paid. But the guys in the band – Dave Beckstead on guitar, Nathalie Craan on vocals, Andy Collier on drums, Atsushi Ouchi on sax – were so excited about the new compositions and approach to playing that we were able to build up Thursday evenings even without much income. And eventually, word got out and Thursdays at the CD with Ah-Q became quite popular. When Liu Yuan moved over to East Shore Jazz Cafe last year, Ah-Q moved into the Saturday night spot at the CD. With Andy and Atsushi in New York, we now feature Scott Silverman and Xiao Dou on drums, and the fiery Liu Xiaoguang on sax.
BB: What other past and present venues have you played in Beijing?
MR: That’s a long list. Between the Alas Jazz Band back in 1990-1991, the Rhythm Dogs, BJ Funky, and now Ah-Q, I’ve played in most of the major hotels and clubs here. Favorite defunct venues included the bar on the center island at Houhai, the Brauhaus at Guomao, the Jam House with BJ Funky in 1999, the Goose and Duck on Ritan Donglu (Rhythm Dogs) and the older versions of the CD. Favorite spot today: the CD Jazz Club and the Orchard, where we play the third Friday of each month.
BB: You’ve mentioned being part of a funk band – what’s going on with that?
MR: We had a pretty hot funk band in 1999 – BJ FUNKY: two saxes, two trombones, electric violin, Eddy on guitar, bass and drums – all jammed into the corner at the Jam House. We played a lot of original funk tunes plus some arrangements of tunes from Groove Collective, Maceo Parker, Bootsy Collins and Parliament. It was a blast
BB: What’s your wildest Beijing band memory?
MR: Last year, before the CD was closed for subway-related renovations, we were playing one Saturday in the middle of a huge thunderstorm. The music was rocking and the place was packed. I was soloing and feeling the rhythm section growing underneath my lines, punctuated by the rolling thunder and the pounding rain. As the intensity grew, the sound was almost deafening… when I opened my eyes, the audience had retreated and the floor was under three inches of water: the roof had come down and the rain was pouring in. We kept playing…
BB: What’s the perfect drink after a long night on the trombone?
MR: To be honest, after a long night of blowing hard under the hot lights in a smoky club, the perfect drink is water. But I usually go for a gin and tonic.
Ah-Q will play at CD Jazz Cafe this Saturday at 10 PM, preceded by The Insomniacs, a band of jazz musicians from the International School of Beijing, at 9:15 PM. For more on Ah-Q, see www.ahqjazz.com.