Profiles and Interviews With Interesting New Yorkers

Li Liu Releases New Jazz Album Blending Chinese And American Music

By Nick Christophers

When Li Liu decided to embark on a new chapter with her musical dream ending up in Texas was not what she expected. Li always loved music and was drawn to the arts. At first, she was a dancer for close to ten years until her desire to play music took root. She would begin to play the saxophone and was part of a wind band. This would develop into something bigger.

She joined the 2009 National Concert & Theater Hall Summer Jazz Camp which was her first encounter with the jazz scene. It was love at first sight and she took it all in. Wasting no time, she immediately founded her own jazz group Blueberry Jazz Pie that would eventually take her all over Taiwan and beyond.

“I always knew music would be a huge part if my life but at that time I still was searching for my precise direction. I was playing the saxophone in wind bands and big bands, spent some time in a popstar training program, and was even part of an international touring choir. Yet the jazz scene in Taipei is where I felt most at home. When I began singing jazz I truly felt like myself. After my first gig I was hooked. I knew where I was going.”

Li would go on too many venues in her native Taiwan, belting out jazz numbers to packed houses all around the country. From her hometown of Taoyuan in the north to the south where she became a regular performer at one of the most prestigious venues in Taiwan, Marsalis Bar in Kaohsiung. The owner was a big jazz fan and had many major international jazz legends play like American jazz pianist Harold Danko, Hungarian singer Veronika Harcsa, American drummer Ari Hoenig and more.

Her gift did not go unrecognized. She was awarded Best Jazz Group of Taichung International Jazz Festival in the Jazz Group Competition and ended up on the two prestigious TV programs Chinese Million Star and University. Li was excited about her newfound recognition but eventually she wanted more and wished to expand her love of the art form.

Li was driven to explore jazz scenes outside of Taiwan. After brief stints in Amsterdam and New York City she would eventually settle in Texas where she would begin to broaden her horizons in this new and exciting jazz scene so far from home in Taipei.

While living in Texas she became intrigued by the sound of gospel music that was so commonplace in her new home. She began to see the connection between jazz music and its roots in gospel music. She eventually landed a job singing at Cross Church Denton alongside some of the best gospel singers in the area.

Driven by her newfound influences and some nostalgia for her homeland Li formed a new group Song Dynasty in 2015 in collaboration with Canadian guitarist Ben Holt. The pair set the goal of combining Li’s new influences with sounds of Taiwan and China.

The groups name, Song Dynasty, was devised in an early writing session. Ben was experimenting with a jazz waltz and Li, with her background in Chinese literature, added lyrics written by ancient Chinese poet Li Qingzhao (b 1084 d 1155). Qingzhao is well known in China as one of the most influential female poets in the Dynasty of Song (960 – 1279). Inspired by her words and amused by the play on words the band Song Dynasty was born. You can hear this song on their debut Searching, the track: “Heart in Sorrow”.

Since that early writing session Song Dynasty has taken their unique brand of Chinese jazz (as they like to call it) on tour to the West Coast, Canada, and all the way back to Taiwan where they perform to packed English and Chinese audiences.  A typical set includes renditions of Taiwanese, Chinese and Portuguese songs; and jazz classics alongside their original material. Their lyrics, often in mandarin, are typically drawn from either fantastic stories or their own life experiences.

“Initially, I was unsure of how English speakers would respond to me singing in Mandarin or Taiwanese. But the response I received has been so positive, especially in Canada. Now, I’m convinced music is a universal language. It doesn’t matter if they can understand the words. People feel the emotion.” – Li Liu

Recently, Li and Song Dynasty have released their debut album entitled “Searching”. This wonderful collection includes six original tracks and three being covers that were reworked with the band’s unique spin. The band includes a host of top DFW (Dallas – Fort Worth area) players: saxophonist Julian Sutherland, keyboardist Dan Porter, bassist Mike Luzecky, and drummer Jonny Harmon.

Li Liu is an experienced lady whose mission to fuse Eastern and Western culture and capture audiences from all over the world. She is currently in the process of planning album release parties on May 26th at Fort Worth Live in Fort Worth, TX and May 30th at the MCL Grand Theater in Lewisville, TX.

Now that the album has been released she says she is looking forward to touring nationally and to sharing her music across the United States and beyond.

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