Olympic Jazz Chart Leads to a Beijing Breakthrough

International Musician, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Olympic Jazz Chart Leads to a Beijing Breakthrough


Years of traveling to Asia and a longtime interest in Asian culture have paid off for Phil Morrison of Local 148-462 (Atlanta, GA). Morrison, a bassist and bandleader from Brunswick, Georgia, was recognized in April by the 2008 Beijing Organizing Committee for an original song written to celebrate the 2008 Olympic Games. Only 30 songs were chosen from thousands of submissions to commemorate this year's summer games.

Morrison's composition, co-written with pianist and vocalist Keith Williams of Local 447-704 (Savannah, GA), is titled "Beijing Olympics Hao Yuing," and it uses traditional Chinese instruments alongside bass, piano, and drums in a fusion of American jazz and Chinese folk music. The song is the only one by an American musician selected to commemorate the games.

Morrison first traveled to China in 1999 and performed for the millennium celebration at the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai. He and Williams returned each year for several years to perform and to instruct music students at Shanghai Conservatory. Though the two haven't traveled there since 2003, their connection with China has impacted their music and plans for future touring.

"After being there, we picked up a few words," Morrison says, though he adds, "My Japanese is actually better than my Chinese. Chinese is a little too difficult for me."

Morrison was inspired to write the piece after a performance in Shanghai in 2003, when it was announced that Beijing, China's capital, would host the 2008 Summer Olympics. Morrison and his Phil Morrison Trio also performed at the Olympic Village in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics, and that experience, combined with their touring in Asia, inspired the song's international flavor.

The song's titie uses the Mandarin phrase for good luck and expresses the joy and optimism of welcoming the entire world to China for the 29th Olympic Summer Games. Chinese traditional instruments featured on the recording are the guzheng, a zither-like instrument related to the Japanese koto, and the dizi, a bamboo flute. Morrison's interest in Asian music and his connections with Chinese musicians performing in the US has also led to a concert featuring a soloist playing the erhu, a Chinese string instrument similar to the violin.

On "Beijing Olympics Hao Yuing," Williams also sings lyrics in both English and Mandarin: "ahr ling ling bah," meaning "two zero zero eight. …

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