Fine China

Dateline: July 21, 2000

American ethnomusicologist Josef Bomback has a special interest in the traditional and contemporary music of China. In addition to being an accomplished musician in his own right, as a jazz pianist he accompanied the likes of Peter Frampton and Al Jarreau, he is also the Executive Vice President of Hugo Production, a label specializing in the traditional instruments and sounds of China.
I spoke to Bomback about the intricacies of Chinese music -- what makes it unique, and about the Hugo recordings.

Paula: What is it about Chinese music that attracts you to it?

Josef: I have always strived to become a "complete" musician and that has carried over into Chinese music. When I was touring during the mid 1970s, I spent a lot of time in my hotel reading the philosophies of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism which led me to discover a music called "Dongjing". Frankly, the only Chinese music that I heard until then were Beijing Opera pieces and the music to the old Kung Fu show with David Carradine. I didn't like either of them. I also can remember Dewey Redman playing the suona on a few albums and I did enjoy that very much. However, as a result of reading about Chinese ontology, I needed to listen to Donjing, as I felt it would help me further my understanding of concepts that are incredibly abstract to some westerners. I started by listening to old Smithsonian recordings and the rest, as they say, is history. The more I listened the more I "heard" a diversity,complexity and the subtle dimensions of China's culture. The Chinese universe is one living interactive system where all parts and processes are integrated and that includes, of course, the music. There was a resonance and I had, to put it simply, an epiphany. I understood. The soul. The essence. The core of life. The way. I continued my work as a musician and recording artist for a major west coast label and continued to become more dis-enchanted with much of western music. In 1980, I left the industry and began my work with the music of China.

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