Sources for Iris Roevens work : Wikipedia, websites, "World Music. The rough guide". Simon Broughton, Mark Ellingham, david Muddyman and Richard Trillo, 1994 and the liner notes cd's Shanghai Lounge Diva's 1 & 2
"People may wonder how you get Shanghai and jazz," says proprietor Martha Chang, "but if you learn about the history of Shanghai, it makes sense."
You don't even have to delve into Chinese history for the connection: the history of the Count Basie Orchestra will suffice. Note that trumpeter Buck Clayton, a mainstay of Basie's Swing Era band from 1936 onward, is listed as having joined Basie after returning from Shanghai, where he led a band for a couple of years.
Chang became fascinated with Shanghai when she spent a year there, and in other Chinese cities, as a Fulbright Scholar in 1993, working on a Harvard doctorate in East Asian politics.
"Shanghai really captured my imagination," says Chang. "There's all these European influences there that are so strong. They're in the architecture and attitudes and the music. In the late '20s and '30s, the Peace Hotel had jazz every night. And after the Cultural Revolution, they brought back the old musicians who used to play there. You can hear them on Saturday nights; it's like a Shanghai Preservation hall.
So Shanghai was on her mind when Chang took over the family restaurant, Four Seas, Cuisines of China, and changed the name to Shanghai Jazz.
"I saw Shanghai in the he '20s and '30s as this place that was exciting and cosmopolitan, like morocco, London or New York -- just so glamorous, a real destination.”
"When Alphonso Zhu sauntered into the Paramount ballroom—suit pressed, hair smoothed back with Yardley's Brilliantine—the scion of one of Shanghai's richest families would often be greeted with a welcome fanfare from the band's trumpet section. One of the most eligible bachelors in town in the 1930s, Zhu courted Chinese, European and Eurasian girls with multilingual ease. In his spare time—and playboys in swinging Shanghai had plenty of it—he started up a jazz band with the sons of the Swedish consul general. The music stopped in 1949.
Under communism, Zhu's family home was confiscated, and he was assigned a menial job. The Paramount, once the hottest joint in town, became the Red Capital Theater, where workers were corralled to watch films on the glories of socialism."
"In the 30s and 40s, Jazz was big in Shanghai. Not only did the city attract talented musicians from all over the world, including trumpeter Buck Clayton, who had a big band here in the mid-30s and later went on to perform with the Count Basie Orchestra in New York, an original "sinified jazz" sound was created right here. Led by musician and nationalist patriot Li Jin Hui, The Clear Wind Dance Band was an all-Chinese jazz group combining aspects of Chinese folk music and the big band sound which gained great popularity in Shanghai. The Peace Hotel on Nanjing Dong Lu was a reliable and elegant place to hear jazz back then.
Those places may have moved around since then, but they still exist! The frenetic tempo and sultry sounds of jazz and blues must still suit Shanghai; audiences at the better jazz venues are generally full, diverse and appreciative. The House of Blues and Jazz's recent move from Maoming lu to the Bund has been lauded for its improvement to the space and quality of sound. The dark and sultry Cotton Club remains Shanghai's longest-standing jazz club, and JZ Club attracts a wide range of Shanghai musicians (including vocalist Coco Zhao Ke) for all kinds of jazz, blues, even salsa nights. CJW in Xintiandi combines extensive wine and cigar menus with a live jazz band (a rotation of talent from the US, previous players include tenor saxophonists Eric Wyatt and Brandon Wozniak from New York) every night, and as the flagship location of the club's three franchises, the place is hopping on most nights.
House of Blues and Jazz, 60 Fuzhou Lu near the Bund, 6323-2779, Daily 11am-3am
Cotton Club, 1416 Huaihai Zhong Lu near Fuxing Lu, 6437-7110, 7:30pm-2am
JZ Club, 46 Fuxing Xi Lu near Yongfu Lu, Daily 8pm-2am
CJW Cigars-Jazz-Wine, Rm.2, Unit 4, Lane 123 Xingye Lu, near Madang Lu, 6385-2277, Open 8pm-1:30am
PS. Some of this Shangai/Hong Kong scene and music developed further in Singapore.
Grace Chang is not one of the fleeing Shanghai stars. She comes from the Mandarine inner land of China fleeing communism towards Hong Kong. Although having had a classical opera education she will become a symbol of the new generation of modern Hong Kong of rock 'n roll and mambo. One of her most memorable performances can be seen in the movie 'Mambo Girls' with 'Carmen' where she melts her opera education with swinging latin rhythms beautifully.
Yao Lee (1921-)
Yao Lee was born in Shanghai in 1922, started at the radio at the age of 13. Since 1940 she was one of the most celebrated singers. She was known as the ‘silver voice’. She was adored for her soft singing style, typical for the Chinese taste of that moment. She interpreted different Chinese standards. Her most known song, a version of “Rose, Rose I love you” is from 1940. This song later was going to be sung in English by Frankie Lane. After the communist ban of popular Music she moved to Hong Kong where she continued her singing carreer. The increasing popularity of western influences since WWII changed also her singing style. As a huge fan of Patti Page she lowered her voice, giving her the nickname of Hong Kong's Patti Page. When her brother, musical right hand of
Yao Lee dies in 1967, she temporally stops her career. In 1970 she picks up again, to finally stop five years later to continue support behind the scenes.
Bai Kwong (1920-1999)
Bai Kwong is like the opposite of Chow Hsuan, the diva of Shaghai movie and Music. Active both as an actress and singer she was known as the dark diva with her sensual bluesy voice and suggestive texts, written like a dark vamp with naughty radiations. ' The Pretender' from the movie ' Spy net' is one of these top songs with its typically suggestive and sexual provocative song style. Because of its sexual tension the movie as one of the first movies that was forbidden by the communist regime.
Chow Hsuan (1918-1957)
Chow Hsuang is amongst the most known and most popular Shanghai diva' s. She was set for adoption as an illigal birth after having been born from a Buddhist nun father, so she grew up with a step family. Almost sold to a whore house by her step father who was adicted to opium, by accident she became one of the most important sing song girls companionships. Chow Hsuang is remembered as the ‘golden voice’ like on 'the wandering songstress' from the top movie 'Angels o the Streets', or on the more mature expression of the Latin flavoured 'Stop Singing'. Aftera n exhuburant life she comited suicide at 39. Until today she kept her aura of the 'girl next door'.
In the late 60s the dominance of popular Mandarine songs came to an end in favour of English songs.
In 1970 this recent development is moved further, with the rise of ‘Cantopop’, sung in Chinese Cantonese dialect, becoming a direct competitor for the Mandarine popular music. Never the less, Mandartine popular Music had deserved its place as being the prototype of contemporary Chinese music.
The Shanghai diva formed an important bridge between Shanghai and Hong Kong. With their flight to Hong Kong they brought the attractive new popular culture to new life turning Hong Kong into the Hollywood of the East.
Chou Hsuan – ‘the wandering songstress’ uit de film ‘Street Angels’, 1937
cd: Shanghai Lounge Diva’s – vol 1- track 10
Qualities of 'shidaiqu':
Shidaiqu songs were exclusively sung in Mandarine. Initially children songs were used to promote the Mandarine dialect as the national language. Gradually Chinese melodies were mixed with American jazz and its contagious rhythms and Hollywood orchestrations. The songs were mainly sung by women, while the musicians were mainly men. The orchestras were often from Belares (Russia) or North American jazz bandsmen who left America.
The typical lyrical character of the songs are formed by using the pentatonic scale.
With the move from the musical scene from Shanghai to Hong Kong in 1950, the shidaiqu transformed the style further under the increasing Western influence. Mandarine and now also Cantonese national anthems merged with new genres like the American mambo and rock ' n roll. Chinese adaptations of North American hits, sung in English, became more and more populair. The Chinese character was preserved with the addition of swinging Hollywood rhythms.
Hong Kong takes over the lead.
When in 1949 Communism entered China changing it into the people's republic of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong, the musical landscape changed promptly with it. The artistic centre in Shanghai emptied and Hong Kong became the new epicentre of new impulses and contemporary ideas. Popular Music in China was banned and considered as pornography. New revolution based folk songs were supposed to become the new examples.
In 1950 Pathé-EMI, in the wake of a lot of type-setters and artists, moved to Hong Kong, a British colony without censorship.
The shidaiqu revives since 1950
At first the shidaiqu genre, looks back to Shanghai with nostalgia, but soon it becomes adapted to fresh new impulses in this new biotope. At first the moved Shanghai diva’s dominated the Hong Kong scene. Many stars who had a successful career in Shanghai picked up their new life in Hong Kong well and even increased in popularity. But a new generation was already emerging, who’s main roots were the American Hollywood style and movie films with sound rather than Chinese operas and children songs. Already in 1950 the shidaiqu genre is renewed with life, a fresh cocktail of Shanghai tunes mixed with new genres like rock 'n roll and exotic rhythms like mambo, chachacha turning Hong Kong into the new Hollywood of the East. Also North American hits increased popularity while keeping its Chinese character to the swinging Hollywood rhythms.
"History of Chinese Popular Music (1920-1960)"
By Iris Roevens, translated by Gerald Van Waes
Shanghai, Hollywood of the East
The late 20s/early 30s of the last century were a landmark for the development of Chinese music, an area where traditional opera and folksongs melted together with western rhythms and tonalities, which would develop to the first generation of pop music called ‘Mandarine pop’.
It was since the late Qing dynasty in 1911 and WOI (1914-1918) that there were opened ways to modernise China culturally. The main role in this was to be played in Shanghai, creative centre for new music. It was especially since the treatment of Nanking in 1842, that made Shanghai one of the first Chinese centres opening up for international commerce, which meant increasing numbers in foreign commerce, and which developed the city into a commercial centre and meeting place for East and West. By late 1930 Shanghai had become the economic centre of China. Shanghai, soon was becoming to be known as the ‘Hollywood of the east’. Because of the thriving economy also more foreigners established themselves in China, and found residence in Shanghai. There were new international settlements of English, French, Japanese and American origin and also Russian immigrants who fled from Tsarististic Russia. This whole new melting pot of nationalities would be reflected on the musical area.
During the 30s until the end of WOII Shangai was the epic centre for any artistic avant-garde. The Shanghai divas (which also appeared in the movies) expressed the adventurous mix between East and West. Before the appearance of the Communist regime in 1948, they made Shanghai swing. When the movie studios were nationalised, the jazz bands and their singers were banned, so that many diva’s moved to the British colony of Hong Kong, an area free from censorship. Hong Kong was destined to take over the role of Shangai, as the new Hollywood of the east.
‘Shidaiqu’ -since 1920
In 1916 Pathé opened a record factory in Shanghai, during a period where traditional Chinese folk songs and opera dominated the scene, but not for long. Real change appeared as soon as composers like Li Jinhui since 1920 did take the first steps to popularise Chinese music.
At First, through children songs in Mandarine dialect was promoted as the national language. At the same time modern (western) values were adopted and promoted. Through the increasing popularity of the gramophone player and radio, these children songs would soon grow out into a sophisticated new genre which included a variety of western influences like jazz and blues.
Li Jinhui is considered as the father of Chinese popular Music, called ‘shidaiqu’ (= “music of today”). He established some musical ensembles which existed mostly of singing and dancing girls, sing song girls. The existence of sing song girls refers to an old Chinese tradition. Before 1911 Chinese men were legally allowed to marry a second wife, a concubine, for the sake of proceeding the family name through the birth of a son. Many concubines performed their singing talents in clubs to attract some husband. Sing song girls were educated from child’s age to entertain rich men with singing and dancing in appropriate clubs, with or without sexual services.* They were in the accompanying girls and mistresses in the first place. Only through paying offs by benefactors they could keep their standards for her and her family.
*(translator's opinion : but actually this was of minor importance because it was more important to maintain a high society fantasy life, at least that's how I know how it was in Japan, not sure how it was here).
One of the ensembles established by Li Jinhui was ‘The Bright Moonlight Song and Dance Troupe’. Li Jinhui often cooperated with Buck Clayton, an American jazz musician. Often the musicians were Russian immigrants. Travelling song and dance groups took care for a popularisation of shidaiqu amongst the citizens.
Pathe and the movie industry around 1930
Through the still increasing popularity of gramophone and radio, soon the new genre was introduced within China and its neighbours, making its genre very popular. Not everybody could afford a record. Lots of this Music was heard in market booths.
Pathé became the undeniable leader in China to spread contemporary Music. They had established the first company in 1916 in Shanghai, at First with a focus on Chinese folk songs and opera, which were dominant at that time. Since the existence of shidaiqu this was changing. Through the popularisation of the new genre the monopoly of Pathé increased with it.
With Pathé Shanghai became the centre of Music production for the whole South East Asia. Mandarine songs were recorded locally and then send to Shanghai for production and distribution. The company also maintained very narrow links with the rising film industry. Their mutual cooperation and reciprocal input were natural and obvious. The first Chinese movie with sound (the musical ' The singing Peony') runs parallel with the fusion of Pathé with the new EMI (Electrical and Musical industries) around 1931. The legendary Pathé cock image would shine on nearly all records of the still legendary Shanghai film movie stars. The movie stars themselves, from musicals, released their songs to become successes. Now a constant stream of filmstars and singers, both booming industries were closely entwined with one another.
There's very little info on this subject, please e-mail me if you want to contribute to this page
2014 addition :
Galaxie Rec.(Bai Hong coll. 40-50) Bai Hong/Hung: Gold Collection Classic Series Pop 2 ****
A CD and a voice from the Shanghai days which stands out very much is Bai Hong. The range of songs goes from very baroque-classical singing with orchestra (first 4 tracks), of which the opener of the cd, on a oriental dance rhythm with castanets, flutes, orchestra and voice , a track called ““Intoxicating lipstick”“ very much stands out. Further more there are the movie-like music / broadway / cabaret / musical songs with jazz and boogie influence with a bit of brass, which are equaly good. It is entertainment, of songs but the songs are good. Track 11 is only accompanied by Hammond organ (with voice). Track 10 is more jazz. Track 15 is a chachacha. Track 13 has a small operatic melodic idea in it. Then suddenly there are a few tracks closer to Chinese traditionals with traditional instruments; Also here, Bai Hongs vocal abilities adapt to that area again equally well. A very pleasant and alternated collection.
Mambo Girl was released in 1957 – in black and white – and it was an enormous hit for the MP & GI film studio (later renamed Cathay). During the 1950s and the 60’s this studio was the main rival to the Shaw Brothers and had a similar studio system as well as a similar background. Like Shaw it too had its roots in Southeast Asia – the founder was Loke Wan Tho who inherited the family businesses and began expanding them into film in the late 1930’s when his family began establishing theaters in Singapore. After WWII Loke began distributing the British Rank films throughout Southeast Asia and continued building state of the art theaters until he owned 40 of them by 1951. By the mid 1950’s Loke had moved the film business into Hong Kong, purchased a studio lot and formed MP & GI to make primarily Mandarin films. They also began signing talent – beginning with writers like Eileen Chang, Chang Cheh and Stephen Soong – and then began looking for acting talent and signing them to contracts.
They specialized in recruiting actresses and built their success around a core of women who became huge stars – Grace, Linda Lin Dai, Jeanette Lin, Julie Yeh, Lucilla You, Betty Loh Ti, Li Mei, Christine Pai and Kitty Ting Hao. Their films were very women oriented – the male actors tended to be pale shadows of their co-stars – and they were for the most part comedies, romances, dramas and musicals with contemporary settings. Over the next ten years they released around ten to fifteen films a year of generally high quality and had a number of films that are considered classics today such as Wild Wild Rose, Air Hostess, It’s Always Spring, The Greatest Civil War on Earth, June Bride, The Battle of Love, Sun, Moon and Star, Our Sister Hedy, Sister Long Legs and of course Mambo Girl. By the mid-60's though the studio was on the decline – the studio head Robert Chung had resigned in 1962, Loke died in a plane crash in 1964 and the studio lost direction as the Shaws began to overwhelm it with their big budget films. By the end of the decade the studio was closed (sold to Golden Harvest).
There are two versions about how Mambo Girl came to be. One is that Grace Chang went to Taiwan to perform for the troops and her mambo dance so enthralled them that they began calling her Mambo Girl and this inspired scriptwriter (Yi Wen) to write the story. Grace herself says the idea was the result of an evening at a nightclub with Loke and others and she danced the mambo so well that Loke said a film should be made around her skill. At any point, it was decided to make a simple little film around Grace Chang and the mambo. And it made her a huge star and forever the Mambo Girl.
Born in 1934 in Nanjing, Grace (Ge Lan) grew up in Shanghai – trained in Peking Opera – and moved to Hong Kong with her family in 1949. Her film debut was Seven Sisters in 1953 and after a few more films she joined MP & GI in 1955. After she married in 1961 her career slowed down and she retired after The Story of Three Loves in 1964. She was also a very popular singer and released a number of albums and actually appeared on the Diana Shore show. In total she only made about 30 films, but a number of them are classics and she is well loved to this day. I guarantee that Mambo Girl will win her (she is still alive) a brand new set of fans.
I had previously seen pictures of Grace Chang – interesting face – sort of flat with a flared nose and a mouthful of teeth and a wide smile – but I would not have called her beautiful by any means. That’s because a still photo can’t begin to capture her immense charm, her myriad of lively expressions and her remarkably playful eyes that can enchant you one minute and devastate you the next. This is her film - she owns nearly every minute of it - and she creates a heartwarming portrait of youthful innocence that is astonishingly simple and yet completely captivating.
The film itself doesn’t have a story that you could hang your hat on. It is old fashioned in a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland sort of way where it is peopled by good friends, kind caring parents and a lovable younger sister. Much of the running time is taken up by song and dance numbers – the entry shot being a great close up of Grace’s checkered pant leg and white shoes set on a checkered floor from which the camera rises up as she dances the mambo surrounded by her classmates and breaks into song. The dance numbers in the film are very basic – nothing really flashy – but instead graceful and realistic. It is her singing and the joyful expression when doing so that is the real selling point – wonderful catchy Mandarin pop songs (termed shi dai qu) from Ji Xiangtang and Yao Min with titles like I Love Cha Cha, Mambo Girl, Have Fun Tonight and My Heaven - nine songs in total (along with an instrumental of the Pork Bun song!). The final ten minutes is a joyful blast of song and dance that ends as it began with the camera once again panning down on her dancing happy feet.
Grace is living a cloistered middle class life – going to music school where she is adored by Peter Chen and the rest of the school body – to the point where they sing a song to her – “You're a lucky girl. We call you the Mambo Girl. You are the sweetheart in your family. You are the queen in the school”. Her parents own a toyshop and love their two daughters deeply. Dark clouds set in when Grace learns that she was adopted and she goes to search for her birth mother (Tong Yeuk Jing) leaving her worried family behind. In the search she discovers what family really means. And that’s about it, but it is surprisingly effective at grabbing your heartstrings and this is primarily due to the wonderful sweet appeal of Grace and the characters that play her father (Liu Enjia) and her sister (Kitty Ting Hao).
Kitty Ting Hao is quite adorable as the younger sister - a bubbly-bouncing ball of high spirits – watch her in the last dance number as she radiates with a smile as large as a schoolyard. It was rather sad reading afterwards about her all too short life. Born in 1939 in Macau, she moved around quite a bit with her soldier father and picked up a number of languages (she actually intended to get into the Cantonese film arm of MP & GI but arrived late and so tried out for the Mandarin films). She came to Hong Kong in 1950 and made her first film (Green Hills and Jade Valleys) in 1956 for MP & GI. She became a teenage sweetheart star with roles in Mambo Girl, Little Darling (which became her nickname), The Greatest Civil War on Earth and You Were Meant for Me. A reputed romantic scandal with the studio head led to her leaving MP & GI by 1963 and she soon married. This did not last long though and in 1966 she left for Los Angeles where she committed suicide at the age of 27.
Another little note to watch for in the film is when Grace is looking for her mother in various nightclubs and she stops and watches a performer sing “Have Fun Tonight”. This is one of the few moments when the spotlight is not on Grace – instead it shines on this beautiful sleek singer Fang Yihua. She was a very popular singer at the time, but is now best known as Mona Fong – the wife of Run Run Shaw and the overseer of many of the Shaw films. One other musical number that takes place in the clubs is a great Latin flavored dance gyrating number from a Spanish or Brazilian dancer called Margo the Z Bomb! – who I assume was quite popular at the time.
I had a great time watching this throwback in time – film has changed so much since then as have the times – but when you are watching a Grace Chang on the screen none of this matters a whit – there are certain things that time can only enhance and Grace Chang with her head tilted back, her mouth wide open in smile and song would be one of those.
The DVD transfer is amazingly clean for such an old film and the sound is excellent. The ratio is 4:3 but I am informed that this was the same ratio that was presented at the HKIFF – but it looks odd to me. There are really no extras to speak of that are of any interest – wish Fonoroff had done a commentary on this one. It also would have been great if they had the songs separate in the menu so that you could just play them when you wanted.
Grace Chang was foremost an actress although she starred in musicals. Her movies were very popular in Singapore. She started from 1953 and after starring and co-starring in nearly three dozen movies like Mambo Girl, Spring Song, Air Hostess, Wild Wild Rose and Sun, Moon And Star her popularity soared and she was considered, for some time, the queen of musicals. her movies were very popular in Singapore.
Mambo Girl, reputedly conceived when Cathay Studio head Loke Wan Tho saw Chang dancing at a nightclub, is the film that catapulted Chang to stardom, extensively exhibiting her dancing skill. Stephen Teo in his book Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions says of Mambo Girl, “Hong Kong cinema found its most representative musical star-cum-actress and with Mambo Girl, Hong Kong cinema produced its first musical masterpiece” (1). Personally I don’t think Chang’s footwork is all it’s made out to be, but the poise with which she sells the latest imported steps is persuasive.
More disturbing is the subtext to be found in what otherwise may appear to be a teen melodrama plot serving as a perfunctory coagulant for the dance numbers. Innocent but spoiled party girl Kailing (Chang) overhears rumours of her orphan lineage, leading to a haunting, if dissonant scene where she envisions her birth mother as a peasant, in sharp contrast to her debonair, Western-clothed adoptive parents. Her search leads her to a washroom attendant who staunchly denies their biological link, even as she confirms it in solitude. Her Stella Dallas-esque sacrifice is a face-saving measure that subverts the New Society promises of the film – Kailing can be a symbol of the New Chinese Woman only if she doesn’t have a low-class family history to haunt her. Cheerfully reconciled with her adoptive parents and affluent classmates, Kailing launches into a ten-minute dance sequence in which she practically mambos the past out of her memory, even as her real mother watches through a doorway crack with sorrowful pride.
Born as Chang Yu Fang in Shanghai in 1933, Grace Chang moved with her family to Hong Kong in 1952. Two years later she auditioned for the Tai Shan film company and began her film career. Though a Mandarin speaker, she picked up Cantonese quickly (as well as English, for a role in "Soldier of Fortune" with Clark Gable). In the late fifties she reached superstar status, signing on with EMI's Pathe and starring in a spate of hits, including Mambo Girl, Wild, Wild Rose and Air Hostess.
Chang married in 1961 and retired from film in 1964.
Having seen a few fragments of “Mambo Girl”, I decided to pick up a copy and try. The movie starts very much as a music film, with mambo and songs giving lots of life’s pleasure and at first a more thin story of a student being known as “the mambo girl”, supported well by her parents who own a doll shop accompanying this. The dances are at first a bit clumsy but with the music and story the whole still convinces until here. Then before her 20th birthday a family secret is accidentally revealed, that she was in fact adopted. That is told by her sister, to a jealous girl. From here the whole associations field of possibly not being accepted as what happens with minorities, as being not part of the majority comes to mind. The girl looks for her mother but when she finds her, her true mother does not dare to show her true face. Still being accepted where she lives, at her return celebration, she dances the hell out of her in a scene where also the dances are much more real fun to watch. The whole emotions and the evolution of them in the movie and the people’s way of responding to situations, each in their own way is very recognisable, and in way and in all it’s simple story still manages to touch at moments. The singer also succeeds to show charisma and a good voice.