Jazz may have originated in the United States, but it has global appeal. That is most recently demonstrated in the wildly popular Hong Kong Freespace Jazz Fest 2019, one of Hong Kong’s newest annual music festivals.
The Freespace Jazz Fest has been held in West Kowloon since 2012, but a little time has not dimmed its luster. The festival promotes a variety of creative arts and encourages an exchange of cultures, which is why jazz features prominently in the title of the festival. The festival is structured to allow musical performers to serve as both focal features and background to audience artistic endeavors. Some attendees opt to mainly act as spectators while others may dance or enjoy the many fine arts and folk craft offerings on display and for sale at the event.
Freespace Jazz Fest has flourished since its inception as a free event in 2012. When organizers began charging admission in 2014, initial public reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Many festival-goers feared the loss of free admission would result in attendees going alone rather than with family and friends. There were a number of social media pages set up to protest the admission fee and, in true jazz tradition, the people spoke and the genre adapted to public demands. The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority opted to return to the free-admission policy.
In 2019, a number of musical highlights at the festival have their roots in jazz. For example, a group with “blues-inspired Okinawan roots” will play on the lawn, and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra will perform as well. Attendees can also learn about jazz, jazz dance, and jazz in cinema in a variety of classes on the program before watching what the organizers describe as a “rip-roaring excerpt from the Great Gatsby” on the waterfront promenade.
Hong Kong festival-goers with kids will get the opportunity for their children to learn about jazz as well in an interactive family concert that does have paid admission. (We have to point out here that the family jazz class has a ticket price of HK$280, making it among the highest-valued offerings at the event). The producer of this event explains that it is designed to introduce kids to the “coolness and groove” of jazz. “They might not know anything about jazz, but they will relate,” she said. Part of the show involves jazz-style renditions of locally popular kids’ songs.
Will the unrest in Hong Kong slow the festival down? Not at all. In fact, promoters say the event will be an outlet for kids and parents to “escape from the sadness and anger…we’re experiencing.” Just as jazz has served to lift the spirits of struggling populations since its inception in the early 1900s, it continues to do so today across borders and around the globe.