Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sounds Like Freedom

The Korea Times reports on the defection of pianist Kim Chul-woong from North to South Korea for the desire to play jazz. It seems from accounts North Korea condemns any music that doesn’t properly lionize Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung as “jazz.” Those involved in the jazz scene can wear such condemnation with pride, but it was actually the music of the not particularly jazzy Richard Clayderman that first opened Kim Chul-woong’s ears to less didactic forms of music.

There is in fact a history of musicians defecting to play the music they love. In Tokyo on August 15, 1964, Russian musicians Boris Midney and Igor Berukshtis made a desperate break from their Soviet vaudeville group, for the American embassy. Their motivation: jazz. Six months later they formed the Russian Jazz Quartet with African-American Grady Tate on drums, and British-born Roger Kellaway on piano. Their lingua franca: jazz. The group was short-lived, but they released an excellent (and unfairly neglected) album Happiness on Impulse Records. Midney would later make his fortune as a key producer-guru of the disco era, in a most American act of self-reinvention.

Now that Kim is free to perform what he wishes, who can say where his experiments might take him. His arrival, and the reported success of Yoduk Story suggests a reinvigoration of the South Korean music scene.