China experiments with 'military jazz'

The Golden Angle Jazz band is the one and only 'big band' in China. It was formed three years ago and the Chinese public is just now getting used to this kind of music. At a recent Beijing music festival, the band was a hit. "I don't know if they're good," said one man, "they're the only big band we have. And it's great to have at least one."

But most people who hear them are unaware that the 22 musicians have another job -- they're all soldiers, members of the People's Liberation Army marching band. They're seen and heard at ever important state ceremony playing the national anthem and military music.

Du Yinjiao travelled abroad with the PLA band and saw that other army bands were playing all kinds of music. He didn't have any problem selling the idea of organizing a big band to his colleagues, but he faced stiff opposition from some army officials who saw jazz as Western decadence.

"To get support from high army officials, we had to drag them to some of our concerts to make them realize how much people liked our music, and how good it was for the army's image," he told the CBC's Raymond St. Pierre.

Du managed to convince foreign bandleaders and composers to come and help them improve their music. He doesn't think the Golden Angle Jazz Band is quite ready to take part in music festivals abroad, but he says the band is improving all the time. "After all, we've done a lot already. Not long ago, nobody believed the Chinese army band could play jazz."

"I didn't know the PLA could play that kind of music," said one woman, obviously enjoying the music. "I thought they could play only marches. I never thought they could give such a great show."

These musicians think their band could also help improve the tense relations between China and the United States. "This should show them we have a lot in common," says Du. "Everybody likes jazz."