Jasmine In CRA2

Photo Credit: Sanja Bucko

Course Studied: BA Music Studies

Year of Graduation: 2004

Top Career Achievements:

  • Forming my own jazz group when I was studying at Leeds Conservatoire in my twenties. That particular period of my life has had a significant bearing on how my career has progressed
  • Returning to Shanghai and introducing my take on jazz alongside the release of my first album “The Color of Love” with Steve Sweeting. I have had the honour of working with so many international jazz musicians through my career. They have all helped me to become established as a professional jazz singer
  • My participation in the film Crazy Rich Asians. This has truly made a significant impact on me. To have had the pleasure of working with so many talented and highly professional individuals has really been an honour. I can’t thank Jon M. Chu enough for giving me this opportunity!

Directed by Jon M. Chu – the 2018 film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ quickly became the highest-grossing romantic comedy released in the past decade. An adaptation of the critically-acclaimed 2013 novel by Kevin Kwan, the film’s soundtrack features 3 tracks by BA Music Studies graduate and Shanghai-based jazz musician – Jasmine Chen.

We caught up with Jasmine to discover how she became involved in the filming process and learn more about her experiences of international study.

Tell us a little bit more about how you became involved with the film ‘Crazy Rich Asians’?

It began in March 2017, when I received a Facebook message from a representative at Warner Brothers. It was supported by an email asking me if I would be interested in performing in the movie and singing on the soundtrack. I initially thought it was spam and didn’t pay much attention. It wasn’t until I received another email that I noticed it actually came from an official Warner Brothers email address. I replied and asked for more details.

Apparently Jon M. Chu, the Director of Crazy Rich Asians, found me on YouTube and really enjoyed my music and the sound of my voice. He invited me personally to join in the production. I felt very honoured and soon after (May 2018) I joined the set in Malaysia to shoot a house party scene.

Your involvement included both music on the soundtrack and your presence in multiple scenes within the film itself. How did you approach your performance for inclusion within the film?

It is a very different situation performing in a motion picture to the live stage. In most of the scenes, the audio track was pre-recorded and the filming was done afterwards. I therefore had to work hard to make my stage presence look natural on screen. For me, it was very important that my singing looked as believable as possible, so I had to try and perform like I normally do, but without the actual singing. Usually when I perform live no two performances are alike. Jazz is always a unique experience. However, having this experience was very fun to do. I hope I get the opportunity to do it again someday.

How do you manage to combine western jazz and traditional Chinese stylistic elements?

In order to merge Western jazz and Chinese elements, I focus on authenticity, with respect for originality. I use Western jazz as my foundation for the instrumental parts but I am able to incorporate some traditional Chinese melodies. Vocally, I can sing in Chinese with western rhythms or alternatively in English with a Chinese twist.

How did studying at Leeds Conservatoire help you for a career in music?

I am pretty convinced that I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for my time at Leeds Conservatoire.

I started playing classical piano when I was just four years old. Studying at Leeds Conservatoire inspired me and gave me the confidence to begin singing. It didn’t take long before I was hooked on jazz.

What were the most important lessons learnt during your time in Leeds?

Leeds Conservatoire is such a great place to study music. It is very difficult for me to single out a specific moment or lesson but I would have to mention my time performing with my established student jazz band at The Wardrobe on a weekly basis. It taught me how to be confident and experimental - not to mention persistent and dedicated. Having a background in classical music, Leeds broadened my perspective on music. It opened my eyes to contemporary and experimental music alongside regional music and of course, jazz.

Do you have any fond memories of day trips or travelling to the British countryside whilst you studied with us?

Studying in UK as a young Chinese girl, has in itself been a great experience and is filled with friendships and fond memories. UK is so far from the pulsating life in Shanghai where I would never be caught seeing in a pair of rubber boots! I remember in particular a holiday spend with friends in the countryside, walking muddy fields, playing with animals and enjoying the uniquely fresh air and scenery.

I also remember the very first trip arranged by the conservatoire to Fountains Abbey. This was back in 2001 and was such an eye-opening experience for me because it brought me out of the city and into the actual countryside, something I had never really experienced before. It also set the foundation for the friendships which would last through my time of studying and beyond.

What’s the music scene like in Shanghai?

It is very diverse. Shanghai hosts a lot of different festivals supporting various music genres. Anything goes, from modern rap to classical orchestras. Whatever music you fancy - you can find it in Shanghai.

In 2020, I am focusing on spreading the knowledge of Jazz and professional singing using multiple online platforms. Through Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter, I am sharing small authentic live music video series with my 200.000+ followers, while regularly streaming live content once a week. I also do student teaching in groups, single lessons and online lessons.

I find there's a big interest in learning to sing professionally. China's multiple online platforms hosts millions and millions of amateur singers of all ages and genres, with some having the ambition to study abroad in the future.

What level of interest is there for jazz in China?

The jazz scene in China is continuously growing, but it is without a doubt the biggest in Shanghai, with multiple international clubs and venues supporting the genre. Shanghai has a long history with jazz dating back to the 1920s and 1930s.

In April 2019 I arranged and performed a concert in Shanghai Oriental Art Center, one of Shanghai's main concert halls, celebrating the Shanghai 1930s jazz era. I can also occasionally be found performing in the major Jazz clubs in Shanghai, Jazz in Lincoln Center Shanghai, JZ club, alongside other venues and events.

What are the benefits of studying a music degree in the UK?

Studying in the UK broadened my perspective of the world and our place within it. It gave me a deeper insight into other cultures and helped me understand music better. I made some amazing friends during my time in the UK and it has subsequently given me the courage to travel globally.

You sing in both English and Mandarin. Do you work with translations and how does this affect the beats and number of syllables within a piece of music? How do you sing in a tonal language such as Mandarin?

I do my own translations but I have enlisted support to help me with some of the grammar and rhyming. Some lyrics are not easily translatable, so it takes a little bit of imagination to maintain a similar context of a song. I always count and maintain the same amount of syllables from the original song where possible.

Singing in either English or Mandarin is very different. Chinese uses different tones to English. The distinct way of Chinese singing is very unique and I use it deliberately when merging Western jazz music with traditional Chinese elements.

Visit Jasmine Chen’s Facebook page.

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