musicians are forward-looking by temperament, constantly anticipating the next
gig or recording. For a group of elderly Chinese swing musicians who endured
the Cultural Revolution, living in the here-and-now rather than the past is not
merely an aesthetic choice, it is a survival strategy. The Peace Old Jazz Band
is Guinness-certified as the oldest continually performing band and they will finally
have their spotlight moment in Uli Gaulke’s As
Time Goes By in Shanghai (trailer here) which screens during the 2013 Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History.
five out of six band members are nicknamed “Old” (as in “Old Sun” or “Old Li”),
it is pretty clear what you’ve got here.
For the last twenty years, they have hit nightly at Shanghai’s Peace
Hotel, following in the grand tradition of the big bands of the Swing Era. Accustomed to playing for dancers, most of
the band is not inclined to start experimenting now. They might sound like
“moldy figs,” but they have a right to stick to their thing. After all, the Cultural Revolution was a
living nightmare for any musician performing decadent jazz and Western
booked to play the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, the Peace Old recruits
a younger vocalist to perform standards as well as a few jazz renditions of
traditional Chinese songs. Naturally,
they shamelessly flirt with Yin “Yasmin” Chen—we would worry about them if they
didn’t. Clearly, this gig will be a
career zenith for the band, but they seem to take it in stride.
first, As Time Goes By seems to be
another documentary chronicling the late life triumphs of a group of plucky
oldsters. However, it progressively
deepens over time. The Peace Old
musicians are understandably reluctant to talk about their experiences during
the Cultural Revolution (after all, it never officially happened), but when
Gaulke catches them alone, they start to open up and when they do it is heavy.
the Peace Old’s technique is just kind of okay overall, but Holy Cats, do they
play with feeling. While it is difficult
for them to talk about their experiences verbally, it all comes out through
their instruments. Gaulke mostly has the
good sense to focus on the band and stay out of the way, but his transition
shots capture a sense of the less affluent side of go-go Shanghai. The Peace
Old can relate to both worlds, but do not quit fit into either.
Time Goes By is deeply
moving, both in musical and personal terms.
It is rare to find a film that speaks so directly to both the gigging
life and the residual collective emotional baggage of the Cultural Revolution,
but it certainly does. Gulke’s doc should
particularly resonate with working musicians in any major city. Wonderfully wise and bittersweet, As Time Goes By in Shanghai is very
highly recommended. A highlight of this
year’s Margaret Mead Fest, it screens this Saturday (10/19) at the AMNH.
Labels: Documentary, Margaret Mead '13, Peace Old Jazz Band