Shanghai Swing, Threads, & the Money Man!

My first gig in Shanghai got off to a scary start! I had purchased RT air tickets for all my band members and had an executed contract with the hotel, but I found out less than 48 hours before my flight that my bassist Tim Hauff had no intention of coming! He went off his psycho meds and was in an unstable mental state. I was literally at the Singapore airport waiting for my departure to Shanghai for the gig when I made a phone call to bassist Donald Jackson in Chicago to see if he could step in literally at the last minute for our 3-month contract. Donald said he could make the gig! I borded my plane and had to sort out the details after I got to Shanghai. After that near disaster, I never gave flight tickets to my guys unless it was at the airport waiting with instruments for departure. Apparently, you never really know who's literally crazy enough to bite the hand that feeds them! A couple week later while on the gig with Donald, I found out that Tim actually USED the ticket that I had paid for, had himself a free Shanghai vacation on me! He had enough sense not to show his despicable face on my gig, but I know he made all the rounds of the Shanghai jazz scene except my gig and word got back to me of his treachery from my fellow expat players in town.

Fortunately for me though, Donald Jackson was one of the best, baddest bassists on the entire planet! Unfortunatey, he and pianist Jack Holland have since died, but I'll never forget them!  Jack was introduced to me through Donald. They were both on The Treniers gig in LasVegas, where they backed up the likes of Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and the rest of the “Rat Pack”. Jack had 50 years of professional experience when I met him, and was a total sweetheart, he literally “tickled the ivories”. After my Shanghai gig was finished, Donald later returned to China, living and playing there right up until the time of his death a few years ago. 

After the first three months of our contract, I signed a nine-month extension which, if it hadn't been for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) shutting down everything in 2003, would have resulted in a one-year-long residency! We made a good impression in China. Here are some press reviews from our stint there:

Shanghai is fascinating. There's an unusual mixture of old and new. The Old City of Shanghai stands on the site of a relatively small settlement in ancient times, which began to develop in importance in the 12th and 13th century, but surrounding it now are brand-spanking new buildings and neighborhoods. 

Besides this unique mix of cutting-edge new + ancient-old culture, one thing that I noticed is that when you walk into a pharmacy there, you see a man with a white lab coat behind a long glass display case . . . you're sick, so he asks you, “Do you want Western medicine or Chinese medicine?” If you want Western, he may give you something like Penicillin or the same tablet that you might receive here; but if you say Chinese, he'll ask you some questions about your condition, grab a glass jar of roots from the display case, use a pestle and mortar to grind it up and give you instructions like, “add hot water and drink this before meals 3X a day for one week.” Neat! In case you were wondering, Penicillin is considered over-the-counter in China, and the guy in the white lab coat is a doctor. In some ways (health care?), the Chinese seem way ahead of us . . . Well, let's face it . . . as a culture they've had hundreds of years of historical head start!

There's a clothing market in Shanghai where you can buy either cloth or have clothing (like a suit or coat) made by hand in less than 2-3 days. The doormen greeting guests as they arrived at the Westin Bund Center where we were playing 6-nights a week wore long Cashmere overcoats, double-breasted with Chinese collars. Donald and I took pictures of them and brought them to the Cashmere stall at the clothing market. We had Cashmere coats made from the picture. I still have and use mine. I often get compliments on it when worn here. I did the same with a picture from a magazine of Tom Cruise wearing an unique-designed leather jacket. I took it to the leather stall at the same market and they copied it very well! The prices are unbelievably inexpensive - the most expensive thing I bought there was the Cashmere overcoat, worth at least $1,000.00, I think I paid around $200+ for it. The suits I had made there have lasted all these years. The clothes I had made in Shanghai are durable! I suggest that if you ever get a chance to travel to Shanghai, bring an empty suitcase with you and then fill it up with all new clothes that you buy there. No way you'll ever find a better deal anywhere on Earth. And it's a very quick turn-around, like I said, 2-3 days with a fitting.

The biggest clothing market in Shanghai is Qipu Lu Clothing Market. Also known as Cheap Lu, it's the closest visitors can get to a wholesale clothes market in Shanghai. 

There were many memorable and humorous experiences on this particular gig. For instance . . . I insisted on cash US dollars as payment. We made approximately US$2,400.00 per week. Our rooms were located on the very same floor as the General Manager of the hotel and those 5 rooms were the only rooms on that floor. We got a full accommodation package including all meals, laundry service, etc. We were paid once every two weeks. In order to get paid in US dollars, the “money man” had to be called in. Every two weeks I went down to the F&B Directors office, where he, the CFO (Chief Financial Officer), and I would wait for the “money man.” I kid you not! He showed up in a full length black trench coat and the type of hat you might imagine Humphery Bogart wearing in a mobster movie. He carried a brown paper bag filled with $4,800 US dollars. He'd turn the bag upside down and let all the bills land on the F&B Directors desk where it would be counted. Then I would leave that room with all of my pockets filled with cash (somewhat nerve-wracking to say the least!) and make my way upstairs to pay each individual musician one-at-a-time. 

I'll say that the Chinese people are so warm and wonderful. It would be a mistake to in any way to confuse the people with the government in China, or to be swayed by some of the negative China-bashing propaganda we might hear in the USA. The people are entrepreneurial, curious, humorous, well-informed (better than you might think!) and if you make a friend there, he/she is a friend for life! 

Living and playing in Asia as much I have has not done much at all to advance my professional jazz career in America. I find that, particularly here in Cincinnati, Ohio where I live, folks don't seem to care what I accomplished abroad - they're more interested in knowing what high school I went to - to say that's it's parochial here might be an understatement! But traveling is eye-opening. My life experiences abroad have made me a better person inside, where it counts, and I'll be forever grateful for it.

My band got onto local Shanghai TV once. Here's a copy of the 5-minute show. It's on my YouTube channel - please subscribe to my channel for free and peruse the many videos I have there - Jack Holland and Donald Jackson RIP Maestros!

Greg Chako Sat. Mar. 2nd, Blog #10 from “What's on My Mind?”

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