China is not exactly known as the heartland of jazz. The genre long had difficulty gaining a foothold in the country, where it was considered elitist and niche. That is slowly changing. There is the Beijing Jazz Festival, there are large concert halls that host jazz concerts and there are smaller jazz cafés springing up. And now, there is A Bu. He spends six hours a day at the piano to prepare himself for the competition that is waiting for him outside China. "You always learn something new," A Bu says. "Even the legends practiced every day when they were older to try out new things."
One year ago, he moved to New York to study at The Juilliard School and recorded his second album at Avatar Studios. It sounds more mature than his debut, which is an astounding realization given A Bu's tender age. Perhaps he was inspired by the city, which, after all, gave birth to great, legendary jazz – the melodies of Joe Henderson and Oscar Peterson. A Bu must now change his thinking and measure himself against different benchmarks. In the studio or rehearsal room, he is almost always the youngest one present. "But sometimes, we completely forget the age difference," he says. Suddenly, he finds himself playing with high-caliber artists like Antonio Hart, David Berkman, Jeb Patton, Randy Ingram and Jeremy Siskind.
The new album was mixed in the Jazzanova Recording Studio in Berlin. A Bu is a perfectionist: The sound quality must be outstanding, otherwise he won’t grant his approval. And of course, the fact that his second album became a global undertaking involving studios in two different countries is a message to the industry. Axel Reinemer, head of JRS in Berlin, remembers working with him: "A Bu has precise notions of how his music should sound. He composes everything himself and was constantly present during the mixing process. When he sits down at the piano, he immerses himself in his own world and calls forth voices that make it hard to believe that it is a 15-year-old playing.” A Bu’s inspiration was so great, and the sound of the grand piano so optimal, that on the fourth day, the teenager recorded another piano album. Unplanned. Solo. Just like that.
A Bu must now change his thinking and measure himself against different benchmarks. That will become the measure of his success.
His music has long since become warm and virtuoso and he makes his improv solos sound easy. If you close your eyes and just listen, you think you can imagine you're hearing an experienced, accomplished master of the genre. But then you open them and see this teenager, young on paper and with an even younger face, sitting at the piano. Nevertheless, this year in Montreux, the holy temple of jazz, he won the Parmigiani Jazz Solo Piano Competition. The prize is seen as an important measure of excellence in the scene. A Bu's career has pushed him to grow up quickly, much more rapidly than others.
He is, in fact, no longer a child prodigy. But his piano playing skill remains prodigious.