By Alex Browne
| Brian Giebelhaus photo
White Rock jazz piano instructor Bryon Tosoff listened to the progress of Taiwanese jazz enthusiast Nico (Lee Huang Ching) who is cramming his eight-month intensive Jazstyles course into a two-month window.
Jazz a la Nico Taiwanese pianist sets sights high
Joe Sample and Herbie Hancock move over-and leave room on the bench for Nico (also known as Lee Huang Ching).
The 23-year-old Taiwanese, an admirer of both those jazz stars, is proving one of the more talented students to take White Rock instructor Bryon Tosoff's Jazstyles Piano Course.
That's evident from an impromptu improvisation on Hoagy Carmichael's Georgia On My Mind, complete with fine walking bass line.
She's also-in her quiet way-one of the most determined of Tosoff's students.
Not only did she travel all the way from her home city of Taipei to take the course, at the end of January she'll have completed Tosoff's eight-month intensive course-in just two months.
That means Nico (the name attached itself to her while she was taking an English course) takes four lessons a week instead of the customary one, while lodging with her uncle in Vancouver.
"I do my best," she said, simply.
She's working toward a clearly defined goal.
"After I come back to Taiwan I will have a jazz band. I want to play in the most famous jazz bar in Taipei-The Blue Note."
She has potential members of her combo picked out, including bass, drums and guitar, possibly even sax. Do they know it yet?
"No," she laughed.
"But they are all good musicians."
Nico is confident she'll gain an audition at The Blue Note. She knows the small but burgeoning Taipei jazz scene well-and is ensconced in the music business there.
She's had a six-month gig as house keyboardist singer in a pop music restaurant, The Wood Guitar, and is under contract with a record company to write pop and gospel songs for their artists.
While she knows she can make a lot of money writing pop songs, she wants to pursue a different direction as a performer.
"I love jazz more than pop," she said.
"And I'm not a good singer."
Hence the trip to Canada, following up on a summertime visit with her uncle, during which she had her first lesson with Tosoff and took a liking to his teaching style.
"He is very patient and explains everything to me," she said.
After corresponding via email, she arranged to return from Taiwan to complete Tosoff's course.
"I think North America is the original birthplace of jazz," she said.
"In my life I need to come here to study once."
While here, she's had opportunity to hear live jazz.
"I went to The Cellar last Saturday. They had a quintet there, playing be-bop. They were good."
Fortunately, her parents are supportive of her studies.
An advantage is her background in classical and popular piano at home, starting when her mother sent her for piano lessons at age five.
"In Taiwan, most families send their children to learn piano-it's like a custom," Nico said.
"I liked it very, very much."
She's one of the most serious musicians in her family. Although her younger sister plays violin, with most members of her family, music is just for fun.
Not so with Nico, who decided in her senior high school year she would pursue it as a career.
Still, she laughingly admitted, she attended Furen University in Taipei as a language student majoring in Japanese.
But it was there she met a drummer who introduced her to jazz.
"Since then, I have been buying a lot of CDs. I listen to all kinds of jazz players, but especially I collect piano records."
Her burgeoning love of jazz led her to take lessons from one of Taipei's jazz stars, a Japanese pianist who works under the name Uno.
"She plays at the Blue Note-she is quite famous," Nico said.
With Tosoff, Nico is working to improve her improvisation, learn jazz history and theory, explore chord progressions and voicing and develop her ability to arrange material to suit her style.
Her current taste for progressions tends toward such classic ballads as Alfie, Misty and When Sunny Gets Blue.
But she's also fond of fusion. She feels the style has a lot of potential in Taipei's small but supportive jazz scene, where most bands playing the five to six nights a week at The Blue Note hew to cool jazz or tried standards.
"There is another pub called Riverside where they play fusion and funky jazz-I think about playing there as well."
Tosoff has enjoyed working with Nico, and calls her "terrific."
"Just a natural talent, and because she's had such good training and background it's been a very quick learning curve," Tosoff said.
"There've been quantum leaps from lesson to lesson. She has an ability to listen to what I do and take it that little bit further-and she has a wonderful touch at the piano.
"All the students who come here and do this have to be pretty advanced to understand what I present to them.
"It's not an easy course, but she's probably one of the better students I've had. They're all good, but she's right up there with them," he said.
"I know she will go far."