Friday, February 15, 2008

One Hundred Project : Corbett Wall

What is on your stereo at the moment?

My wife and I’ve been entertaining a lot of people lately at home (Chinese New Year), so I have a heavy sampling of dinner music on our stereo:

David Sanborn, Timeagain
Michael Buble, Michael Buble
Bettye Lavette, The Scene of the Crime
Jack Johnson, In Between Dreams
The Definitive Bossa Nova Lounge Album

3 records that changed your life. Why?

Louis Armstrong & Hot Five - Cornet chop suey/Muskrat ramble.
I grew up with my grandparents, and had the whole basement to myself. There was an old Victor Victrola down there which was really my only form of entertainment, apart from a dart board, and model planes. The Victrola was filled with old 78’s and I’d sit for hours going through each of them. The one that stuck out in my mind, and is probably why I played jazz most of my life was this one. I grew up listening to Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glen Miller, Jelly Roll Morton, before I even know what pop music was. I though this was pop music.

Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life
I was in 5th grade when this came out and I remember one day my music teacher pulling out the record player and putting this on. It was the first time anyone had done that before at school, so it was exciting. She said, “This just came out and I have to let you hear it.” No one else seemed to really pay much attention, but what I heard, the harmonies, the groove, the message, has stuck with me until now. I can’t remember the teacher’s name, but I have to thank her for opening my eyes and ears that day.

United Future Organization, U.F.O
Back in Taipei during the mid-1990s I was doing a lot of live loop sampling, mixing DJs with live music, poets, rappers, etc at a club called the Opium Den, but no one really got it at that time unfortunately. About the same time, I stumbled onto this group, which really defined for me creative live electronica. This record for me was a clear awakening to me where jazz and I needed to go to be grooving, fresh, and creative, just like it was in the 1950s and 1960s. I soon stopped playing after these innovative gigs because it was just too frustrating to realize that I couldn’t link what I was doing live with what I was releasing for the record company. At least not in Taiwan in the 1990s. So I look at this album as a sort of a wake up call for me to start doing other things to pay the rent rather than be a frustrated musician.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to the time where my day involves complicated strategic decisions such as determining which tomato to pick from my garden for lunch, and which path I should take the dogs out for a walk afterwards.

What couldn’t you live without? Why?

I couldn’t live without my wife Irene. Or I should say, I couldn’t live a full complete life without my wife Irene. She constantly helps me define what’s important in life, and encourages me to keep doing new things, If she wasn’t around I’d probably have a string of 22 yr old girlfriends who didn’t know who Aretha Franklin was, and pretend I was happy being interested in purses and hair products.

Most memorable gig?

I used to play on this baseball team full of celebrities called the “Star Twinkles.” We were actually pretty good, and dedicated to drinking gaoliang and the occasional practice. We had this one game against a pro team, I think it was the Brother Elephants, and we were in the old Taipei Stadium. There were 10,000 people, and the team wanted me to stand on the pitcher’s mound and play a jazz version of the Taiwan National Anthem. At that time it was illegal to “corrupt” the anthem in any way, but I did anyway and will never forget the five endless seconds of silence after I finished, while people were trying to figure out why a foreigner in a baseball uniform was playing the national anthem on a saxophone – in a weird style, before everyone stood up and started applauding wildly.

Who/what are your influences?

Too many, but I’ll name 4 off the top of my head.

Frank Sinatra
Hank Crawford
Sly Stone
Grant Greene

What is the best and worst thing about the city that you live in?

I live these days in Shanghai.
The best thing is that it’s a sort of rewind of Taipei in the early 1990s.
The worst thing is getting a cab when it rains.

Given the accelerated pace of modern culture, what are we due a revival in?

I think there will soon be a revival in simplicity.

Hero? Why?

Herb Alpert. He played funky cool music in the 1960s, wore bell bottoms and platforms without shame, started A&M records in a garage for $500, signed all the best artists of that time, and sold the company (and later the publishing) for more than US$1 billion. Now he paints, and when he feels like it he hires the best musicians in the world to go on tour with him, performing around the world wherever he wants.

Is there anything else that you feel that we should know?

There’s a lot of ways to get where you want to go, but you usually never take the right way.

I met Corbett when I lived in Taipei and his venue/restaurant The Living Room played host to many of my late night shenanigans while I was in the city. His wife, Irene, cooks the worlds best hot and spicy noodles and in all truth everything that she cooked was great. The Living Room was my beacon of sanity towards the end of my stay in Taipei and I had the first part of my going away party with three bands playing there, the second part had 8 DJs playing at Eden, which was all on the same night and ended with Pierre and I almost playing architects at 6am in an advertisement but that is another story for another day. The Living Room was my home away from home and Corbett was always a knowledgeable and entertaining host and man oh man can he make a sax sing. Below is his bio taken from his website.

Hi, my name is Corbett Wall, but most people know me by my Chinese name, 高培華 (Gao Pei Hua), and I'm into the second third of my life.

I'm an Okinawan/Denver hybrid named after an old heavyweight boxer, who started traveling internationally at the age of three. I play the saxophone, have two dogs, and a wonderful wife who loves me. We all live in the mountains near Taipei sometimes, or in Shanghai, or in Beijing. It's confusing.

For the past 19 years, I've created a fantastic life here in Asia. Much more than most foreigners really ever get to see. I have the unusual distinction of being the first non-Chinese "pop star" in Taiwan. This took me all over the region and I got to travel and live a pretty happening rock and roll lifestyle. I sold a lot of records, got to wear some fancy clothes, and met a lot of interesting people; from politicians to gangsters to super models to CEOs. (My friends think it's just amazing that most women over 35 in Taiwan know who I am. What can I say?)

Then I got into producing, writing, and the business side of it, which took me to Europe and the US doing pop and classical music for famous Chinese artists and cool stuff like recording top UK orchestras, producing the first Grammy nominated Chinese album, creating a music label for artists to record on the world's largest piano, to selling record companies.
Later, with my wife, I became involved in a well known non-profit organization in New York, and supported the 7 Train Orchestra for Chinese and American kids in Queens, NY. We did all sorts of cool community based events, mainly to facilitate inter-cultural involvement through the arts. We took the concept back to Taiwan and I found myself fully involved for several years in children's arts education, music publishing, and artist management.

Sony heard that I was sloughing off and hadn't released an album for a couple years, signed me, and we recorded a great album for one of their jazz labels. This kept me in Shibuya and presented me with a major dilemma. Move to Japan, play with the best jazz musicians, hang out in cool clubs, and wear nice suits... or try to develop a better business model.
As I sat on the steps in front of Starbuck's smoking a cigar, watching the thousands of kogyaru girls pass through Hachiko, each carrying their trusty ketai around like a can of mace, I began thinking about the sake conversation I had a few weeks earlier with my friends at Docomo after touring their futuristic research center. We were discussing UMTS AD converters and the problems with transmitting music wirelessly.

That conversation got me thinking about the interactive elements of media creation, and I figured if guys like David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, and Todd Rundgren could fiddle around with technology, why couldn't I? The cigar burned out, and I haven't looked back.

I currently keep busy with a variety of projects. I invented a process for distributing real-time interactive media information through mobile devices, own Taipei's coolest music venue, the Living Room, and invested in a few things here and there. Most recently I've been spending my time in little cities around China developing real estate, searching out good music, and wondering what the heck is really going on here.

Corbett has chosen a heavy selection of tracks for your listening pleasure...dive in they're all killer.


Lou Donaldson - Hamp's Hump
Kombo - Lowrider
Jimmy McGriff - Dig On It
Sly & The Family Stone - Sing A Simple Song
Charles Williams - Booger Bear
Marcus Miller - Burning Down The House
Harlem Nocturne
Chris Kynard - Odds On
Melvin Sparks - Texas Twister
Grant Greene - Cantaloupe Woman
Lou Donaldson - Turtle Walk
Bill Withers - Use Me

Download it here.

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