Returning to his small, rented apartment in Boston, Xuefei Cheng turns on his CD player to enjoy his favorite jazz performer, Hiromi Uehara, a Japanese-born, Berklee-trained jazz composer and pianist whose music encompasses the elements of classical music, rock and jazz.
As a first year Master’s student majoring in clarinet at Boston University, Xuefei spends most of his leisure time enjoying or playing jazz, even though his academic concentration is classical music. Cheng’s passion for clarinet started a decade ago when he heard a clarinet piece in a Harry Potter movie. The instrument’s distinct sound lingered in his mind and drove him to take up music. When studying classical clarinet at Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, he was officially introduced to jazz.
“Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin is the first song that exposed me to the beauty of jazz clarinet, and I’ve been obsessed with jazz ever since,” says Xuefei. “For me, classical music is suitable for the weekdays when you are restrained and stressed out by work, whereas jazz is like the weekend when you can lay back and be relaxed.”
In college, Xuefei was a frequent guest at top-tier, jazz concerts at Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing. He also frequented the East Shore Bar in the Houhai neighborhood in Beijing, where China’s top jazz artists played. By then he had joined a jazz club at school and was performing weekly.
Upon graduating from the Conservatory, Cheng studied with John Bruce Yeh, the assistant principle clarinet at Chicago Symphony Orchestra, then came to Boston University to further his studies. He describes Boston as “a hub of education and a city saturated with diligence and passion,” and the best place for him to advance his performing skills.
“Boston is definitely the ideal place to learn classical music, but what’s special about this city is that it embraces diversity, just like Hiromi’s music,” he says. “Jazz will always be an indispensable part of my life, and with the skills accumulated through the study and practices of classical music, I can fuel my passion for jazz more freely and easily.”
Like Xuefei, a growing number of international students are coming to Massachusetts to explore their educational and career life in music in recent years. A variety of top-tier music institutes, world-known Symphony Orchestras, and a diverse music genres all convene together in MA to provide unlimited possibilities for musicians and music lovers from around the world.