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Musical Bridge Between Asia and America


Niko and Bob Bellows at the Guangdong 2009 TV show for Asian Para Games

A common theme in many Arabian Nights tales is fate and destiny. The Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini observed: “every tale in The Thousand and One Nights begins with an 'appearance of destiny” which manifests itself through an anomaly and one anomaly always generates another. So a chain of anomalies is set up. And the more logical, tightly knit, essential this chain is, the more beautiful the tale... The end of every tale in the The One Thousand and One Nights consists of a 'disappearance' of destiny, which sinks back to the somnolence of daily life ... The protagonist "one who plays the first  main character of the stories” is in fact destiny itself.  Thank you for being with us, Bob.  Your Artist life has been a profound and busy one, lets  us hear your Chinese and American Tales (smile!)

LP - Bellows, Bob (Escape With...)LP - Bellows, Bob (Escape With...)BOB: You are doing most fantastic work with” WONDERMENT”...What a talent!

TW: There is so much to talk about but first, tell us how did your musical career begin? How old were you?

BOB:   I was four years old when my father sat me on the piano bench and put my hands on the keys. Later I also sang in many different churches with my father. We sang duets. He found very good teachers for me and then we moved to Chicago and New York to the Conservatory of music, where practice was all I knew. I had my first recital at the age of 10 and at 15 I traveled during the summer time with a band.  Then in the Navy at 17 and out at 19 and once again to the Conservatory of Music. I also entertained while in the Navy, singing and playing the piano.

Bob Bellows, 84, performs at the piano in China.  当大师用汉语演唱爵士版《康定情歌》时,仿佛是在空灵寂静中听着他婉转低回的歌声,他是那样的深沉,那是一种发自内心的低吟与倾诉;而歌曲的后半段,Jazz欢快的节奏,滑动跳跃的音符中,我们分明看到了一个活力四射的年轻人,他兴奋的、奔放的演奏中的思想和情感,真实而快乐。歌曲高潮,嘉宾都被大师的激情感染,拍着手掌随大师一起演唱,此刻在场的每一个人都深深体会到了“音乐无国界”。(Swans Speaker Systems Inc. - hivi.com)Bob Bellows, 84, performs at the piano in China. 当大师用汉语演唱爵士版《康定情歌》时,仿佛是在空灵寂静中听着他婉转低回的歌声,他是那样的深沉,那是一种发自内心的低吟与倾诉;而歌曲的后半段,Jazz欢快的节奏,滑动跳跃的音符中,我们分明看到了一个活力四射的年轻人,他兴奋的、奔放的演奏中的思想和情感,真实而快乐。歌曲高潮,嘉宾都被大师的激情感染,拍着手掌随大师一起演唱,此刻在场的每一个人都深深体会到了“音乐无国界”。(Swans Speaker Systems Inc. - hivi.com)TW:  Was your father a musician too?
 
BOB:  Yes, he was a musician and performed in France during WWI.

TW:  You were part of Hollywood once upon a time, what stands out most in your mind as the difference between an Asian and an American audience?

BOB: Most audiences are the same around the world. However you must appeal to the country you are in.  For example in China, I must sing Chinese songs along with others to really connect. I have been very successful in China both in Theatres and in Stadiums.

Bob Bellows (book back cover)Bob Bellows (book back cover)TW: Today you are a famous International American Entertainer, Jazz pianist and singer living in China.  Your music is from a different era, how do the Chinese respond to you?  What ages are your audiences?  Do you find the young Chinese among them? 

BOB: My audiences are all young people and we connect because of the music I play which is partial Jazz of Chinese songs plus all the other numbers I do old and new. I don’t feel that my music is from a different time because Jazz covers all ages and to be an international entertainer of different languages and music you appeal to all peoples…I know this to be true.

TW: Bob tell us about your new book published this year. Half of the book is in English and the other half is in Chinese.  This is an interesting concept, what was it that prompted you to do it this way?

The New Yuan Ming Palace in Zhuhai is a partial reconstruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. (photo by Brücke-Osteuropa, 2009)The New Yuan Ming Palace in Zhuhai is a partial reconstruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. (photo by Brücke-Osteuropa, 2009)BOB: Because living in China (which is the greatest thing to happen to both of us and my wife Jene agrees) Phoenix TV was interested in my life. To be published in China for a foreign person is very exceptional because of the many proof readings from the government. Everything in the book including the CD and all comments about the Bahá’í Faith were approved by the Chinese government. The book can be bought from CD Baby.com and Video can be seen on Youtube.com and in China, Youku.com and Tudou.com.  I am very happy with this book and it is an easy read with pictures.  It is getting a lot of attention in China and I have just started promoting it in other countries. My book is in English and then the same book is in Chinese with CD and pictures.
TW: How often do you tour and how far do you travel?

One year to go for the Guangzhou Asian Para Games. The opening and closing ceremonies of the 16th Asian Games will be held in 2010. Opening date: December 12, 2010. One year to go for the Guangzhou Asian Para Games. The opening and closing ceremonies of the 16th Asian Games will be held in 2010. Opening date: December 12, 2010.BOB: Travel is often but I still have time to come back to Zhuhai, on the southern coast of Guangdong province in the People's Republic of China, and rest for a few days. This past year I had a long tour in Japan and last year it was London as well as many concerts in China. Sometimes I traveled alone and other times with a couple of artists.  Going to classes at universities keeps me very busy as I want to stay up to date with the friends from around the world.

TW:  In the picture we see of you, you are at the piano with a lovely young Chinese girl.  What is her name and is she a student of yours?  How did the two of you team up?

Guangzhou is the capital and the political, economic, and cultural center of Guangdong Province. It is located in the southeast of Guangdong Province and in the north of the Pearl River Delta. (Official Asian Para Games Website: http://www.gzapg2010.cn/en/)Guangzhou is the capital and the political, economic, and cultural center of Guangdong Province. It is located in the southeast of Guangdong Province and in the north of the Pearl River Delta. (Official Asian Para Games Website: http://www.gzapg2010.cn/en/)BOB:  This is Niko and a true genius young artist. I have coached her since she was six and now she is nine. She has been blind since birth. Her mother saw my web site and asked a mutual friend if I would take a listen to her daughter. I fell in love with this little Chinese girl right away. She touched my heart deeply.  She has been in concert with me and everyone loves her.  She is now singing too as I sit her on the piano she smiles. We just played together at the Guangdong 2009 TV show for Asian Para Games, all handicapped young people. There were over 35 kids who cannot hear dancing on the stage as Niko and I were performing the Chinese Moon Song. It was a wonderful experience that I’ll never forget.

This show was all started by Ethel Kennedy, wife of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy. Just to tell you more about what are the Asian Para Games. They are for the people of Asia, both the physically challenged and the able-bodied. With athletes and delegations from 45 countries and regions in Asia participating and thousands of sports fans expected to attend, the Asian Para Games are for everyone. They are important, they are inclusive and they are welcoming. The 'We' in the Games Slogan is all of us," the organizing committee said in a press release. Their Official Slogan is: We Cheer, We Share, We Win.

TW:  I hope that many of our readers get inspired from your story showing great kindness of the heart and willingness to make a difference around you by involving young artists such as Niko and others.

Map of China showing  Guangdong, a province on the southern coast of People's Republic of China. Guangdong is highlighted in red and the most populous province in China in January 2005, registering 79 million permanent residents and 31 million migrants who lived in the province for at least six months.Map of China showing Guangdong, a province on the southern coast of People's Republic of China. Guangdong is highlighted in red and the most populous province in China in January 2005, registering 79 million permanent residents and 31 million migrants who lived in the province for at least six months.TW: How many years have you lived in China? Do you speak Mandarin?  There are so many different dialects; do you find it difficult to be understood? 

BOB: We have lived in China for 11 years now. My wife, Jene has been working in China for 30 years and I was in Hong Kong in 1945 during the Second World War.  She speaks Mandarin very well and I am limited but I do sing Chinese songs better than I can speak it.

TW:  How has China changed since you first arrived?  I am sure that everything around you is changing quickly as it is in the rest of the world. We seem to be all living in the fast lane today not knowing what tomorrow will bring us.

BOB: Yes, it is moving fast. There are more cars on the road. This adds to the problem of air pollution which, I feel, is really going to be an even larger problem in the not too distant future.  As in most countries, development over-rides any rational thinking and resources; I feel limited water supply, over population and the environment are huge problems for China and the world.

TW:  What was your life like in the States before you moved to China?

Bob BellowsBob BellowsBOB: I have been in show business and performing arts all my life. It is always about travel and lots of public relations.  We lived in Wilmette and Skokie, Illinois, United States.  But Florida is really where our home is and we still keep a place in Southern Florida where we come back to sometimes.

Named 'Robert Brusen', I was born in Menomonie, Wisconsin so I have a strong mid-west background. One time in my life, I was on the road for 27 years and never stayed very long in one place. I was always on the move performing in all kinds of bars and night clubs then my life changed. I have been working with the theatre for the past 20 years and enjoy it very much.

Thinking back how did we do it? I don’t know (Bob smiles) we began in Vaudeville (which was called "the heart of American show business," one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America for several decades).  The same as Maurice Chevalier, a French actor, singer, and popular entertainer in the 30’s; and, we were fortunate to be able to visit his family in Paris, France. These were true artists of show business in the early 1900’s with the whole package. Meaning they had committed to a life of performing arts but also serving along the way. This is what I admire the most in them as I try to be the same, a complete theatrical performing artist.

Portrait of entertainer Maurice Chevalier (LIFE Magazine, 1920)Portrait of entertainer Maurice Chevalier (LIFE Magazine, 1920)TW:  Yes, Chevalier was very famous all over the world. He spent a lot of time at the 'Folies Bergère', a very popular Parisian music hall and became a star in the 'Casino de Paris', I believe. And, he could speak pretty good English which was a big advantage over other French show business artists at that time.

TW:  We have heard it said that a true artist must do his art; he has no choice, he is compelled by a deep desire to either paint, sing, dance, act, play music, etc...  Has this been the case with you?

BOB:  Absolutely. Because of my father (who was a musician in France during the WWI) I was taught from a very young age. I had no other choice but learn the piano. I think we are all victims of who our parents are.  Once the child shows an interest in whatever art it is, it should be pursued.  We can be what our parents teach us from birth and then of course from teachers later. Yes, my life has been the mystery of the Theatre and Show Business and even Circus at one time. To do this, one must have the desire, perseverance, tenacity and patience but most of all talent and be ready for a long career. It is hard work.

TW:  What do you think of the music of today?  In the Bahá’í Faith, they say “music is the ladder to the soul”, what is your reaction to the kinds of music we hear today all around us?  I am sure that is the same in China as it is in the United States and Europe. 

Statue in the bay of Zhuhai (The emblem of the city of Zhuhai, China)Statue in the bay of Zhuhai (The emblem of the city of Zhuhai, China)BOB:  It is like everything else music can be good and can be bad. You have to choose which one you want to produce. It also has a great influence on young people. I feel that music today has been lost in the value of quality. I am one for wearing a correct wardrobe as I am for music. Much can be found to learn in all kinds of music however a lot has gone too far into the Rap and Rock fields. We are all learning. I don’t really want to say more on this as I am sure that you can understand what I am saying. If some of these people could hold more spiritual values into their own art this would change the tone of music that we hear today, I think.

An Asian critic wrote: "Bob Bellows is the absolute essence of the all American entertainer...the real thing...with an international flair."

Jene and Bob Bellows cherish their shared life journey. Celebrating her 81st birthday along with more than 30 Chinese and western friends at the Tea Garden in the Agricultural Science Research Centre. (Photo by Betty Lin - Zhuhai Information Center Zhuhai Telecom)Jene and Bob Bellows cherish their shared life journey. Celebrating her 81st birthday along with more than 30 Chinese and western friends at the Tea Garden in the Agricultural Science Research Centre. (Photo by Betty Lin - Zhuhai Information Center Zhuhai Telecom)TW: How does your wife Jene keeps busy in Zhuhai?

BOB: Jene is just like me and stays very busy. She serves at the Gateway Language Village (GLV) school primarily as Senior Consultant and advisor for strategic planning, development and intercultural communication. The mission of GLV is to be a gateway to the world for Chinese and also a gateway into China for the world. GLV provide language training for those who want to learn English or Chinese.

TW: I agree with you. We are not talking about becoming religious but just to add  more spirituality into the lyrics and the sound to uplift the hearts of mankind instead of bringing them down. That is so true.  It takes great talent and a big heart to be a true performing artist like you Bob. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Thank you for creating a beautiful musical bridge between Asia and America. We all wish you and your family all the best.

Visit Bob Bellows Website at: http://bobbellows.com
Gateway Language Village Official Website (GLV)

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