Award winning composer takes global inspiration


EC music instructor Alan Chan performs an impromptu piano piece in the Music Building, on Monday, April 22. Chan will conduct and play piano in his upcoming concert alongside one of the greatest wind players Guo Yazhi in the Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra with Guo Yazhi concert on May 10 at the Marsee Auditorium. Photo credit: Rosemary Montalvo

Sitting down at the piano in his classroom in the Music Building, Alan Chan gets comfortable on the bench as his fingers hover above the keys. He slowly leads in to a tune called “Seascape” by big band composer Johnny Mandel.

Alan Chan is an award winning composer and conductor of the Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra, a big band, 17-piece set up reminiscent of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Count Basie.

Chan is also an adjunct instructor at EC where he is the director and instructor of the EC Concert Jazz Band and is in charge of the Applied Jazz Program.

The Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra is bringing their performance to Marsee Auditorium on Friday, May 10, where Chan says the audience can expect to hear music from many different influences.

“This particular project called ‘Camel Walk’ is another venture where I’m trying to see what I can do with soloists,” Chan said.

For this upcoming performance, Chan has collaborated with one of the finest Chinese wind players, musician Yazhi Guo.

Yazhi Guo

Guo plays the the traditional Chinese instrument the Suona, a double-reeded horn.

“Yazhi is a very special person,” Chan said. “Mr. Guo decided that the next thing in his life after playing in the [Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra] is playing jazz.”

Guo, who is originally from China came to the U.S. in 2013 to study at the Berklee College of Music in Sherman Oaks, California where he received his Artistic Diploma in 2015.

Guo and Chan were introduced to each other by colleague and composer William Kraft. Since then the two hit it off and decided to collaborate on different projects together.

“Camel Walk” came about as Guo and Chan were discussing a theme and story for their collaboration.

The Suona

Chan took Spanish 2 last fall and one of his assignments was a cultural presentation project. It was through his research that he learned about ‘la corneta China’ or ‘the Chinese cornet’.

Furthermore, Chan learned that the Chinese Indentured Workers who were contracted in Cuba during the 1850’s introduced the suona to Cuba.

Chan realized that the instrument in which Yazhi plays, the suona, is actually used in Cuba’s carnival. Particularly in Santiago, Cuba.

“I had never thought about there being Chinese in Cuba, and [the Chinese] have contributed to [the Cuban] culture as well,” Chan said.

This got Chan excited and he wanted to know more. He traveled to Cuba in January of 2018 to study the suona, or ‘la corneta China’ as they call it on the island.

“It was just really beautiful to see that none of the faces you would think,” Chan said. “Not Chinese, this is Creoles and Blacks, they play this in their neighborhoods to celebrate every year at the carnival.”

Camel Walk

Because Guo and Chan used western, eastern and other cultures as influences for this performance, they wanted to create a narrative that represented their inspiration and instrumental diversity.

“This project has become a fantasy of multiculturalism,” Chan said.

Not only does the Silk Road and the camel reference the direct origin of some of their influences, but the camel walk is also a dance move performed by James Brown.

This is where Chan got the idea to bring soul music and the suona into the big band jazz orchestra.


Chan was fond of the bluesy, soulful notes, funky edge and improvisation of jazz, so he used to frequent the Jazz Club, formerly in Hong Kong.

Growing up in Hong Kong, Chan did not have access to a lot of jazz music. He found inspiration in what he watched on T.V. and YouTube.

He would visit his local library and rent movies and shows featuring jazz music and musicians. It was then that he discovered James Brown.

“He was amazing,” Chan said. “Really energetic, and his band had this grove, really repetitive but really soulful.”

Chan eventually came to the U.S. and studied classical composition. He began to write music and eventually decided to focus on big band jazz.

What to Expect on May 10

The first part of the performance will feature three of Chan’s recent compositions, one of which was a commission piece for the Symphonic Jazz Orchestra of Los Angeles.

“I will be on the piano at this performance,” Chan said. “It’s a little bit of a challenge because I always conduct.”

This is the first complete version of the concert that has ever been performed.

“It’s a little bit of a musical journey,” Chan said. “You’re going to see about 18 people on stage performing big band jazz, but also something unexpected even if you see them as a big band, you’re going to hear a lot of music from all different influences.”

“It’s kind of like a potpourri of many different types of music that everybody can enjoy,” Chan said.

The Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra w/ Guo Yazhi will be performing on Friday, May 10 at the Marsee Auditorium at 8 p.m.

Tickets are available online at The El Camino College Center for the Arts, or at the box office directly.