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Most players of the pipa—a Chinese string instrument similar to the lute—would not consider theirs the ideal instrument for the music of Thelonious Monk or Miles Davis. But Min Xiao-Fen is not most pipa players. Likely the world’s foremost practitioner of the instrument, Min is schooled enough in the tradition to have been the primary soloist in the Nanjing National Music Orchestra before moving to the U.S. in 1992. She’s spent the intervening years finding new contexts for the pipa, such as contemporary classical with the likes of John Zorn and Derek Bailey, and with jazz pathfinders like pianist Randy Weston and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith—spiritual heirs to Monk and Miles, respectively. For the forward-thinking Min, then, interpreting those giants isn’t so unusual; if anything, it’s fundamental.
Min Xiao-Fen performs at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 11th St. NW. $20. bohemiancaverns.com. (202) 299-0800. —Michael J. West