January 24, 2019

Litchfield Jazz Festival’s Helen Sung

1.     What genre of music do you perform?

Jazz mainly. Sometimes I get to do classical, as well as music in the R&B, funk, soul, and pop styles.

 2.     When did you start performing?

I started taking classical piano & violin lessons at the age of 5 and soon after began participating in recitals and concerts. I first became interested in jazz during the end of my undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin. So I obviously was a late bloomer when it came to jazz!

 3.     What city and state are you based out of?

I am based in New York City, NY

 4.     What about playing music makes you happy?

Playing music I love and enjoy – sharing the experience with fellow band mates and listeners – is pretty amazing! You don’t even have to speak the same language – music is a beautiful gift, a spiritual force that transcends all barriers.

 5.     What are your hopes for your future in live music?

I hope to always be a touring artist – I love performing live and being on the road! I hope for my music to reach a wide audience, to collaborate with artists I respect and admire, both inside and outside of the jazz idiom. I think jazz is one of the most generous art forms – its ability to both take in outside influences and impact other genres without losing its original, unique identity is quite special.

 6.     What other acts/musicians do you regularly play with?

 I play with Terri Lyne Carrington’s  Grammy-winning Mosaic Project; the T.S.Monk Sextet as well as his Monk on Monk Big Band; also the Mingus Big Band & Mingus Dynasty Band.

 7.     Are you currently working on any projects? If so, what are they?

I released two records in quick succession, a live recording called Going Express (Sunnyside Records) in 2010 and then (re)Conception (Steeplechase Records) in 2011, so I’m gearing up for the next one, set to be recorded later this year 2012. I don’t want to give too much away so stay tuned for more details…and music! I’m also working on some commissions, the current one being an arrangement for the Newark Boys Chorus (I used to be their accompanist).

8.     What has been your favorite performance so far?

That’s a hard question – I don’t know if I can only name just one! One of my definite favorites is when I played with Wayne Shorter’s band for the 2000 San Francisco Jazz    Festival – Wayne is one of my heroes in the music so that was such a thrill! Playing for  

the Monk Institute’s 20th Anniversary, recorded for PBS’ In Performance at the White House in 2007 was another highlight. Leading my own band is also a great experience: touring Spain & Andorra in 2006 was a great initiation into band-leading on the road! My band debuted at some festivals recently, and the shows all rank high on the list: Monterey Jazz Festival, Detroit International Jazz Festival, Somerville Jazz Festival. Debuting in 2011 with the Mingus Dynasty Band in Taiwan was an incredibly moving experience. We performed in the city where both of my parents grew up, and to get to  meet relatives for the first time, to see the audience numbering in the thousands all going nuts over jazz, it was an unforgettable event!

 9.     Who are some of your favorite musicians?

Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk, Joe Zawinul/Weather Report, Me’shell Ndegeocello, Chick Corea, Stevie Wonder, Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt, Yo Yo Ma, Martha Argerich, D’Angelo, Elis Regina, Lenny White, A Tribe Called Quest, Dianne Reeves, Terri Lyne Carrington, Stephen Drury, Michael Jackson, the list really could go on and on and on…

 10.     What is your favorite instrument to play? Why?

I studied both piano & violin as a young person, but my favorite instrument is the piano. It is an amazing instrument – technically a percussion instrument (the sound is produced by hammers striking strings), and yet the piano can sing – it can be lyrical and melodic. The whole world is in the piano, the whole symphony: the colors, textures, rhythms…one can spend the rest of his/her life exploring this beautiful world!  

 11.     What about the Litchfield Jazz Festival is appealing to you? Why have you chosen to perform at the 2012 Festival?

I like how the Litchfield Festival embraces aspiring musicians. I’ve taught at the last 2 Litchfield Jazz Camps and it’s exciting to see so many talented students come together to learn and to refine their craft. It’s a great idea to have the Festival be a culmination of sorts, to bring together established artists and students. I’m sure great connections have been formed as a result, and many a young artist has gone on to dedicate his/her life to studying this incredible American art form!