Some people are born to play jazz and then others find jazz – at a Harry Connick, Jr concert?? Well at least one did! The one that did would be classically trained pianist Helen Sung!! Helen began her classical piano training in her hometown of Houston Texas at the age of five under the watchful eye of a teacher who did it her way and encouraged Helen to only listen to classical music. Helen walked the straight and narrow until that fateful day a friend took her to that Harry Connick, Jr. concert. It was there that Harry played a Tommy Flannagan solo and Helen’s world turned upside-down! She says this about the experience…..
“As a classical major who lived in the practice room, I didn’t know who he was,” she says. “He had his big band, and they were very entertaining. But then in the middle of the concert, he sat down and played some solo piano pieces, and I remember wanting to jump out of my skin. This music was so alive. He was banging on the piano in a way that I was taught never to do. But it sounded so good.”
Helen went on the receive her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Music in Classical Piano Performance from the University of Texas. She also toook every jazz class that the University offered the result was a kinda’ double major. In spite of her parents pushing her towards a doctorate in classical music Helen requested information from the New England Conservatory’s new Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. She was accepted and went on to graduate and along the way she was taught by the likes of Clark Terry, Jackie McLean, Jimmy Heath, and John Faddis and toured Thailand and India with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.
Since here graduation and her eventual move to New York in 1999, Helen has released five albums as a leader! But her work does not stop there she has also played with fellow artists Clark Terry, T.S. Monk, Steve Turre, Regina Carter, Lonnie Plaxico and Terri Lyne Carrington!
“This album is my way of saying, ‘This is me, take it or leave it,’ instead of something more tentative like, ‘Okay, I’m still working on it,” she says. “Not that I won’t always keep growing and developing, but I’m grateful to be in a place where I’m more comfortable with who I am. I can’t believe how rare that feeling is as an artist.” Helen’s full website biography
In addition to Sung’s piano there’s a great group of musicians surrounding her including:Fender Rhodes; Seamus Blake: tenor and soprano saxophones; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet; Reuben Rogers: bass; Obed Calvaire: drums; Samuel Torres: percussion; John Ellis: bass clarinet; Regina Carter: violin; Paquito D’Rivera: clarinet.
You can read a great review of the album here at All About Jazz! Helen’s piano playing is great as are her composing skills, and her arranging of the works of others!! The album is a really good listen – so check it out!!!
I couldn’t find anything from Anthem for a New Day on Youtube so here is Mosaic Triad – featuring Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding, Ingrid Jensen, Helen Sung Tineke Postma. Which is pretty damn fine!!