5 Minutes With Helen Sung

You were trained as a classical pianist before you discovered jazz. Can you share with us the experience when you first started to play as a jazz pianist?

My first experiences of playing Jazz were terrifying, thrilling, and incredibly humbling. It required skills I didn’t deal with in classical music: improvisation, a compositional approach, a totally different rhythmic feel. And yet looking back, these very things are what love most about Jazz.

How is jazz different from classical music?

At the most basic level, I think Jazz is about making music together “in the moment” with other musicians. Classical music, to me, is about recreating a composer’s intent, albeit in a personal, creative way. If playing classical chamber music, the group works based on understanding one’s well-defined role. In Jazz, I find I have to be much more open, vulnerable, quick to react and respond (that “listening & playing at the same time”) – because you are interacting and making music in real time, and though you have a general rote in a Jazz band (especially a small group), it is not as defined.

You have toured extensively all around the world. How do you divide your time between practising piano and performing?

It has been increasingly difficult to stay in a good practice groove because of the interruptions of going on the road etc. These days I basically try to practice as much as I can whenever I have some free time. I wish all I needed to balance were practicing and performing – the whole business side of things, including teaching present myriad demands on my time and energy!

You are in KL for a masterclass workshop and also a 2-day concert at NBT. How is that experience so far? And what can we expect from your upcoming show?

It’s going great! I’m very impressed with the musicians here and I think it’s wonderful there is a flourishing Jazz community at KL. I look forward to hearing more of these talented artists. Meeting and working with folks like Evelyn Hii and Michael Veerapen, who do so much for the music scene and the musicians, is very inspiring and I hope I can contribute something of substance and value during my stay.

In terms of the show, please join us! I’ll be collaborating with some KL artists; and also offer music that illustrates my personal journey in this amazing music called Jazz.


*this interview was pulled from NBT’s archives, and republished here

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