“What’s striking…is an openness of vision, paired with a looseness of execution. Ms. Sung sounds both relaxed and searching, and she imparts the same qualities to her crew.” –The New York Times
Pianist/Composer Helen Sung is set to premiere her latest project Sung With Words as the recipient of a 2014 Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Foundation “New Jazz Works” grant. She will debut the project live December 17, 2015, at New York City’s renowned Jazz Gallery and also at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston on December 18. The project is a collaborative effort with the celebrated poet Dana Gioia featuring a jazz song cycle using Gioia’s poems as lyrics. Gioia, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, will attend and participate in both performances.
Enlisting Sung’s long time collaborators multi-reedist John Ellis, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Donald Edwards, percussionist Samuel Torres, along with guest vocalists Carmen Lundy and Carolyn Leonhart, Sung With Words takes its listeners on a journey with this all-star ensemble using jazz and poetry as powerful catalysts to create inspired music. When asked about her vision to create Sung With Words, she replied:
“I have a certain envy of vocalists with their special link to the listener via words, and poetry usually intimidated me because I could never feel sure of meaning. Dana helped me get past this by his belief that poetry is musical, best read out loud, and that meaning would come through the sound and rhythm of the words. So I thought, why don’t I try to write songs with words?”
Sung and Gioia first met at a 2007 White House State Dinner where she was taping for one of PBS’ Live in Performance at the White House concerts. A friendship ensued, and after exchanging work and ideas through the years, Gioia immediately came to mind when Sung applied for the Chamber Music America grant. Here was an opportunity to compose new work: songs - with words that she could help craft. For example, one of the songs uses a poem by Gioia built on a phrase Sung spoke in passing conversation. The rhythm of the words stuck with her and she brought the phrase to Gioia.
Presently based in New York City, Sung is a graduate of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance and winner of the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Piano Competition. She has worked with such jazz luminaries as the late Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, MacArthur Fellow Regina Carter, and Grammy-winning Terri Lyne Carrington. In 2014, Sung released her 6th recording as leader, her major label debut Anthem For A New Day on Concord Records, which topped radio charts and reached #25 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. Additionally, Sung’s star continues to rise through regular touring on both the national and international stage, composition commissions, and unique collaborations like Sung With Words. Inspired by her experience at the Monk Institute, Sung also stays involved in music education through residences and workshops/clinics, and in 2015 joined the jazz faculties at Columbia University and the Juilliard School.
Chamber Music America is a national service organization serving individual musicians, ensembles, presenters, artist managers, composers, educators and others in the national chamber music community. As a recipient of a New Jazz Works grant (funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation), Sung participates in the organization’s goal to support the development of new works by U.S.-based jazz artists and help ensure that their compositions are heard through live performances and recordings.