When I last wrote about Jen Shyu—a singer and musician who is as remarkable for her diligence as for her talent—in The Wall Street Journal four years ago, here’s how I started the profile:
Lettered tiles crisscrossed the coffee table in singer Jen Shyu’s Bronx apartment, remnants of an unfinished game of Bananagrams—a sped-up, free-form variant of Scrabble. How fitting. A playful yet rigorous approach to language animates her stirring music. Sounding fierce at times, ruminative at others, displaying tonal precision and an intuitive rhythmic sense, Ms. Shyu is among New York’s most invigorating vocal presences. And perhaps the most enigmatic.
Part of the intrigue, especially through her highest-profile role, in alto saxophonist Steve Coleman’s Five Elements band, is the question of language. “People always ask what I’m singing,” she said. “The answer is a variety of languages, including ones from China, Taiwan and East Timor, which are points in my ancestry. When I’m improvising, I’m singing in all of them. Or none of them. I’m taking bits and pieces, making it sound like it could be a language.”
Ms. Shyu’s fluency in seven languages and several traditional musical styles is based on far-flung and deeply immersed study. (She leaves later this month for a year in Indonesia, her great-great-grandmother’s birthplace, on a Fulbright Scholarship to study sindhenan, the traditional singing of Javanese gamelan music.)
Having completed that and other research, Shyu has sythesized this knowledge into something utterly and beautifully new—“Sounds and Cries of the World,” her terrific new album. (You can find my Wall Street Journal review here.)
On this latest recording, Shyu sings original lyrics in five languages: English, Korean, Javanese, Indonesian and Tetum, the language of East Timor. She plays instruments that originated in four different countries. Despite these facts, and even the album’s title—“Sounds and Cries of the World” (Pi Recordings)—this is neither world music nor fusion of any sort. Continue reading “Jen Shyu Sings Her Story in Five Languages”
According to Stephen Perry, President and CEO, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the spillage of music onto streets from clubs (and presumably of music fans, too, and of “noise”) tops the list of reasons why more than 128,000 readers of Condé Nast Traveler ranked New Orleans No. 5 among “Best Big Cities in America.”
In an Oct. 23 press release, Perry was quoted as follows: “New Orleans offers an incomparable experience for visitors – it’s a place where jazz spills into the streets from music clubs, where internationally-renowned chefs bring their inspiration to the table and where history meets the modern-day, from our French and Spanish architecture to our customs. The vitality of New Orleans shines through our hospitality, and this recognition from such a respected and trusted brand reconfirms New Orleans’ position as an authentic, world-class destination.”
Why, then, did I get the following, only a few days earlier, concerning yet more tensions surrounding music venues in New Orleans? Continue reading “In New Orleans, "Jazz Spills Into The Streets From Music Clubs"—Isn't That A Good Thing?”
The National Endowment for the Arts has announced its selections for 2016 NEA Jazz Masters, the highest honor that our nation bestows on a jazz musician, which includes a cash award of $25,000 and an award ceremony and celebratory concert.
The NEA also announced a change in venue for its celebratory events, which had previously been staged at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. This year, As part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ 50th anniversary events, the annual NEA Jazz Masters celebration will take place in April 2016 in the nation’s capital, in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
A free concert honoring the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters will be presented at 8:00pm on Monday, April 4, 2016, at the Kennedy Center’s ConcertHall and also available in a live video stream at arts.gov, Kennedy-Center.org, and NPR.org/Music. In addition, as a way of expanding opportunities for the public to engage with the artists and their music, the celebration will include other activities April 2-5, such as moderated panel discussions and listening parties at NPR headquarters in Washington, DC, and educational opportunities for local DC students, which will feature some of the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters. More details on these events, including how to obtain tickets for the April 4 concert, will be announced in early 2016. (More information is available here.) The 2016 NEA Jazz Masters are: Continue reading “2016 NEA Jazz Masters Announced”
In late August, at midnight at Preservation Hall, a spot as steeped in musical history as any in New Orleans, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah gave his hometown crowd a preview of his new recording. Mr. Adjuah, who is 32 years old, grew up in the city’s Upper Ninth Ward. After six years in Harlem and a year in Los Angeles, he had moved back. “Stretch Music,” the name of Adjuah’s recently released album (and of his independent label, distributed by Ropeadope Records), signifies a clear and urgent music that the trumpeter doesn’t call “jazz” but that nevertheless leans on some of jazz’s most elemental influences and ends up nudging the form ahead. Here’s my review in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Continue reading “Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah Stretches Toward a Bold Leap”