Korean jazz singer Youn Sun Nah to visit Puget Sound

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Nah returned to Paris earlier in 2013 for a performance at the Théâtre du Châtelet. (Photo by Chris Jung)

Great jazz singers aren’t supposed to break out kazoos mid-song. Then again, they aren’t supposed to cover songs such as Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full Of Bourbon,” or Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” either. However, South Korea-born singer Youn Sun Nah, who plays the Kirkland Performing Arts center on June 24 to promote her new album “Lento,” seems happy with defying expectations. The daughter of two musicians, she never even intended to be a musician.

“I never thought I would be a musician,” she said in an interview with the Northwest Asian Weekly. “But my home environment gave me lots of musical exposures. Also I went to various music concerts and performances. From my parents I could learn what the musicians’ life is. I admire my father very much. Even though he is over 70 years old, he never stops studying and learning. He is my best inspiration and motivation…”

However, after her debut with the Korean Symphony Orchestra at the age of 23, she decided to pursue her dream and traveled to Paris to enroll in one of Europe’s oldest jazz schools, the CIM Jazz School.

“The environment is very dynamic. I knew a bit of French before coming to Paris,” she said. “But once there I realized it was worth nothing because I had never practiced. I had to start again from scratch.”

“Something important that I have really experienced in Paris,” she continued, “is to keep an open mind, toward others, ideas, music. It has helped me a lot and keeps on helping me in my work and my life.”

After schooling however, she decided to return home.

“Even though I liked Paris a lot and the life there I could never move there,” she said. “My ties, especially family, are in Korea and they are essential for me.”

Asked what guides her choice of songs (which also include both original compositions and Korean pieces), the singer opines that “I do have a preference for ballads from jazz standards. For the other standards I like the tracks that bring out energy. There are many standards that I would like to interpret but the ones who determine my choices are based on the ideas of arrangements.”

“Standards are a landmark, they are always there with me, they constantly resonate in my mind. They are very important to find your path in music and they are a key to express your emotion,” she added.

“There are many languages in which I like to sing,” she said. “Korean, French, Portuguese and English of course. Each give me different feelings, I often feel I’m changing instruments when I change languages. But English is the one I prefer, because it adapts so well to the music.

It’s also the language of the jazz standards so the one I have practiced the most during my studies. It’s the musical-mother tongue of all jazz musicians. I feel more at ease to modulate my voice when I sing in English, to use it as an instrument. I think I would have to work a lot on other languages to reach the same results.”

Collaboration being one of the most important aspects of jazz, the chemistry with her band members is “obvious with [guitarist] Ulf Wakenius in the duet that we form. But it’s also the case with the accordionist Vincent Peirani with whom we play in quartet. They know how to use this spectrum of possibilities that their instruments offer. For the sound as well, they like to work on the sound, especially Vincent Peirani who works out to make his accordion sounds like an organ, synthesizer etc.”

“There is also the double bass player, Simon Tailleu, who plays with us in quartet. He’s the youngest of the group and he probably has the most difficult role. He brings some fresh air and balance to the band.”

Asked about future projects, she said, “I have a lot of ideas that cross my mind, but I like to dedicate myself fully to the present. What is important to me is to dig further on what I have started to create with the duo and the quartet. I want to keep on working with these musicians because we still have a lot to do together.” (end)

Young Sun Nah plays with her band on Monday, June 24th, at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center. For more information, visit http://www.kpcenter.org/performances/a-jazz-evening-with-youn-sun-nah or www.younsunnah.com.

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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