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May 21, 2024 / 08:34

US-based pianist Lisa Sung: Delighted at lifestyle of Hanoi

The pianist said she would be back for more Vietnamese cultural exploration after a successful tour in Nha Trang and Hanoi.

Jazz musician Lisa Sung, a Korean-American, has just completed a fruitful tour that included stops in Nha Trang and Hanoi where audiences were amazed to hear familiar lullabies as she began to play them on her piano. 

In this way, she indulges in jazz - a genre of music that has become more popular and catchy than ever.

She talks to The Hanoi Times about the inspiration behind her approach to Vietnamese music.

Music is a global language

 Pianist Lisa Sung performs at the first International Jazz Festival in Nha Trang. Photo: Baokhanhhoa.vn

What brought you to the First International Jazz Festival in Nha Trang in early May?

I won the 2022 John Stites Jazz Award with sponsorship to perform in three countries with my band – the Lisa Sung Quartet.

I chose South Korea - where I was born, Indonesia, and Vietnam. This is my first time coming to Vietnam and coincidentally, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is organizing the first International Jazz Festival. I was connected to perform as part of this program.

I am pursuing a personal project of collaborating with local musicians and researching folk music including lullabies. My band and I will interpret children's music from different countries in the language of jazz.

Indonesia and Vietnam were both once colonial countries, as was South Korea. So we have a lot of historical and cultural similarities.

My dissertation focuses on Asian music and East-West musical interactions. So this trip and my experiences in Vietnam will be the material for my research.

What was your experience performing in Vietnam?

Everything is perfect for me. Not only did I get to perform at the largest jazz festival in the country, but I got to be on stage and interact with the audience. I shared with them that I have six children and that has greatly influenced my music. Children's music, nursery rhymes, and lullabies are very close and dear to me and I'm sure it is the same for everyone.

Vietnam makes me feel like I'm returning to my homeland, even though before that, I didn't know anyone here. Everyone welcomed me warmly. I have seen the beauty of Nha Trang Beach, Ha Long Bay, and Hoan Kiem Lake. I will return to Vietnam and travel to Ninh Binh.

What is your impression of Hanoi?

I tasted pho (beef noodle soup), xoi com (green sticky rice), and Hanoi egg coffee. That was so amazing.

In addition to the show in Nha Trang, I had two more shows at Binh Minh Jazz Club and Long Waits Jazz Club in Hanoi.  These are jazz clubs similar in size to the places I played before in Jakarta and Bali.

The local audience welcomed me warmly. When the melodies of children's songs were played, they sang along enthusiastically.

I had the opportunity to perform with Hanoi-based saxophonist Bao Long. He helped me access some Vietnamese lullabies and nursery rhymes like This afternoon I'm going fishing and Look at the elephant. We tried to interpret the melodies of these songs using jazz. It was an interesting experience.

Jazz is considered to be a genre of music that is quite selective. What do you think about the jazz audience in Vietnam?

I think jazz in particular, and music in general is a global language that brings the community together as friends.

Even though we have a language barrier, we can still understand each other through jazz. We and Vietnamese artists can still communicate and make music together. I also recorded two songs in Vietnam and will release them on my digital music platform soon.

 Lisa Sung at the Long Waits Jazz Club in Hanoi. Photo: Ngo Minh/The Hanoi Times

Endless source of inspiration

Do you ever get tired of your music or get stuck in a rut?

Being an artist can be lonely. When I need a little inspiration, I read books.

Books like Playing Jazz in Socialist Vietnam – Quyen Van Minh and Jazz in Hanoi by Vietnamese saxophonist Quyen Van Minh and writer Stan BH Tan-TangBau are very meaningful to me. I have admired artist Quyen Van Minh for a long time, since before I came to Vietnam. Many jazz artists in America also know him.

I understood the journey of how jazz was born in Vietnam and learned more about Quyen Van Minh, a respected artist who contributed to the development of jazz in Hanoi and Vietnam. I was very honored to have the opportunity to perform at his jazz club in Hanoi.

I always feel grateful to be able to play jazz, so I never feel depressed or stuck. 

Besides performing, I also teach at the university. The students themselves are also a source of inspiration for me. 

In America, people call me Mama Lisa, not only because I have 6 children, but also because I often cook for students. I really like to cook. I learn the recipe online or from my own students. Vietnamese students taught me how to make traditional fried spring rolls.

I think everyone has to find a way to balance in life. My life doesn't revolve around music. I also have my family, my students, and my audience. They are a never-ending source of inspiration for me.

Thanks for your time.