Helen Sung anthem for a new day

Or Introducing Thelonious Helen Yu-Nguyen Fajardo

Helen Sung anthem for a new day, is a cd released in February on Concord, her major label debut, her sixth cd as a leader. She came thru the 650 in February, to Pete Douglas’ Beach House, and will be back in the Bay Area in October.

She describes being at a new beginning, a new chapter in her musical journey. That an anthem is a rallying cry, as she merges her classical training for most of her youth with the fact that jazz “found me”. “Play who you are” the masters say. (I think that’s an indirect quote of a famous Monk statement, that I quoted from Hentoff as TK, and that Ethan Iverson and Cedar Walton were referencing as “play your shit”).

Here is a video from a couple years back of Helen Sung with bassist Ron Carter. The gig was aided by Loren Schoenberg of the Harlem Jazz Museum. part of Jazz in the Himalayas campaign:

“In Walked Bud” a Monk tune. Helen Sung is also sponsored by the North Coast brewery that produces Thelonious Monk beer — to research this post I went to Whole Foods and bought a bottle. Terry, my girlfriend Terry Acebo Davis, did a series of residencies in Belgium, to print monotypes: I wonder if Helen Sung would benefit from a similar experience, emersion in a foreign culture — why not Belgium? — although that is a funny tangent from Monk to Belgian Ale to Belgium per se. Maybe an emersion in the North Coast, as distinct from Houston or New York or touring would also be a refreshing pause at some point in her journey.  Or Montalvo or (that place in Woodside, funded by the guy who for Syntex developed the birth control pill, Djerassi), two local artist colonies — might be useful tactics in her continued evolution. I know that Wayne Horvitz, for example, made good use of his time at Montalvo (in Saratoga, founded by the former governor of California, Phelan), writing his through-composed “Joe Hill..” piece. As did my friend Beth Custer.

How would she sound playing the same piece today?

How would she sound playing the same piece, or something else, with Ron Carter today, or someone like him, heavy?

Has she recorded “In Walked Bud”? I mean in a studio and on one of her six releases?

Here’s an idea: Loren Schoenfeld I would presume is still in her camp — and he has some pull here at Stanford (although I write this from Menlo Park, “Menalto”, Zoe Cafe, about three miles from campus per se) based on a series of lectures he has done at Stanford, mostly about Mingus, and mostly due to the influence of Jenny Bilfield when she was director of Stanford Lively Arts: what if Stanford found a fund to get Helen Sung for a series of site-specific performances in alternative spaces here in October, maybe in conjunction with the opening of the Windhover Contemplative Space (built to display the giant “Windhover” paintings by Nathan Oliveira)? Could she bring something small and quiet, not a piano but maybe a thumb piano or a toy piano into the space, to perform for a relatively small audience or to make a document, a film, to be shown later? What if she also did something similar in one of the two echo chambers of “Sequence” by Richard Serra, installed behind Cantor Art Museum? Or she could perform a “smule” device developed by Stanford’s Ge Wang, a piano ap for “smart phone” device. Or just load a piano or keyboard into one of those spaces. But I mean below the radar of Bing or SLA per se, at this late date, while she is booking a tour into more normal places like Yoshi’s or SF Jazz. (And I ran into the bookstore of the museum and bought and then gifted Loren a copy of Peter Selz’s book about Oliveira, about the relationship between those innovative painters and their love of jazz; Oliveira and Getz, for instance. Maybe Connie Wolf of the Museum could take the lead here, in getting a Helen Sung play at Stanford on a short lead time, or reactive to art and architecture here?)


This is a fun self-promotional video, comprised on still photos, edited to match the bounce of the performance. It took me three tries to get that there are about 100 shots, of which about 60 feature images of Helen — and that’s not being self-centered or vain or anything considering that a career in the arts includes managing one’s image and is at least about marketing as much as chops, even in jazz and classical. The video also showcases Helen Sung’s considerably good photography and eye for detail and sense of humor. She likes cats, is a Virgo, has traveled to cool places, for fun and work, likes food, and more. There are archival family photos of her at piano, but also trying violin. She poses with a lot of jazz masters (few of whom I can pick out just by their face, although I bet  I could I could match 80 percent of them their name to their instrument). It’s a fairly revealing video, and effective, if she is trying to reach out, using the media, to fans and potential collaborators — she might have used something like this to find a label or record deal. If you are super-curious, like a cat, you could freeze on frames showing her bookcase and cd stacks. (ok, youtube was messing with me and linked to the wrong video three times, but the remedy, and as Paracelsus says, the difference between a potion and a poison is the dose, gave me opportunity to note, cd’s — Hank Jones, “Tiptoe Tapdance”, Cedar Walton “Sweet Basil Trio”, Danilo Perez “Panamonk”, plus Curtis Mayfield “Superfly”, Bob Marley “Hot…”, Stevie Wonder “In Square Circle” — books — Richard Hofstadter, ” Godel Escher Bach”, Willa Cathers, four titles (!!!!), J.R.R. Tolkien, “Lord of the Rings” in pocket book editions, plus “Hobbit” and “The Silmarillion”, Eric Schlosser “Fast Food Nation” and H.G. Welles “War of the Worlds” — and these things always make me wonder about musical projects derivative of or transformative of a work of literature.

I could finish this off my transcribing the notes in my spiral booklet, with the hope of someday fleshing it out, but I also want to check out something about Sid Caesar and piano that is on Helen Sung’s Facebook –an oddity of me finally having a computer, as opposed to commandeering Terry’s laptop or using the public library is even after three months and TK posts — I keep writing TX for TK — is that I have yet to memorize my Apple codes or download any music and Youtube per se says I lack an Adobe install although if I cut and paste a video’s URL to wordpress here — and make this public — I can view. Weird meta-issue.

That my blog is public but relatively obscure it is like I am writing in a notebook and people can, for whatever reason, peep over my shoulder to hear my thinking out loud as it were. After three years and 600 plus posts, blogging for me is not like, for instance, being the summer reporter for the Worcester Telegram were I knew that 50,000 would see my mistakes.

And still not sure the distinction between actually doing things (as I did, say, between 1994 and 2001) and merely writing about them (as I do in recent years). I’d love it if my ideas prove useful to Helen Sung — if she or her team ever sees this — or prophetic, like if she does a piece based on her love of Tolkien — maybe she already has — but for now I would say “Plastic Alto” is a hypothetical world of ideas that most likely will not intersect with the common time-space agreed continuum. Which I guess is another difference between me and James Franco: the granddaughters of famous filmmakers and producers are not lining up to exploit my musings.

God bless Juliet Lee and her family; I’m not actually religious but my higher power and I have an arrangement in which I can vamp my way thru a pose of Faith. I’m suggesting Helen Fajardo for a girl and Thelonious Fajardo for a boy, or actually Thelonious Helen Yu-Nguyen (pronounced “YOU WIN!!!) Fajardo in all cases. Mazel tov. File under: chilombican.

edit to add, exactly six minutes later:

I actually had a hard time sitting thru six minutes of this, while my mind was wanting to wander to Christian Marclay music film at Stanford and or Marx Brother — Zeppo? — playing piano, which I saw at Stanford Theatre — off campus — recently with Steve and Eric Cohen (whose father is in “Godel Escher Bach”, for his work on the continuum hypothesis and I sometimes wonder if a musician, like a Helen Sung, could write something that is a reaction to the work of Paul J. Cohen, which reminds me of hearing tell of the Motema tribute to her father at Stanford, I wrote about earlier).

And to the extent that anyone sees this in this form, who could possible interpret the following mere list: Marian McPartland, Mary Lou Williams (March 5, Harlem), Connie Crothers, Jessica Williams, Uri Caine, Don Byron, Wayne Horvitz, Fred Ho, Ai Wei Wei, Dionysus, Patricia Barber, Jen Shyu, Joyce Yu-Jean Lee, Trisha Brown, Dave Douglass, Gerhard Richter, Bill Frisell, Monk and or Mingus, Mathew Pierce “Pecos Bill”, Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Texas Swing, Bob Willis, Rick Koster, Marcia Ball, Dave Douglass “Witness”, Taylor Eigsti,

新年快樂! ok, well my notebook actually says “chinese characters feb 1” but it would take me awhile to learn to actually write


but I’d like to try, and can edit to add,

Jenny Scheinman, Ethan Iverson, Darcy James Argue, Ingrid Jensen, Marcia Schneider, W.Royal Stokes (“conversations”), Nat Hentoff, Herb Wong, Anton Schwartz, Donny McCaslin, Cedar Walton “an important bebop accompanist”, Nels Cline on TX ANDREW HILL, Vijay Iyer, I wrote in “Edvard Grieg” next to where I had Sid Caesar but neither belong here, like “Jazz Standard”, or “WNYC” Sound Check, nor “Blue Whale Joon Lee – LA”, Orochon Ramen Hall of Fame, my former clients Stew, JAE, Walrath and HB, Ron Carter, Guo Gan erhu, April, Women’s Jazz Festival in Palm Springs, kudos, Ron Miles while in Denver, Red Garland, Bret Primak, APAP Showcase (a long list of relatively unknown performers), Matt Merewitz (who I’ve never met but I recall taking a bus from Center City Philadelphia to Don Lucoff’s office and then stopping at local library on way back and buying from their discard section books on Lionel Hampton and Richard Hart; I’ve known Andres Fajardo, who is Helen Sung’s cousin-in-law, for 38 years but wonder if I would still be even this deep into his circle if we both didn’t overlap in Philadelphia in 2004/2005 and he called out to me as I drove up Arch Street and he spied me?!

The only other things on my list are: she kinda reminds me of Vienna Teng (Cynthia Shih) if that is not too superficial; I wonder what, from the Ted Gioia book, which I might have to go buy RIGHT NOW, from nearby Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, even on my bicycle, are the preferred versions of “In Walked Bud”; I think I wrote “Mitzi’ no “Mimi  web design” and “Dan Nimmer” who plays piano with LCJO.

And that’s my anthem for this a.m., a place to start my afternoon, a journey, putting one foot, or one wheel in front of the other.

I will be at Kepler’s before you finish this:

edit to add, a year and six months later: not sure why this suddenly spiked, but thanks for reading (or skimming: don’t kid myself)
andand, five minutes after that: in terms of gigs that hypothetically could exist at Stanford, it’s now true that the Estate of Paul J. Cohen donated the family piano to the four floor of the math department and we did have, via another Steve Cohen, having Vijay Iyer penciled in to break it in but that fell through and maybe Helen Sung can play there someday, especially since as of yesterday I think of Connie Wolf the museum director as a lapsed-math-major. Dig?


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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