Written by David Lyon from National Public Radio
Pianist Helen Sung appeared on Piano Jazz on the heels of her second release, Helenistique. Critics loved the energy, the intelligence and, as pianist Benny Green put it, “the life-affirming joy” that emanated from Sung’s playing on that album. Marian McPartland, too, was seduced by Sung’s “dazzling and passionate” approach. That positive energy was evident from the get-go, as Sung opened this installment of Piano Jazz with her tune, “Hope Springs Eternally.”
The passion and verve reflected in Sung’s music obviously spring from a part of her character. They were surely a big factor in helping her make the transition from a classical piano performance major at the University of Texas to one of the jazz world’s most promising young players. Sung describes being nearly set on a career as a college music professor and classical piano teacher until a friend “dragged” her to a Harry Connick Jr. concert. Connick’s piano solos, in particular, blew her away. She immediately began devouring as much jazz as she could, and grabbed every opportunity to play with UT’s jazz ensembles.
Sung finished her classical degree at UT and then jumped feet-first into jazz. She was accepted into the inaugural class at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance, then located at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she had the chance to study with Barry Harris, Sir Roland Hanna and Ron Carter, the Institute’s artistic director. As pianist for that class, Sung also had the opportunity to perform alongside Clark Terry, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath, James Moody and Wynton Marsalis.
Sung has clearly soaked up every bit of that unique jazz education. She shows off appreciation and affinity for the classics, playing “You’ve Changed” and “Sweet and Lovely.” McPartland joins in on “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and the two finish the hour with a swinging duo version of Duke Ellington‘s “Cotton Tail.”
Originally recorded Aug. 8, 2006.