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Helen Sung(Profile/Biography)

United States
Winner of the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Piano Competition, pianist & composer Helen Sung has been called “one of the brightest emerging stars in jazz today.” A captivating performer with a singular sound and style, she is pioneering her own path as a uniquely placed artist.

A native of Houston, Texas, Sung attended its High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA). She initially aspired to be a classical pianist but was bitten by the jazz bug (specifically by Tommy Flanagan’s solo on Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”) while studying Piano Performance at the University of Texas at Austin. She began taking jazz classes, and was soon after accepted into the inaugural class of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

An intensive program accepting only seven students (forming a jazz septet), the Institute was an unprecedented opportunity to study and perform with some of the greatest masters of jazz music: Clark Terry, Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Jackie McLean, Bobby Watson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, James Moody, Ron Carter (artistic director of the program), Barry Harris, David Baker, Slide Hampton, Lewis Nash, Jon Faddis, Curtis Fuller, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Bennie Maupin, and Sir Roland Hanna. They performed at the Kennedy Center, and toured India and Thailand with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Personal highlights of Sung’s time in Boston include presenting a jazz workshop with the late, acclaimed bassist Ray Brown, performing at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, and teaching a group piano class for low-income elderly adults sponsored by New England Conservatory’s Continuing Education Program & the YMCA.

Sung is now based in New York City and has gone on to work with Clark Terry, Slide Hampton, Ron Carter, Jon Faddis, Wayne Shorter, Steve Turre, Steve Wilson, T.S.Monk, Terri Lyne Carrington, and MacArthur Fellow Regina Carter. She frequently appears with the Mingus Big Band and is a member of the latest Clark Terry Big “Badd” Band. She was also a featured performer on PBS’ “In Performance at the White House” honoring the Monk Institute’s 20th Anniversary.

Sung is a noted bandleader with severally critically acclaimed albums including a 2011 debut CD on Steeplechase: (re)Conception; her 2nd CD on Sunnyside Records: Going Express (2010); her Sunnyside debut Sungbird After Albeniz, a jazz-classical adventure, was hailed a “a real winner” (All About Jazz), a “seamless recording in which one composer’s contributions complement the other’s” (BillBoard). Helenistique (Fresh Sound) was praised as “one of the year’s most exciting listens” (JazzTimes).

Sung has been featured on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, NPR’s JazzSet, and in such publications as Downbeat, JazzTimes, Keyboard, and JazzIz. With recent appearances at the Aspen Institute Ideas Festival, Seattle’s Earshot Festival; Fontana Chamber Arts Summer Festival; the Kennedy Center’s Mary Lou Williams Festival; the Clifford Brown Festival; and special duo concerts with master bassist Ron Carter, she is also poised for the international stage – Sung’s NuGenerations project toured southern Africa as a 2009 US State Department-Rhythm Road ensemble, and her trio was featured at the Kalisz International Jazz Piano Festival and Jazz Lucca Donna Festival.

Her experience at the Monk Institute inspires her to stay involved with music education through working with arts organizations and conducting workshops & clinics. Sung was also a recipient of a Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Foundation Grant, enabling her to produce a jazz residency program for underserved youth. As a composer, Sung has completed commissions for the West Chester University Poetry Conference and arts organization JazzReach, and she was selected as a 2010 NYC Spaces/Con Edison Composer-in-Residence at Flushing Town Hall. In performance, Sung welcomes “listeners into her world: a place of passion, adventure and drama, and truckloads of rhythm…taking audiences for a ride they won’t soon forget.” (Kalamazoo Gazette)
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