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Jihee Heo
Jihee Heo

Today, we are thrilled to present an insightful interview with the exceptionally talented jazz pianist, Jihee Heo, hailing from Incheon, Korea. Her musical journey has been nothing short of remarkable, having graced acclaimed festivals and prestigious venues worldwide. She has mesmerized audiences at events like The Washington D.C. Jazz Festival, O+ Festival, Leverkusen Jazz Festival, The International African Arts Festival, The Jersey Shore Festival, Bergen Pac, Harlem Stage, Mezzrow, National Sawdust, Arthur’s Tavern, Jacques Pelzer, and many others.

Heo’s artistic expression reached new heights with her nonet album Passion, released in 2015. The album provided a dynamic platform for her to showcase her talent in a large ensemble format, featuring soaring compositions and bold arrangements infused with experimental music. Passion garnered critical acclaim from The New York City Jazz Record, MM Jazz Korea, and Grammy-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum.

In a remarkable milestone, on November 20th, 2020, Heo released her first trio album Are You Ready? in collaboration with drummer Rodney Green and bass player Marty Kenney, under OA2 Records. This album has received widespread recognition, making appearances in notable magazines such as Downbeat Magazine, All About Jazz, France Musique, MM Jazz Korea, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s monthly jazz album roundup, and the New York City Jazz Record, to name a few.

Heo’s dedication to her craft is evident in her academic achievements as well. She holds a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and a bachelor’s degree from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, which have undoubtedly contributed to shaping her exceptional musical journey.

With such an impressive background, we can’t wait to hear more about Jihee Heo’s recent ventures and her upcoming gig at Zinc on Tuesday, August 22. Her unique blend of influences and passion for cultural infusion in her compositions promises an unforgettable performance. Let’s dive into Jihee Heo’s world of music and discover the magic she brings to the stage!

Charles Carlini: Could you share a bit about your musical journey and how you found your passion for jazz?

Jihee Heo: I studied classical music until high school, and during that time, I also played with the local school rock band and at church. When I finally decided to pursue a career as a musician, I found myself torn between becoming a composer and a pianist. Someone suggested that playing jazz piano could allow me to do both, so I eagerly started jazz piano lessons, even though I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I’ll never forget the moment I learned the 2-5-1 voicing with a simple bebop line; it was like experiencing pure catharsis and being transported to a heavenly place. From that point on, I knew I had found something truly special. The first jazz album I ever listened to was We Get Requests by Oscar Peterson, and to this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite go-to albums to listen to.

CC: Your recent projects have been garnering attention and praise. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your latest works and the themes you explore through your music?

JH: The response to my album from around the world truly surprised me. It received numerous radio plays, interviews, and reviews. The driving force behind the album was my desire to play songs that resonated with me, regardless of genre or style. However, I couldn’t shake the uncertainty about whether I was ready to put my music out there.

Then, one day, I stumbled upon the book Art Spirit by Robert Henry, a renowned painter and teacher. In this book, he shared a powerful insight: “No man can be final, but he can record his progress.” Those words struck a chord with me and became the inspiration for my title song, Are You Ready? They served as the final confirmation I needed to embark on my journey of creating the album.

CC: As a jazz pianist from Korea, how do you infuse your cultural background into your compositions and performances? And how has it influenced your musical style?

JH: In Korea, there’s this concept called “Han” that’s challenging to translate into English. It’s a complex blend of deep sorrow, injustice, resentment, regret, and anger that seems to be internalized. Han arises from Korea’s long history of suffering, which includes invasions and oppression by foreign powers, like the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. Some even see it as something ingrained in the very essence of Koreans, permeating their society and influencing everything from pop culture to music, films, books, and TV shows.

Interestingly, I see parallels between Jazz history and Han in terms of their background histories. This realization made me believe that Han and Jazz could blend harmoniously, resulting in a unique sound in my music.

CC: Your upcoming show at Zinc is highly anticipated. What can the audience expect from your performance? Any surprises or special collaborations in store?

JH: I’m super excited about recording my 2nd trio album this September at Rudy Van Gelder Studio, and to prepare for it, I’ll be performing with the musicians who will be joining me for the Zinc Bar show. Joe Farnsworth, an absolute legend and one of the greatest drummers in the world, will be part of the trio. I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to connect with him and learn so much from his expertise. We’ve been playing together since last year, and his sophisticated playing has elevated my music to new heights.

Another talented musician joining the trio is Alexander Claffy, a highly sought-after bass player in this generation. I’ve always admired his skills and have been eager to play with him. Joe actually recommended him for my music, and about a month ago, I had the chance to see Alex perform with Kurt Rosenwinkel’s band at the Village Vanguard. It was a mind-blowing experience, and I just had to get his number. The chemistry between us is already starting to build, and I can’t wait for you to hear some of the repertoire we’ll be recording in September!

CC: With the constantly evolving music industry, how do you see jazz evolving in the coming years, and what role do you envision yourself playing in its future?

JH: I believe that people perceive jazz in their own unique ways, and that’s what makes it so wonderful. Everyone has their own role in music, and it’s essential to embrace individual interpretations.

As for me, my current focus is on preserving jazz tradition and authenticity in my music. I aspire to support people through my music and contribute to lifting each other up in this world we share.

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Thank you, Jihee Heo, for taking the time to speak with us today. We are incredibly excited to witness your performance at Zinc on Tuesday, August 22.

For our readers, make sure not to miss this fantastic show! Tickets are available here. You can find more information about Jihee and her music on her website: https://www.jiheeheomusic.com/

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