Helen Sung On JazzSet Talent, dedication, a skill at adapting classical dances to jazz formats — these are some of Sung's musical and personal qualities that make her one to watch and listen to.

Helen Sung performs at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center. Margot Schulman/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center hide caption

toggle caption
Margot Schulman/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

Helen Sung performs at the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center.

Margot Schulman/Courtesy of the Kennedy Center

JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater

Helen Sung On JazzSet WBGO

Helen Sung On JazzSet

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/228834391/228813457" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

This episode of JazzSet was recorded at the 18th edition of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Dee Dee Bridgewater is the emcee, while WBGO's Rhonda Hamilton serves as our co-host.

At the piano, Helen Sung hails from Houston, Texas, and she's currently based in New York City. She's been making waves as an expressive performer and composer with five albums to her credit. Sung went to college in Austin, where hearing a Tommy Flanagan solo drew her from classical piano to jazz. To this day, she recommends that young people study classical music, even if jazz is their goal.

Sung started out with dreams of becoming a concert pianist — "and I am so grateful this music made room for me," she says from the stage after playing a song she wrote for Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale, brewed at North Coast in California. Sung is a graduate of the Thelonious Monk Institute graduate program, and a former winner of the Mary Lou Williams Piano Competition at the Kennedy Center.

A few years ago, Sung performed with the Mingus Big Band for thousands of people in Taiwan, where her parents grew up. It was a huge night for her: Helen Sung's NuGenerations project was named a Rhythm Road Jazz Ambassador, touring Africa for the U.S. State Department.

Talent, dedication, a skill at adapting classical dances to jazz formats, great solos, her ability to listen and lock in with her rhythm sections and to lead her band with her smiles — these are some of Sung's musical and personal qualities that reward further exploration.

Anthem for a New Day comes out in January on Concord. Her previous albums are on Sunnyside.

Trumpeter Brandon Lee also comes from "H-Town" (see last song title). Saxophonist Seamus Blake grew up in Vancouver and won the 2002 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition. Bassist Ben Wolfe comes from Baltimore and Portland, Ore., while drummer Donald Edwards is from Louisiana and New Orleans.

Set List

  • "It Don't Mean A Thing" (Ellington, arr. Sung)
  • "Brother Thelonious" (Sung)
  • "Armando's Rumba" (Corea, arr. Sung)
  • "Shall We Tango" (from the Albeniz Tango, arr. Sung)
  • "Anthem for a New Day" (Sung)
  • "Never Let Me Go" (Evans & Livingston, arr. Sung)
  • "H-Town" (Sung)
[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz

Courtesy of the artist.

Holly Hofmann On Piano Jazz

Hear the classically trained flutist bring her bluesy style to this 2002 episode, featuring a performance with Marian McPartland.

Holly Hofmann On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/556075820/556075849" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Robert Birnbach/2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

Cyrille Aimée and Daymé Arocena Perform At 2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

The vocalists brought '30s gypsy swing and modern Afro-Cuban influences to their 2017 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest performances.

Cyrille Aimée And Daymé Arocena Make Jazz Their Own

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/553485977/553488458" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Ernie Andrews Courtesy of HighNote Records hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of HighNote Records

Ernie Andrews On Piano Jazz

Hear the vocalist bring his own special mix of energy, drama and humor to this 1998 episode with host Marian McPartland.

Ernie Andrews On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/549414757/549414978" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Patrice Rushen Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Patrice Rushen On Piano Jazz

Hear the songwriter and master keyboardist perform with host Marian McPartland on this 1987 episode.

Patrice Rushen On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/545865051/545871170" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Dennis Manuel/Courtesy of the artist

Aww Yeah, Summertime — With The Robert Glasper Experiment

This special summer festival episode features a clever synthesis of hip-hop, R&B and soul, recorded live across two music festivals in New York City.

Aww Yeah, Summertime — With The Robert Glasper Experiment

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/542780066/542781768" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Bill Charlap and his mother, Sandy Stewart. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Sandy Stewart And Bill Charlap On Piano Jazz

Hear the cabaret singer and her pianist son bring a rare combination of swing and sophistication to a session with host Marian McPartland.

Sandy Stewart And Bill Charlap On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/535960111/535960769" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Marian McPartland and Eddie Gomez in 1993. R.J. Capak/Piano Jazz Archives hide caption

toggle caption R.J. Capak/Piano Jazz Archives

Eddie Gomez On Piano Jazz

The Grammy-winning bassist's sense of swing shines through on this session with Marian McPartland, who joins in on "My Foolish Heart" and "All Of You."

Eddie Gomez On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/533993916/533995152" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top