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

Ingrid Hertfelder/Courtesy of the artist

Michel Camilo On Piano Jazz

Hear Grammy-winning pianist, composer and bandleader Michel Camilo demonstrate his whirlwind approach to music, technical brilliance and post-bop Latin rhythms.

Michel Camilo On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/647914078/647930411" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Soprano Eileen Farrell Erich Auerbach/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

Eileen Farrell On Piano Jazz

On this episode of Piano Jazz from 1993, she shares her tremendous vocal range on "How High the Moon" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning."

Eileen Farrell On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/645639983/645646714" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Peter Symes/Redferns

Gene Harris On Piano Jazz

On this 1988 Piano Jazz episode, Harris opens with a slow and easy "Black and Blue," then McPartland joins him on "Bag's Groove."

Gene Harris On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/643301657/643308374" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Stefon Harris Elizabeth Leitzell/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Elizabeth Leitzell/Courtesy of the artist

Stefon Harris On Piano Jazz

Vibraphonist Stefon Harris is one of the most innovative and impressive artists in jazz, blazing new trails on vibraphone and marimba.

Stefon Harris On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/639381859/639391660" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Jess Stacy is featured on this week's episode of Piano Jazz William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress hide caption

toggle caption William P. Gottlieb/Ira and Leonore S. Gershwin Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

Jess Stacy On Piano Jazz

As one of the leading pianists of the swing era, Stacy was best known for his work with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and had a prolific career before stepping back from the music world in the 1950's.

Jess Stacy On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/637110919/637149734" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Tony Bennett On Piano Jazz

The iconic vocalist makes an appearance on 'Piano Jazz' and shares his inspirations.

Tony Bennett On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/632750594/632767944" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top