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

Barbara Cook performs at the 2014 New York Festival of Song at Carnegie Hall on April 28, 2014 in New York City. Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images

Barbara Cook On Piano Jazz

This week's Piano Jazz from 1998 remembers lyric soprano Barbara Cook, a Broadway star, staple of the New York cabaret scene and favorite of audiences around the world.

Barbara Cook On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/614380119/614428595" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

American jazz trumpeter Harry 'Sweets' Edison performs in 1991. David Redfern/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption David Redfern/Getty Images

Harry 'Sweets' Edison On Piano Jazz

On this episode of Piano Jazz from 1999, broadcast just months before Edison died, the legendary jazz trumpeter joins Marian McPartland for a few classics and an original.

Harry 'Sweets' Edison On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/612283249/612285662" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
George Kopp/Courtesy of the artist

Virginia Mayhew On Piano Jazz

Saxophonist, composer and bandleader Virginia Mayhew joins forces with Marian McPartland to perform "All the Things You Are" and "Body and Soul" on this 1998 episode of Piano Jazz.

Virginia Mayhew On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/610083723/610086310" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Joanne Brackeen and Jason Moran at NPR's Studio One in Washington, D.C. Eric Lee/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eric Lee/NPR

Jazz Giants Take The Stage At The NEA Jazz Masters Listening Party

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Jason Moran sat down with the NEA Jazz Masters to talk about their careers and listen to music that played important roles in their lives.

Jazz Giants Take The Stage At The NEA Jazz Masters Listening Party

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/608093895/608239849" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

This 1988 episode of Piano Jazz features Brazilian pianist, composer, and vocalist Eliane Elias. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Eliane Elias On Piano Jazz

Brazilian pianist, composer, and vocalist Eliane Elias is a renowned artist in her home country and in the American jazz scene. Hear her first Piano Jazz performance from 1988.

Eliane Elias On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/607421826/607450646" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Willie Pickens On Piano Jazz

Chicago jazz mainstay Willie Pickens died this past December at age 86. Revisit his performance with McPartland in this 1997 episode of Piano Jazz.

Willie Pickens On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/604342537/604343909" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Cleo Brown on the cover of Here Comes Cleo. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Cleo Brown On Piano Jazz

Cleo Brown makes a rare appearance to perform her greatest hit, "Pinetop's Boogie-Woogie," and to recall the style's heyday in the 1930s.

Cleo Brown On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/602133644/602133663" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

The 2018 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Dianne Reeves, Pat Metheny, Joanne Brackeen and Todd Barkan are recipients of the 2018 Jazz Masters award — the highest honor the U.S. gives to a jazz musician or advocate.

Gus Bennett, Jr./Courtesy of the artist

Nicholas Payton On Piano Jazz

The trumpet prodigy learned how to improv from fellow New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis. Payton was only in his 20s when he visited with McPartland for this 1998 episode.

Nicholas Payton On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/598825823/600192516" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top