JazzBluesNews.Space Interview with Connie Han: Jazz at its best has a little grit and darkness

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Connie Han: – Born in Los Angeles to Chinese professional musicians, music has been part of my life since birth. My mother, a classical piano instructor, provided me the technical facility and instrumental command I needed to tackle jazz as a complete art form. I was brought up around traditional Chinese folk and classical music, so when I listened to jazz for the first time, I was enamored by the culture and its unique creative process. Since I was very young, there’d always been something brewing inside of me that needed a creative outlet: spontaneous improvisation. Jazz was calling to me.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the piano? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the piano?

CH: – At 14-years-old, I was accepted into the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts as a double major in classical piano and voice. After proving my willingness to work hard to the jazz department faculty, I transitioned quickly into a full-time jazz piano major. My apprenticeship to LACHSA instructor Bill Wysaske was crucial to my “jazz IQ” development, as he was the guiding force in my transition from a beginner jazz student into a full-fledged jazz artist and professional musician. Working with him in my formative years helped me understand “the social equation” of playing with others and, most importantly, the absolute necessity of playing with great time and feel. As I did not have a formal “jazz piano” instructor, my rhythm-driven playing style (inspired by players like Kenny Kirkland) is heavily informed by my experience studying with a drummer. Asides from studying that side of the music, we also tackled learning diverse repertoire, interpretation of playing style, and composition/arranging through deconstructing concepts, pure problem-solving, and relentless practice.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

CH: – Practice, listen, and transcribe — those are the three words I live by to this day in my work ethic. A key part of my evolution was my desire to sound and swing like my heroes: Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Kirkland, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Hank Jones, Wynton Kelly. I constantly transcribed their solos and tried to incorporate their vocabulary into my own. It was important I balanced transcription with raw creative practicing as well, so I wasn’t constantly regurgitating “licks”, but I was also applying the larger abstract concept in my own voice. I consider myself an eternal student of this music, so I still live by these practices.

View the complete interview here.