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.

Paste Magazine: 12 New Jazz Artists to Watch in 2019

Culture and entertainment media outlet Paste Magazine includes Connie Han as No. 2 in its “12 New Jazz Artists to Watch in 2019” article:

“As the jazz community bids farewell to some revered elders who passed away in 2018 (Cecil Taylor, Randy Weston, Nancy Wilson, Bob Dorough, Sonny Fortune, Hugh Masekela), some intriguing new faces are emerging on the scene, bringing fresh visions and expanding the boundaries of the music in the process. Here are a dozen to watch for in 2019…”

“The 22-year-old Los Angeles pianist combines astounding chops and rare maturity that belies her young age on her latest album, Crime Zone. Creating an edgy blend of modern and traditional jazz, Han is pushing the music forward with her own unique vision.”

Read the full article here.

Jazz with CJ Shearn: Extended review. A deeper look at Connie Han: Crime Zone (Mack Avenue, 2018)

"Pianist Connie Han helps revitalize something that jazz aficionados have been into for a while, but for a fresh generation she makes something new that has been defining the jazz language for several decades. If anything, she breathes new life into the Young Lions phenomenon that was jazz’s hallmark in the 80’s and 90’s. A bit of background: in 1976 Herbie Hancock played a career retrospective concert at the Newport Jazz Festival where he had played in contexts he hadn’t in years. At the time, Hancock was knee deep in his forays into funk and disco, and although he never abandoned the acoustic piano during that entire period, his forays into straight ahead jazz were not as plentiful. At this concert Hancock reunited with his band mates from the Miles Davis Quintet: saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Ron Carter, and Tony Williams on drums with Freddie Hubbard replacing the retired Davis on trumpet. The concert and the resultant album, the two LP V.S.O.P. (Columbia, 1976) lead the jazz media to make the bizarre declaration (with hindsight) that acoustic jazz had returned. Acoustic jazz had never died, it just became less popular amidst the countless jazz-rock and jazz-funk classics from artists like Hancock, Chick Corea, Return to Forever, Billy Cobham and Weather Report that were being churned out at a rapid pace. Labels such as ECM were recording cutting edge acoustic music, and labels such as Xanadu, Pablo and Concord catered to mainstream jazz lovers that cherished hard swinging music. Woody Shaw was recording some of his strongest music at Columbia, and Dexter Gordon experienced a mid career renaissance in the United States.

Han’s Mack Avenue debut Crime Zone featuring the astonishing Los Angeles born 22 year old pianist stylistically comes from the period described above, and the “young lions” era of jazz that defined the 80’s and 90’s. The Young Lions movement was a heavily marketed, major label driven focus on acoustic jazz marked sentiment that young black musicians were eager to get back to the sound prevalent before the stylistic and technological advances that characterized the growth of jazz in the 70’s. The poster children were trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and saxophonist brother Branford who had grown up in New Orleans and logged time as members of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and through their own quintet developed a very specific dialect rooted in the Miles Davis Quintet of 1963-68 but with particular musical details that could have only happened after the 70’s as pianist Ethan Iverson noted in his article The J Word. The Marsalis group developed a telepathic rapport within the rhythm section of the late Kenny Kirkland on piano, bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts where carefully calculated metric shifts would occur on a dime on the classic Black Codes From The Underground (Columbia, 1985) with unusual twists, such as a single measure of ¾ on “Delfeayo’s Dilemma”. They would develop a language versed in these devices and also in a style of tune called “burnout” rooted in mid 60’s John Coltrane that explored tonality and metric shifts to the breaking point. This language would influence contemporaries such as Kenny Garrett, Mulgrew Miller, Ralph Peterson, Wallace Roney and Terence Blanchard, and would extend to the next generation including Joshua Redman, Christian McBride and the late Roy Hargrove.

The pianist extends this narrative on Crime Zone featuring longtime Blanchard associate Walter Smith III guesting on tenor saxophone for several selections alongside her working trio of bassist Edwin Livingston, and drummer/co writer/producer Bill Wysaske. She also embodies a prodigious explosive quality that announced several pianists to the scene in the last two decades like Eldar Djangirov, Hiromi Uehara and most recently this decade, teenage phenom Joey Alexander. All of these pianists displayed the influences of Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett, but Han adds an additional wrinkle: while her storming left hand suggests Tyner in the use of quartal harmony, she draws heavily on the influences of the late Kenny Kirkland and perhaps the most imitated pianist of the 80’s and 90’s in mainstream jazz, the late Mulgrew Miller. In the narrow, linear historical narrative of jazz, the contributions of these men are valued heavily amongst their peers as adding to the the language of jazz piano, but historically are not weighed as heavily vs. those of Hines, Garner, Powell, Tyner, Hancock, Corea or Jarrett. Han combines these off the beaten path influences into an intriguing whole. "

Read the full review here.

Medium: Crime Zone Review

“Connie Han’s Mack Avenue Records debut comes on like a wrecking ball, leaving the listener wrecked — in a good way.

Crime Zone is a lusty, liberating post-bop-to-modern-jazz album, featuring the L.A.-pianist, 22, at her best, along with mentor, producer, musical director, and drummer Bill Wysaske, and bassist Edwin Livingston. Tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III and trumpeter Brian Swartz more than meet the standards, ramping up the hard-hitting music with their own larger-than-life, dizzying personalities.

When I first listened to Han’s Crime Zone, sight unseen, I couldn’t tell if she played piano or sax. In fact, I initially mistook the album as a saxophone showcase. What it is, is an atypical jazz showcase, demanded and expected at every late-night jam session around every hip urban town, where everyone in the band takes turns in the spotlight — and never wants to leave.

Han’s well-trained musical background — her parents are classical musicians who instilled a love of music early — seeps into every track, original or cover, honoring the hard-hitting jazz icons of the past (Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson) and introducing a few new steps along the way.

Every track is fully realized, a complete concert in and of itself. It’s like sitting in on the best jam session in the world after a three-day festival blowout, with all the big names showing the newbies the score… Only, the big names are really coming out of one fantastic young jazz artist hungry to make her mark.

Han lays claim and lays waste to every single tune on her Oct. 12 release, whether she’s coming out sideways, inside-out, or straight on. Even the ballads contain rhythmic percussive quirks, borrowing from the wide-open manipulation of free jazz’s use of time and space, bordering on exquisite torture…as the listener is dying for the next series of unexpected, crackling turns.”

Read the rest of the review at www.medium.com.

HIGHRESAUDIO.com Album Review: Crime Zone

“Crime Zone Mack Avenue turns out to be an extremely varied tour through the lucid jazz world of a very young pianist, who is able to convince with her independent playing style and great creative power. It will be interesting to see where her career will lead Connie Han in view of her early championship. She modestly sees herself as part of the current jazz scene and advocate of the traditional jazz:

‘As a new artist, I want to show that it is possible to create infinite fresh ideas without having to deconstruct the building blocks of the jazz language. To me, that language is universal.’”

View the full review here.

DownBeat Magazine Interview: Connie Han

“I think there are infinite creative possibilities within the jazz tradition. Frankly, I wish I had more than one lifetime to explore all of it, and I think there are just so many different things you can say, because uniquely, you’re you. What you say is yours. So, I don’t really have a hard time balancing all that, because I think that jazz in itself is already individualistic and unique to the artist.”

View the full interview here.

All About Jazz: CRIME ZONE Review by Chris Mosey

“Connie Han, dressed in skin-tight leather, tosses back her long and lustrous black hair, then walks like a prowling cat to the piano. She sits down, doesn't smile, looks darkly at the keyboard. She pauses then starts playing a percussive riff. Lights! The band emerges from the shadows and falls in behind her. 

Han, aged 22, from Los Angeles, has been playing piano and dreaming of this moment since she was five years old. "Another Kind of Right," the first number on Crime Zone, is a tune she wrote with Freddie Hubbard's "One of Another Kind" in mind. It's tough and provocative, just her style. She says, "The bridge is a swaggering Freddie Hubbard style of playing. Bill Wysaske (her drummer and general musical guru) arranged and curated a lot of what goes on here. It was his idea to make the transition from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes for my solo. It gives the music a breath of fresh air. The song is definitely inspired by that post-bop, pre-fusion sound straight out of the late '60s and early '70s." Han knows where she's coming from and where she's going. With this album she's booking a place as a star in the jazz firmament of tomorrow.”

“Watch out for Connie Han, the face (and shape) of jazz to come.”

View the rest of the review here. “