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Jazz Club
Jazz Club
Quyen Van Minh
Quyen Thien Dac


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Jazz is their blood

Jun 1, 2008

(Heritage Fashion) - This Spring, Vietnamese Jazz legend Quyen Van Minh and his son Quyen Thien Dac performed together in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh city, their show titled "Farther, Son and Jazz". Heritage Fashion catches up witch Mr. Minh, now in his fifties, to discuss the ups and downs of Vietnamese Jazz and his enduring passion for this soulful music.

HF: What motivated you to become a professinal jazz musican
QVM: In 1985 to 1986 when I was playing with a Hanoi musical group, I accompanied vocalists on the saxophone and I was constanly pursuring creativity – which is a component of jazz. I always found new ways to play for the singers without being redundant. One singer, Vu Dzau, told me: “You’re so good on the sax, so why don’t you play solo?” After that, I wanted to prove that the saxophone was a serious instrument that could play serious music.

HF: When did you come out with your first folk music – inspired jazz CD?
QVM: In 1999. I recorded a CD only to sell to foreigners of give to my friends and fellow musicans. At that time I couldn’t compete with records of popular singers like Hong Nhung, Thanh Lam and Dan Truong.

HF: How did you come up with the idea of blending folk music with jazz?
QVM: I listened to a piece calld “ Blue Change” by John Coltrane, who is an American legendary black jazz musican. His piece was totally based on Arabian music. Then I thought: why don’t we try that with ethnic Vietnamese music? Vietnameses folk music is a huge treasure and if we develop a way to apply it to jazz, we could bring new color into the national music scene. In 1994, I play solo at Hanoi Municipal Theater with newly composed fusion music. In one piece, “Attached, “ I used folk music of the Northern delta. Another piece, “Central Highland Impromptu”, was inspired by highland music. Some may say tha I am destroying Vietnamese folk music but I’m not destroying anyone else’s music – if any music is destroyed it could only be my own.

HF: What are your goals with this fusion music? Do you aim to make jazz more approachable for Vietnamese by adding familiar tunes?
QVM: Of course. This I my foremost intension. Jazz is impromptu. During a performance, the musicians will rotate through a series of solo riffs – sax, piano, bass, drum. Perhaps the folk music – inspired pieces will take the improvised natured of jazz and add familiarity for Vietnamese audiences.

HF: What’s been most memorable for you?
QVM: In 1992, after a jazz performance at the Metropole, a froeigner approached and complimented me. I suppose because I looked big, he asked where I was from. When I told him I was Vietnamese, he didn’t believe me and said that Vietnam didn’t have jazz. Deep in my heart, I felt pretty sad. This memory encouraged me to go on with my career in jazz.

HF: There was a period of time when you had difficulties with your music career, which is why one piece took the name “Live or Die”. How did you make that recording?
QVM: There was sometimes bitterness. My first club at the Giang Vo Exhibition Center closed after only three months and I was so upset that the whole 1997 Tet holiday I didn’t go out. I lost money, but the bigger loss was my honor. At that time I thought about black American musicians emerging from slavery. In comparison, my agony was only a grain of sand, so I accepted my failure and started over. But after 8 months, my second club’s lease was terminated. Some my coleagues talked to me: Playing jazz in Vietnam is like accompanying with death. I recorded that piece at the end of 1998 and in my head I always questioned whether to live or to die.

HF: What helped you overcome such challengers?
QVM: My mother – the first person who encoraged me to play music. My mother told me that my father played wind instruments, but his performance was bad and people laughed at him, which made her sad. She said: “ You’re quite capable of playing wind instruments. Your breath is strong and the sound goes through your heart. If you play beautifully, you will get new friends”. She wishes that I could perform in the Military troupe. When I fulfiled her wish, she cried so much. Later, facing any difficulty I would try my best, thinking of this memory.

HF: Are you confident presenting your Vietnamese Jazz CD to today’s public?
QVM: Yes, but with one addition: I will put a brief explanation of each piece on the disc cover. For example, “Pan – Pie Calling Bauhinia” is the beautiful music of H’mong young people as they confess love.

HF: What are your future hopes?
QVM: I have great expectations. I want to prove Vietnamese jazz exists and to creat jazz with distinctly Vietnamese characteristics. Someday, I hope to perform abroad in a Vietnamese jazz brand with the name “Jazz Viet”.

Đao Kim Anh

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