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Tieng Anh
Jazz Club
Jazz Club
Quyen Van Minh
Quyen Thien Dac


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Jazz with a Viet Nam identity

Nov 23, 2001

The Labourer - The European Jazz Festival will take place in Ha Noi from 24 November to 7 December. Quyền Văn Minh participates in the event with Vietnamese jazz melodies.

Keen on music from early ages yet being in no condition to attend a course, Quyền Văn Minh had no other way but to listen to the radio so as to gain access to music in the difficult years during the

anti-American war. The magical sounds of Jazz grasped the young man, who at that time could only realise it’s his favourite music without having sufficient information as of what it exactly is. Unable to struggle against the call of music for a long time later, he would go on foot everyday to the Hanoi Conservatory of Music to ‘eavesdrop’ the wonderful sounds of music flowing out of the windows or to the Thang Tam (August) cinema to listen to the recorded international songs that were often played in the interludes between movie sessions.

From a music fan to a saxophone instructor – So keen on the touching sounds of jazz as he was, it was not until 1978 when he toured Ho Chi Minh City with his Hanoian fellow artists that Jazz began to accompany his life. As he strolled Sai Gon tape and disc stores, he was almost mad with joy to discover the favourite brand of music on a cassette with a black man figure on the cover. He snatched at the tape, listened to the pieces, wrote down the accords and eagerly started practicing. This led to the unforgettable solo saxophone performance at the Association of Vietnam’s Composers in 1988 where he alone played a variety of compositions including classical pieces and jazz tunes. It was this performance that made Master Phúc Linh, the then manager of the Wind instrument department under the Ha Noi Conservatory of Music, to invite him to join the school as an instructor. The bohemian agreed without the least hesitation. Thus Quyền Văn Minh became the first saxophone instructor at the renowned musical school.

Creating a Vietnamese jazz club- Now that he’s in a favourable condition to fully devote himself to intensive study, performances and instruction, Minh began to compose his own songs. His earnest desire is to compose such Vietnamese melodies that prove the presence of a purely Jazz in the Vietnamese music. To him, to play solely foreign jazz means no development at all. Only by way of proving their identity can Vietnamese align themselves with overseas artists. Three years of tireless work resulted in three pieces, Melody for Sa Pa Melody using a Meo folk melody, Sentiment incorporating a North Vietnam folk song, and Improvisation for Tây Nguyên that were performed at the Ha Noi Grand Theatre in 1994 presenting a real surprise to both Vietnamese and overseas artists as they discovered a pure Vietnamese brand of jazz. This was also the reason and encouragement that helped Minh in his decision to open a jazz club of his own, knowing well that opening a café purely for playing Jazz is far from a simple thing, if not to say, as impossible as ‘butting against stones’ as his friends joked.

‘The only profits we earned from our club are my son, now studying in the USA, and the young musicians. The audience look at these people and understand who guided them, and this alone makes me happy,’ Minh said.

The originator of Vietnamese jazz, Quyền Văn Minh can play seven different musical instruments with equal mastery despite the fact that he had attended no standard courses. His own way of learning is to continuously collect foreign materials, listen carefully, and play patiently. It’s no surprise that not only can Minh freely improvise with his students but also shows an imposing masterfulness being ready to play with foreign colleagues who visit his club.

Come to his club a lot of foreign guests, many of them jazz lovers and masters including the French guitarist Michel Bernay, the Belgian Stephan Pougin, or the French drummer Daniel Humair, among others.

A participant at the European Jazz Festival to take place in Hanoi from 24 November to 7 December, Quyền Văn Minh will introduce genuine Vietnamese jazz tunes. ‘We have been longing for this event for such a long time’, he said. ‘Each of our nightly performances at our club, beginning from 1994, has been a rehearsal for a big future program. All of the six participating bands have their own identity (literally ‘tones and hues’), and it’s these ‘tones and hues’, classical, modern, and purely Vietnamese at the same time, that we also bring to our audience. It’s Vietnamese jazz in the full sense’.

HOANG LAN ANH (The Labourer,23 Novenber 2001)

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