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QUYEN VAN MINH - BINH MINH JAZZ CLUB

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Jazz Club
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Quyen Van Minh
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There is a Jazz club in Ha Noi

Sep 1, 1997

Jazz Club HanoiThe Beauties - A musician in the bones, Minh has a highly ‘impressing’ name: Minh ‘sắc’. On one hand, ‘sắc’ is a purely colloquial abbreviator of ‘saxophone’. On the other hand, ‘sắc’ in Vietnamese means ‘beauty’ or ‘handsomeness’, which is more or less correct in Minh’s case: tall, with perking up moustaches and a huge belly, the unwilling particular trait of saxophonists and trumpeters. And, about his talent, ‘this guy plays smoothly’, say his colleagues, which means, ‘how deeply attractive and refined his sounds are’. The hard labour required to play wind instruments results in all efforts and tensions being concentrated to the players’ lips and face, thus depriving them of all their ‘gracefulness’ and leaving nothing but the ‘brass sounds’ they create to communicate the vividity and the quintessence of their being.

Quyền Văn Minh began to play saxophone from 1964 at the age of thirteen and the first to refine each of his ‘brass breaths’ was his father Quyền Văn Quý. A teenager, he learned from masters such as Charlie Parker, Benny Goodeman, etc. ‘by bit and pieces’ through discs and recorded tapes. That ‘self-taught’ musician now acts as an instructor at the Hanoi Conservatory of Music and the Army’s College of Culture and Arts, teaching both Vietnamese and foreigners. He was awarded the title, Excellent Artist in April 1997.

During the mid 70s in North Vietnam, the saxophone would raise its voice once in a while at wedding rooms as something completely decorative. There was a differentiation between the saxophone and the ‘gentle’ and ‘elegant’ piano or violin. It was not until 1988 that a solo saxophone performance was given by Quyền Văn Minh at the Association of Vietnam’s Composers. Gradually, it is freed from the old label that had so far been defining it as ‘clangorous’ and ‘wanton’. And the recent return of jazz had been taking the saxophone to money-drawing corners like bars and restaurants where most listeners are Westerners! Every night, Minh and the 1994-founded Red River Band would carry their instruments to Sofitel, Gustave, Stone Elephant Bar, etc. where they would play classic and contemporary jazz. They would try to improvise and play spontaneous, beautifully harmonised tunes in small corners that Minh admitted were suitable solely to business purposes and not music.

After several years of such unfatigued efforts, Quyền Văn Minh was able to build a world of his own, a jazz club in its fullest meaning and not merely a public house. As intentionally designed, the club has a large, straight-facing, and ‘one-step elevated’ stage. This ‘elevated one step’ seemed to deeply rejoice Minh as a due respect towards Jazz. He hoped he would be able to invite many jazz bands to add their voices. Like Mạnh Tuấn from the previous Phương Đông, Quyền Thiện Đắc, Đoàn Hữu Trí Minh from the Hanoi Jazz Group, Quyền Văn Minh is trying to create a Vietnamese jazz. This resulted in a number of his compositions such as Sentiment, Spring on the Highland, etc that are a nice mixture of traditional Vietnamese melodies with the jazz style.

There may be a Vietnamese jazz... However, who will be its audience, Westerners or Vietnamese? ‘Jazz players are a boat, the listeners the water. Without the push of water the boat cannot hold afloat,’ Minh said. His answer, at the same time, is the question all jazz performers are posing to our listeners.

NGUYEN QUYNH CHI (The Beauties Magazine)

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