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Vietnamese folk melodies to accompany jazz

Mar 6, 1994

Quyen Van MinhThe Culture - Quyen Van Minh, a saxophonist who has never attended any course, unprecedentedly became a saxophonist instructor at the Ha Noi National Conservatory of Music. A sheer contradiction with set rules, a great surprise to all? In fact, there are composers who, never having graduated any school, learned solely from their instructors and, by serious and methodical practicing, became famous artists. Quyen Van Minh is no doubt one of them.

He began to learn music at the age of 14 from his own father. His early artistic life was nourished by the father’s musical assets. Additions to that repository were great masters such as Charlie Parker, Benny Goodeman, etc. from whom he

learnt through discs and recording tapes. As a beginner, he participated in the Army’s Ensemble under the Việt Bắc Military Area at Hà Sơn Bình Province. It was only when he changed to the Ha Noi Art Ensemble and found himself in the capital’s rich and diversified musical environment that his saxophone sounds won the interest of a larger audience.

Inherently, the saxophone is a hermaphrodite. Half of it, an urban guy, well-groomed, aggressive, a wholehearted player in any game, fuels any dance with a burning ‘horn tone’ that seems to squeeze your heart in slow tunes. And, together with brass instruments, it adds its unique ‘singing’ styles that make melodies more imposing and dancers and singers more passionate in chachacha or disco rhythms. The other half, a plain and unsophisticated rural girl, whispers to you her intimate stories in so liquid a voice that it seems to ‘pour’ into your ears. Well aware of this, Quyen Van Minh wants to make his colleagues get to the point that the saxophone not only accompanies light music as it is usually thought of but also possesses the power to render classical pieces of the world’s masters...

When he made his debut at the National Association of Composers in 1987 to a knowledgeable and proficient audience, he successfully performed several pieces of Vietnamese composers for the saxophone such as Melody of Love by Hoang Van, Calling for My Friend in the Moonlight, a variation on an ethnic Mèo folk melody by Do Hong Quan, and other tunes developed from folk songs by Đang Huu Phuc. In congratulation of the National Congress of Vietnamese Composers held in 1989, he gave a performance including classical pieces by J.S.Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Dvorak, etc. to be greeted by the audience with rapturous applause.

The first saxophone instructor at the Ha Noi Conservatory of Music, Minh always wants his students not only to perform Vietnamese classical pieces beautifully but also to play jazz with a great sense of improvisation, the special strength of the saxophone. The most difficult in here is that the performer must possess strong skills and must be capable of improvising out of a vigorous inspiration. The wonderful ensemble given at the National Light Music Festival in 1993 with Quyen Van Minh and his student in the sax group was so successful that it brought the whole audience to such a prolonging thunderous applause. So beautiful an impression they had made on the colleagues as they used the saxes to create velvety sounds that pierced through the enclosed space of the theatre and opened a whole vivid and mysterious world of rock Jazz. As he was awarded the ‘best saxophonist’ prize at the closing ceremony, Manh Tuấn rushed to the tormentor to embrace the man who has been instructing him for over 13 years - Quyen Van Minh.

In an intimate talk with me, Minh said, ‘Together with the Phương Đông band, I want to experiment jazz on the saxophone with melodies which are variations on Mèo, Chăm, Tây Nguyên folk melodies. This is a fertile soil for the growth of jazz for these melodies, full of aspirations like the human soul, with pitch ranges containing unique oriental features, are quite suitable to the saxophone improvisation style.’

It was not occasional that recently Minh got an aid from the Sweden Foundation for Culture for building a musical program for saxophone solo and ensemble.

With the on-coming spring, he wants his saxophone voice to weave its way through Mèo villages to Call my friends in Moonlight or down to the Northern delta to raise a ca trù ‘musical shriek’ tune. The folk traits in his saxophone sounds are a unique creation that deserves acknowledgement and should be developed so as to enrich our musical heritage.

Van Thanh Nho - The Culture News paper

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