Helen Sung Sextet Live At Jazz Standard

Helen Sung

Celebrating the release of Anthem for a New Day
(Concord, 2014) – Report from New York by Tomas Peña

In spite of the frigid temperatures and an impending Nor’easter the vibe at The Jazz Standard was warm, fuzzy and festive. Like always, there was the usual assortment of individuals – tourists, voyeurs, musicians and patrons of the arts – but mostly, everyone came out to celebrate the release of Helen Sung’s latest effort, Anthem for a New Day.

I showed up for the first set and I’m happy to report that Sung and her band were smokin’. The Sextet came out swinging with The Chaos Theory, a quirky, original composition whose split-second changes turned up the heat. Brother Thelonious was a perfect vehicle for Canadian trumpeter, Ingrid Jensen and saxophonist Seamus Blake, who were in fine form, together and apart. The tune, Anthem for a New Day acknowledges Sung’s transition from a classical musician to a jazz musician, an experience she describes as “emancipating.”

Helen Sung came to jazz late in life. She studied classical music through college, caught the jazz bug at a Harry Connick Jr. concert and never looked back. After years of studying, practicing and touring she is, “happy to be in a place, where the diverse pieces of her experiences are coming together in an organic, beautiful way.”

Midway through the set, NEA Jazz Master and 2014 Grammy Award winner in the Latin Jazz Category, Paquito D’Rivera joined Helen’s band for a lively interpretation of Chick Corea’s Armando’s Rhumba and a delightful re-interpretation of Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). Now an elder statesman, Paquito swings with the best of them and his mastery on the reeds is astonishing.

The supporting cast bears special mention: Bassist Ruben Rogers, Drummer Obed Calvaire, percussionist Samuel Torres, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and saxophonist Seamus Blake, all superb musicians, most leaders in their own right.

Helen Sung is a marvelous pianist, composer and arranger who describes her style as, “earthy, soulful, messy and full of surprises.” Onstage she exudes positivity, a mischievous sense of adventure and a contagious enthusiasm that inspires everyone around her. More important, she is fun to watch.

Hankering for more yet mindful of the dreaded impending weather I decided to call it a night. As I made for the door I couldn’t help but notice that the prevailing attitude was, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we dig,” only in New York.

Visit Tomas Peña’s Blog: JazzdelaPena.com

Tomas Peña
A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.

More from author

Related posts


Featured Posts

Omara Portuondo, Multifaceted Gem of Cuban Music

My moon app announces that in 14 hours the Supermoon of May will be here. During a full moon I often get inspired to...

Ray Barretto · Barretto Power

Barretto Power: A Celebratory Reissue on its 50th Anniversary It was 1970 when Fania Records released Barretto Power, one of a series of seminal albums...

El Gran Fellové: Part 3- When my Parents…

When my parents bought their home in 1968, Sunset Beach was just another sleepy little beach town It spanned about one mile in length, sandwiched...

El Gran Fellové: Part 2- Enter Chocolate & Celio González

Early Sunday morning… I awoke to the pleasant surprise of a Google Alert in my email. I clicked to find Variety Magazine had published an...

El Gran Fellové: Part 1- The Beginning

Francisco Fellové Valdés (October 7, 1923 – February 15, 2013), also known as El Gran Fellové (The Great Fellove), was a Cuban songwriter and...

Bobby Paunetto, New York City and The Synthesis of Music

Bobby Paunetto was an unforgettable composer, arranger, musician and recording artist. Latin Jazz Network honors him on the tenth anniversary of his death (8.10.10). His...

Jazz Plaza 2020: Ancient to the Future

Chapter four of our series: 35th Jazz Plaza International Festival in Havana In recent months I found myself in profound reflection of the term...

Ray Martinez and the Forgotten Legacy of Jazz

Sometime in the very near future, several of the jazz world's best known writers and musicologists will meet in some obscure conclave to pool...

A Brief History of the Cuban Style Conjunto

1930: The Orquesta Típica is out and the Conjunto is in The year 1930 marked a turning point in the development of popular Cuban music....

Jazz Plaza 2020: Speaking in Tongues

Chapter three of our series: 35th Jazz Plaza International Festival in Havana Featured photo: Los Muñequitos de Matanzas at El Tablao in Havana, by Danilo...

Join our mailing list

Participate in contests, giveaways and more