Korea’s Prelude gets its swing at the Blue NoteA month might never be long enough for most people’s dreams to come true, but for a young Korean jazz group, it proved to be just about right.
Last week, the Boston-based Prelude finished a month-long series of concerts here in Korea to promote its first album, “Croissant,” released in December on the Sony BMG label. It has already sold over 1,000 copies in Korea, which might not be much on a global scale but is very high for what is a nascent market here. Prior to this, the group received confirmation from the famed Blue Note club in Manhattan that they had secured their next gig there. Next followed a series of local media interviews on how it felt to be the first Korean jazz band to have a show at the Blue Note.
“We’re really nervous now,” said Heean Ko, 30, the leader and the pianist of the six-man band. “People will be expecting much more from us.”
Expectations are indeed high. One Seoul paper explained in detail about the reputation the Blue Note has in the jazz world and how tough the audience is there. It noted that if the band can make it there, they could join a cadre that included Ray Charles and Sarah Vaughan, whose careers skyrocketed after their appearances at the club. So where did the band’s luck come from, and why so fast? To the members, it wasn’t luck, and it didn’t happen fast. It was more about sacrifice and three years of hard work.
Although the six members met as music majors at Berklee College of Music, Boston, several years ago, they came to the school through different paths. Three of the band’s members were born and raised in the United States, but the other three, including Ko, were students from Korea.
“We weren’t rich kids from Korea who had enough money to ‘elegantly’ enjoy jazz music abroad,” said Ko, noting a stereotype held here about the genre, considered by some to be a luxury pursuit.
Ko was a landscape major at Korea University who expected to get a job in the field after graduation. His hobby was playing the piano, but he wanted to make more of it. He dropped out of school against his parent’s wishes, left his family and friends. He headed for Berklee and then finished his masters’ program in music at New York University.
Jinbae Choi, 31, the band’s bass player, said it took a while for his father, a Kung Fu master, to become a passionate fan of the music. His father was so angry over Choi’s decision to quit school that he smashed several of his instruments. His father scolded him for “trying to become a night club performer.”
In 2002, the six men met and formed the band. Despite their dream of becoming the best Korean band in the United States, they had different approaches. For one, not all agreed with the monicker “Korean.” Drummer Abraham Lagrimas Jr. was from the Philippines, while Charles Lee (saxophone) and Richard Rho (saxophone) consider themselves Korean-Americans.
Improvising was also hard ― one wanting to play louder, another wanting softer; one thinking up-tempo, another more slowly.
“But hey, it’s been okay for us for the last three years,” Ko said. “I’m sure we can continue together for a lot longer.”
Prelude will be performing at the Blue Note in May and will return to Korea this summer.
by Lee Min-a