Ambassador’s spouse riffs on combining diplomacy and jazz

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Ambassador’s spouse riffs on combining diplomacy and jazz

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On Saturday night at Once in a Blue Moon, a jazz club in upscale Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, more than 300 guests enjoyed jazz and New Zealand wine.
The party was organized by the New Zealand Embassy, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Tourism New Zealand, in order to promote New Zealand wine. But the guests were obviously as interested in the night’s jazz concert by Tim Strong, a professional jazz singer and the husband of Jane Coombs, the New Zealand Ambassador to Korea.
Both came to Seoul mid-December last year with their son Connor after Ms. Coombs was appointed as the envoy to Seoul ― her first post as an ambassador.
“We’re a team,” said Mr. Strong in an interview Thursday with the JoongAng Daily ― wherever Ms. Coombs goes, Mr. Strong, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is with her. After meeting through a mutual friend in New York in 1989 when Ms. Coombs worked for New Zealand at the United Nations, the pair has lived in Moscow, Russia; Canberra, Australia; Wellington, New Zealand, and now Seoul. Although Mr. Strong wondered if the diplomat would like him before they met, they soon realized “diplomatic life and culture really just go hand in hand,” he said.
Mr. Strong is surprised that so many people have expressed interest in him so quickly, no doubt partly because he is the husband of an ambassador, a rare case in Korea. Some guests at the concert even thought he was the ambassador.
However, he is also a professional musician with a 35-year career. “People are calling me about singing, asking my advice about music and I might be helping someone find music for a film,” Mr. Strong said.
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His plan was to seek a job here only after helping his wife and son settle in their new environment, and learning the Korean language. But it seems people don’t want to leave him alone, so he’s already seeking a manager to take care of his schedule.
“In the family, I guess I’m the ambassador of culture,” he laughed. “I feel quite a responsibility when I’m in another country. I need to do something that hopefully makes people look at New Zealand in a positive way.”
Mr. Strong added that he feels a duty to tell people about world-class jazz singers or players, such as Woongsan, a Korean jazz singer, and Lee Jeong-shik, a saxophonist. He said even though the appreciation of jazz is still quite new in Korea, he expects the jazz culture will grow dramatically.
As for taking part in events with other spouses of ambassadors to Korea, he said, “I feel that I’m always the celebrity in it. When I walk in, they say ‘Oh, you’re so brave,’ clapping their hands,” he laughed. He added that as they are all sweet, supportive and sophisticated people, he doesn’t feel awkward around them. He wants to take part in charity events as long as his schedule allows because it’s a good opportunity to give something back to society.
Mr. Strong likes to sing as a way of storytelling instead of just scatting as he wants to take people on a journey with him. He plans to hold a concert together with Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. Ambassador to Korea, who is a drummer. They haven’t scheduled anything yet but Mr. Strong said he has some songs in mind to do with Mr. Vershbow.
At Saturday’s concert, he sang about 10 songs, including “My Favorite Thing” and “Arirang,” arranged by the jazz composer Hong Hye-seon.


by Park Sung-ha
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