U.S. pianist arranges jazz for all seasons

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U.S. pianist arranges jazz for all seasons


American jazz musician Ronn Branton presents “Summer Nights Jazz” this month, playing jazz compositions of hit Korean song from the 1960s and 1970s. Provided by the organizer

American jazz musician Ronn Branton has been giving Korean songs a sultry makeover since 2001, hoping to get more Koreans to enjoy jazz.

This month, Branton will team up with rising Korean jazz musicians like Kim Ji-seok (saxophone), Oh Jong-dae (drums) and Yun Jong-ryul (bass) to present jazz compositions of hit Korean song from the 1960s and 1970s such as “Hometown Station, Flowerbed and Road.”

The JoongAng Daily asked Branton about his upcoming concert, “Summer Night Jazz,” and his musical philosophy.

Q. You’ve been turning Korean songs into jazz for quite a while now. What is your motivation?

A. Originally I did jazz arrangements of Korean songs because I felt it was the best way to show Koreans just what jazz is or could be, artistically and stylistically. Later, it became a way to demonstrate the quality of what I felt was good musical writing by Korean composers, who can get neglected. It is not so much that Korean songs are like jazz but rather using a jazz approach in arranging and performing enables the music to be heard in a new way that is interesting and fun.

Among the songs to be performed at the upcoming concert, were there any scores that were particularly good for a jazz style?

The song “Soyang River Woman” is poetic, with the ebb and flow of water. The song “The Road,” a little-known ballad, is very moving and a real gem. I’ve heard the ballad “Beside the Flowerbed” several times in the past and I think it is often performed too slowly to express its joy. Our version is swinging with happiness.

In your opinion, what are some of the charms of jazz? How is it different from other music genres? Also, you’ve been holding a jazz concert every summer since 2004. Why summer and jazz?

Jazz requires new ears in everything we do. This quality is transcendental, moving beyond just what one “thinks” is jazz and into the realm of pure expression. Is this unique to jazz? Only in reference to a style maybe, but this is what all great music aims for. Jazz is for all seasons. The best quality of music is its timeless appeal to our senses, whether hot, cool or cold. This concert is simply the warm, languorous evening and the music, combined.

How would you describe your music, its color? Music critics describe your music as “delicate,” “sentimental” and “exciting.”

I am more focused on color instead of key or cadence since it holds so much expressive energy. Space and how it can shape a musical thought or phrase is very important as well since it is the space around the notes that define the notes, giving it direction. My music is always changing because I am always changing and hopefully growing with the music. At its best, what I do musically is really beyond words and should be heard so that a connection to the audience and music is complete.

You’ve worked on Korean children’s and pop songs. What can we expect from you in the coming months or years?

I am working on a one theme concert in conjunction with the composer Han Dol that will feature his music and the events in his life and music, through time and through jazz. I will do a concert on Christmas Eve this year, and I’m working on an original musical, developed from a story I wrote. As for other future projects, you can expect the unexpected.

“Summer Nights Jazz” will be performed at Uijeongbu Arts Center on Saturday and at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Seoul on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost from 30,000 won ($30) to 40,000 won. For more information, call (02) 888-2698 and visit www.musicalpark.com.

By Kim Hyung-eun Staff Reporter [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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