June 15, 2024


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Helen Sung experienced a jazz piano awakening: Video

College can be a transformative time in a person’s life. For Houston native Helen Sung, it was unexpectedly so.

Now an award-winning jazz pianist, Sung had been on the path to a career as a classical musician for as long as she can remember, playing melodies with 12 multicolored keys on a plastic toy piano before she was even old enough to form full sentences. Her life seemed predetermined, attending the acclaimed High School for the Performing and Visual Arts before furthering her training to become a concert pianist at the University of Texas at Austin.

Little did she know, an evening spent at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall would change her mindset entirely, causing her to question everything she had learned up to that point. A friend had invited her to a Harry Connick Jr. concert in the hall, in which the American triple threat and his big band played an entertaining set in the lively New Orleans-style.

“In the middle of that show, he sat down and played some solo jazz piano, and I remember feeling like I had been hit by lightning,” she said. “I didn’t know you were allowed to play the piano like that.” That semester, Sung enrolled in a beginning jazz piano class, which only intensified her interest in the contemporary technique of rhythmic patterns and improvisation.

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