You're Reading: The Inconstant Sun (Volume 5, Edition 2)
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The Goings-On

November 2018 — February 2019

Happy Lunar New Year and belated Gregorian New Year!

I had meant to write a 2018 retrospective for late December, but the collective weight of the holiday season and its attendant festivities plus the very thought of summarizing 2018 proved too much for me—hence, this delayed but still on time for another New Year's newsletter.

First, the professional updates:

Since the last installment of Inconstant Sun in October, I visited Beijing twice for Blue Note Beijing Jazz Orchestra performances:

The music of Duke Ellington in November around Thanksgiving, which allowed the opportunity to perform Duke's timeless 1951 version of "Mood Indigo" (15 minutes long, taking up the entire side of an LP and featuring seemingly endless and masterful variants on the theme); and

—A New Year's Eve celebration with special guest Kris Davis on piano, with a program that included arrangements of Monk by Oliver Nelson (from the 1968 big band record)The visit in late December also included a string of six back-to-back dates with my MUTE colleague Christian Li, who enlisted the musical talents of bassist Jared Henderson and fellow MUTEer Dayeon Seok for shows in Shanghai and Beijing. It was a trip (literally and figuratively) returning to Shanghai to play, as I hadn't been there since August 2017, and I had the chance to catch up with friends there and also take the band around for their first visit to the city. Christian and I also played two rewarding improvised trio music gigs with Beijing local Xiao Dou ("Little Bean," as he's known), a marvelous drummer and connoisseur of vintage cymbals and drums.

Prior to the trip, I played my final gigs at Korzo and Cornelia Street Café; the former still stands as a restaurant/bar in Greenwood Heights, but no longer hosts the long-running Konception Series helmed by James Carney, while the latter closed for good in early January due to exorbitant rent in the Village (what else is new?). I saw a lot of inspiring, memorable gigs at both venues: by my count, 16 at Korzo from January '16 through last month, and 8 at Cornelia (somehow it seemed like more before I checked my show list). So it goes.

In January, I premiered The Middle of Tensions, a long quartet piece with Dana Saul on piano plus trio-ites Walter Stinson on bass and Matt Honor on drums. It was an intense night of music, and I'm looking forward to doing it again later this spring (TBD). I also had the chance to play again with guitarist Juanma Trujillo's quartet, which has been playing for a few years now and will tentatively record later this fall. 

Coming up, February is pretty busy:

—I'll be in Philadelphia tonight at Chris's Jazz Café with pianist David Zheng for the 7–10 p.m. show.

—This weekend, I'm thrilled to perform with the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble at Virginia Tech; I studied composition with John for a semester at NEC, which forever changed my conceptual approach to organizing musical information. I consider him to be among the foremost jazz large ensemble composers living today, and it's a privilege to share the stage with many musicians I look up to and have seen perform numerous times.

The Rigors of Love, a quintet piece I performed last year at The Jazz Gallery and Cornelia Street Café, will be played once more at Scholes Street Studio next weekend before we go into the studio to record it.

—I'll be playing with Andrew Schiller's three-tenor band JoggerKnot at the 55 Bar in the Village at the end of the month; expect lots of saxophone.

Now, for some brief personal reflections:

I played a lot of stimulating, challenging music in 2018 with friends and peers, and for that I'm grateful. In fact, I played more gigs than ever before (somewhere around 60-70, or on average one gig a week). Amazingly, about a third of the gigs were in Asia (mostly China, but a few in South Korea). 

Of course, the existential malaise of playing jazz in 2019 continues to rear its head from time to time, particularly in dry spells of no performing and mostly solitary practicing and composing. Having spent most of 2018 composing ambitious, long-form works, I feel like I have a grasp on where to go from there, but in 2019 I also want to return to the experiential, workshopping format that I had going on with the trio in previous years. 

I had a heartening conversation with an older saxophone whom I admire immensely, and when I mentioned how I found it ironic that I could so much more easily book gigs halfway around the world than where I lived, he replied that I'd soon realize that everybody finds it easier to book gigs outside of New York than in it. Indeed, with the closing of venues for more experimental jazz and improvised music, it will only get harder to play more regularly, but I'm glad to have the opportunities to play extensively outside of New York now, and I'm working on a trio run in Beijing for May 2019. I constantly remind myself that this is just the beginning of a very long journey, I hope.

That's all I've got to share with you for now. Thanks for reading and thanks for listening.


Coming Soon:

Wednesday, February 6
David Zheng Quintet
Chris's Jazz Café
1421 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA
7 p.m. // $10

Sunday, February 10
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble
Virginia Tech
Street and Davis Performance Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24060

Friday, February 15
The Rigors of Love
Scholes Street Studio
375 Lorimer St
Brooklyn, NY
8 p.m. // $15
Juanma Trujillo Trio plays first

Sunday, February 24
Andrew Schiller's JoggerKnot
55 Bar
55 Christopher St
New York, NY
6 p.m. // cover TBA

Saturday & Sunday, March 9-10  
Blue Note Beijing Jazz Orchestra
Modern Large Ensemble Jazz (Works by John Hollenbeck, Darcy James Argue, Maria Schneider, and more)
Blue Note Beijing
Beijing, China


—Christian Li has a new co-led album out with guitarist Mike Bono: check it out!

—A dizzying, thrilling expose of an alleged con artist

—Anna Webber's Pi Records debut, a septet album, is coming out very soon.

—The trio recorded short videos of a song called "Lowlands" — take 1 and take 2

On Ramanujan in The Believer online

—I updated my website! Not the layout, but the page content. Hopefully it's easier to get around now.

—More old videos from my phone: playing "Giant Steps" in Shanghai in 2017

A full set of Mute from the Gallery last August

Playing "All Blues" in Beijing after a trio of New York pros came by the club

A thinkpiece RE: the viral millennial burnout piece, with the brilliant phrase "Cathedral of the Perpetual Hustle" 

—For the 20th anniversary of The Sopranos, a new collection of essays and interviews with David Chase

—My dear friend Jacob Shulman is independently producing his first opera. His Kickstarter is <$200 from its goal of $5,000 — would you consider spreading the word or even donating?

—For fun, I sped up all of my gig voice memos from 2018 (about 80 sets of music) and condensed them chronologically into one minute. You can hear my 2018 in music here (it's a blur).

—For good measure, here's an actually listenable clip from a gig in late September in Beijing: fiery trading with Nat Gao on an Elvin Jones tribute gig led by drummer Xu Zhitong. That was a good one.

—The ever-mysterious Dana Saul will release his first album, a collection of sextet music, on Endectomorph Music later this year. Look out for that.

—I finally finished reading the novels of Thomas Pynchon, having completed Against the Day in December and V. just a few weeks ago (after starting it and abandoning it a few years back). I'm thinking of re-reading Gravity's Rainbow, unless you have any suggestions for me?
Pretty things
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Kevin Sun · 155 15th Street · Apt 1D · Brooklyn, NY 11215 · USA

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