By Jihye Lee
Thursday, June 30, 2022
After six years of living in the most diverse city, New York, I started asking a question—who really am I? I am from my mother’s womb, and my mother is from my grandma. I suddenly realized, as a composer, how little I knew about my musical roots—Korean traditional music. Throughout the pandemic, I started to learn, and I fell in love with the Korean traditional rhythms that became my biggest inspiration for this project. I was so lucky to meet wonderful percussionists during my research trip to Korea and to expand my studies from books.
In Korea, we believe that we are given eight letters when we are born—two letters each—your year, month, day, and time. It’s like eastern astrology. Those eight letters treat you sometimes well, sometimes badly. It’s overwhelming, we are living tomorrow without knowing what will happen, and it humbles us to be reminded we are just humans. This composition, [Eight Letters], is for my mom, who is fighting a sudden illness that happened last March when I was writing music about her life.
I’m a jazz composer who writes for a 17-piece big band, an American art form that is all about thick, rich, and lush sound. I’m experimenting by bringing Korean elements into my jazz composition which values, generally speaking, subtleness and moderation, and I’ve been trying to find my own way to fuse these two conflicting aspects. This effort continues with collaboration with Korean traditional dancers. I’m curious to see how these different concepts of beauty will work together, creating something new.
About Jihye Lee
Jihye Lee is a jazz composer and bandleader based in New York who is highly regarded for her personal and adventurous storytelling approach to large-ensemble jazz. Her recent album, Daring Mind, on the Motéma label, is getting rave attention from all over the world. It has been covered in The New York Times, JazzTimes, DownBeat, Telerama, Le Monde, ABC Jazz, JazzWise, Musica Jazz, Süddeutsche Zeitung, GRAMMY.com, and many more, including ranking #4 on Spotify’s Best Jazz 2021 and The Guardian’s Best 10 albums in 2021.
Lee describes composition as a form of record-keeping for herself, as the documentation of her life, the process of finding musical equivalents to the images, thoughts, and emotions in her mind. She writes first and foremost for herself, to release her feelings, which makes her music deeply personal. Her goal is to invite listeners into her creative world, to relate to her stories, to reflect on the truth that as humans, we share similar struggles and triumphs regardless of where we come from. It is Lee’s hope that we can create genuine connections with each other through art.
Lee has received commissions and awards from Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, BMI, ASCAP foundation, New York University / National Sawdust, Jazz Education Network, Amherst University, Queens Council On the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Korean Music Awards Best Jazz Album 2021. Lee graduated from Berklee College of Music and earned a master’s degree at Manhattan School of Music under the guidance of Jim McNeely.