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Linda May Han Oh: Talent and Dedication

Angelo Leonardi By

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What is the bigger picture? Do you want to bring a sense of beauty in people's lives? Do you want to save a life with your music? I know that sounds very optimistic, but I think it is a good thing for everyone to think about.
Over the past decade, bassist Linda May Han Oh has been hailed as one of the most gifted bassists, bandleaders and composers of her generation. She is a virtuoso who can swing hard while keeping instrumental grace and precision, structuring her lines through a most free-flowing cascade of ideas. After completing her master's degree at the Manhattan School of Music in 2008, she recorded her debut album, Entry with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and drummer Obed Calvaire. In the following years she has been working with heavy-weights like Pat Metheny, Dave Douglas, Vijay Iyer, Joe Lovano and Steve Coleman. We met Linda at the Bergamo Jazz Festival, Italy, to talk about her current activities and her most recent album Walk Against Wind (Biophilia Records).

All About Jazz: Let's start from your new quartet with whom you're playing in Bergamo. Greg Ward and Matthew Stevens are longtime collaborators. Is drummer Arthur Hnatek a new band member?

Linda May Han Oh: Yes. We played one show in Victoria. He played this music and he sounded fantastic. However, I have known him for a long time. He was playing with Tigran Hamasyan and other people in New York. The first time I met Arthur, I was teaching at the Banff Center in Canada. It's a jazz and improvisation program. At that time Dave Douglas was the director, I was one of the teachers and Arthur was one of the students... He already sounded great. He also went to the New School with a lot of people that I know and along the way we played a little bit in sessions, that sort of thing. We didn't do a lot of playing but he just stepped in all this music from day one.

AAJ: Walk Against Wind is your fourth record as a leader. Let's talk about this album for the people who don't know it...

LMHO: Walk Against Wind goes in many different directions at once. The connecting theme—as in a storytelling kind of journey —is the concept of ritual reward, choosing paths that may not be the easiest ones in the short run but that reward you in the long term. The title Walk Against Wind is taken from Marcel Marceau's pantomime routine "Walking against the wind" and it is about pushing against those forces to be a stronger person, and for personal growth and development...

I found the title fitting for that reason, but also because Marcel Marceau was such an incredible artist. He looked for the bigger picture, to use his art to help people during the Second World War. He was a very talented painter as well and, since he was so good as an entertainer and pantomime, he was great with children. During World War II he used that talent to keep jewish children quiet while they were being smuggled across the border to safety, you know. So sometimes when I teach students, I try to at least explore the concept of what can you do beyond playing well and passing exams in music school, ticking off boxes, that sort of thing. What is the bigger picture? Do you want to bring a sense of beauty in people's lives? Do you want to save a life with your music? I know that sounds very optimistic, but I think it is a good thing for everyone to think about. Especially now that music is so institutionalized. A lot of people go through the same path: you go to this college of music, you study with that teacher etc. That's all fine, but it is important to think about the bigger picture and not lose perspective of why you are doing all that you do. If it is just about passing exams, ticking boxes, you're going to have a short career as a musician...

AAJ: Today, you are one of the most praised young jazz bassists. Are you satisfied with the musical work of recent years?

LMHO: I am proud of the projects I have been on and been a part of. I am proud of this album and I am proud of the music that I am putting together and writing and recording. As a musician there's always room for growth and always somewhere else to go. It never ends. So "satisfied" is maybe not the right word since we are always striving to improve. I feel like there is still a long way to go in my playing and in my writing. So it is a balance between being happy with what you're doing while continuing to push for that next thing.

AAJ: You are a member of the current Pat Metheny Quartet. How did that collaboration come about?

LMHO: I met him when I was playing at the Detroit jazz festival in a band with Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas. Pat was playing on the same stage after us and I met him later backstage and we chatted briefly. Then two years ago I ran into him again, backstage at the same festival, and he asked me to come over and play with him in his apartment on the Upper West Side. So I did. We played duo and then we played some trio with Antonio Sanchez and... yeah, it has been fantastic. Ever since I have learned so much playing in his band and it is such an honor to be playing with someone who is one of my greatest inspirations...


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Catching Up With
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Walk Against Wind

Walk Against Wind

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