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Take Five with Pianist Shereen Cheong

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Meet Shereen Cheong

Shereen Cheong is a New York-based Malaysian pianist, composer, arranger, producer and educator who developed a sense of music from the tender age of three. Pursuant to her classical training, she studied jazz piano with Malaysia's jazz veteran, Michael Veerapen. She is a graduate from Berklee College of Music, holding a dual degree in Contemporary Writing & Production (CWP) and Music Business & Management (MBus).

Shereen has arranged, orchestrated and conducted for world-renowned artists like Wang LeeHom, Kaki King, Chelsey Green and Grammy-winning artist Pablo Ziegler. She has also worked with various artists including Jamilah Abu Bakar, Amni Musfirah, Chan Luxe and Keithian to name a few as a composer, arranger and producer on their singles and albums.

As a keyboardist/pianist, she has toured extensively with RocNation's artist, Victory Boyd, who was discovered by Jay-Z himself, alongside distinguished icons in the music scene such as Empire's drama series actor/singer Jussie Smollett on his "Sum of my Music" tour, Grammy-winning jazz artist Gregory Porter at the City Park's Foundation SummerStage NYC in association with Sony Blue Note Jazz Festival, platinum selling and Grammy-winning artist Lauren Daigle, and well-known jazz artist Kamasi Washington. She has also performed at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, ESSENCE Music Festival and LEAF Music Festival, and appeared on ABC's Good Morning America Live Show and radio station Sirius XM Heart & Soul. Shereen performed and recorded with award-winning electropop/rock artist Marina, on her livestream concert "Ancient Dreams Live from the Desert" and on NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers. She worked as the music director and keyboardist for Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, Jackie's Boy.

As a solo artist, Shereen has released various singles and a Christmas EP titled 2512 to critical acclaim. The EP featured various up-and-coming artists and frequent collaborators like Amni Musfirah, Anthony Muthurajah, Jamilah Abu Bakar to name a few. Her second EP titled Amygdala was released on January 7th 2022, which features her improvised compositions on the piano. She is currently working on her first full-length album which is expected to be released by 2025.

Instruments

Piano & keyboards.

Teachers and/or influences?

I studied classical piano with Saw Wee Qin from the age of three through eighteen, but I have always gravitated towards contemporary music more. Pursuant to my classical training, I studied jazz piano with Malaysia's jazz veteran, Michael Veerapen. It was a very crucial transition for me, because contemporary music is so different from old-school classical music.

In most recent years, I gravitate heavily towards Weather Report, Pat Metheny Group , Jaco Pastorius, Vince Mendoza and Allan Holdsworth. My piano heroes include Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Lyle Mays, Joe Zawinul and Keith Jarrett. Currently, I listen to a lot of Gonzalo Rubalcaba, because I resonate with his playing, like a lot. He's an absolute monster, beyond phenomenal pianist.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I was 10 years old. I started learning the piano from the age of three, and I fell in love with the instrument ever since. It was my first time ever being exposed to music, and it felt amazing to be triggering sounds as a three-year-old. So after the first piano lesson, I was up every morning at 8am, practicing the piano on my own. I fell in love with music more and more by the day. By the time I was 10 years old, I was very certain that music would be the only career choice that I ever wanted for myself. Music is my passion and a very huge part of who I am today.

Your sound and approach to music.

My sound is a combination of classical, jazz, gospel and R&B music. It's basically a blend of Weather Report, Pat Metheny Group, Vince Mendoza and Allan Holdsworth. My approach to music is heavily driven by my strong classical background, and my immense love for arranging and orchestration. When I play the piano, I play like I'm the orchestra too. I love soundscape, ambience, seamless textures and colors. Basically, anything that sounds tasteful to my ears.

Your teaching approach

I provide music lessons for both adults and children. I've been working with children and adults aged from 4 to 60 years old for awhile now and a good number of my students have progressed very well under my tutelage. My method is very straightforward. I tend to work with what the student finds pleasure in. Using that, I help build a technical foundation that will further enhance and excite them. My teaching style is a combination of both classical and contemporary methods. Depending on the individual, my students and I work together to make our lessons as interactive, engaging and fun as possible. It is a very hands on approach, but it is what I believe to be the most productive approach to help my students grow, understand and have a deeper love for music.

Your dream band

My dream band would be Peter Erskine on drums, Matthew Garrison on bass, and Rez Abbasi on guitar. Other than that, I would really love to work with Vince Mendoza.

Road story: Your best or worst experience

Best experience: Recording a livestream show at Mojave Desert in 2021 with award-winning electropop/rock artist, Marina Diamandis. It was pretty intense but one of the most fun experiences in my life. Marina was an absolute joy to work with. I am very grateful for the opportunity, all thanks to my fellow colleague Fabian Egger, who was the music director for the show. We had 10 days of back-to-back intensive rehearsals until the show day, but that wasn't the toughest part. The toughest part was that we were recording in a desert. The soundcheck was at 1pm in the afternoon, and it was scorching hot. I had to make sure that my keyboards didn't melt in the heat, so I used zinc sheets to cover them to keep them cool. Fast forward to filming time in the evening, we had to deal with very strong winds. When we were filming the second or third song of the set, my top keyboard flew off the stand, and thankfully I managed to catch it in time and still play my keyboard parts. We had to pause for a little bit to tape my keyboards to the stand. All in all, it was super fun and I would totally do it again!

Favorite venue

My favorite venue is ShapeShifter Lab in Park Slope, Brooklyn, owned and run by bassist Matthew Garrison, son of Jimmy Garrison (bassist for John Coltrane) and Fortuna Sung. I haven't performed my own shows there yet, but I definitely would love to do my album release show here with my own project. I have only been going to their weekly jam sessions, and it definitely feels very warm and welcoming.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

My favorite recording in my discography is currently unreleased, so I'm gonna have to name one that is from my solo piano EP Amgydala, and that would be "Nocturne." I was a little nocturnal that night and couldn't really sleep because there was a lot on my mind. During that period of time, I was already working on a compilation of recordings for my solo piano EP. So I just decided to release all my energy and emotions into a new recording. It turned out to be the most honest sounding track, and also happened to be most people's favorite track from the EP.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I think my main focus is to be as intentional and honest as possible with my music, especially being a female musician.

Did you know...

that I love watching cartoons, and that I love talking?

The first jazz album I bought was:

The first jazz album I heard was Undercurrent by Bill Evans and Jim Hall. But the first physical jazz album that I bought was Chinese Butterfly by Chick Corea and Steve Gadd.

Music you are listening to now:

Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Gonzalo Rubalcaba: The Montreal Tapes (Universal Music Division Decca Records France)
Mokhtar Samba: Safar (Grand Central Artists)
Weather Report: Heavy Weather (Columbia/Legacy)
Chick Corea Akoustic Band: Live From The Blue Note Tokyo (Concord Records)
Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny Group: Offramp (ECM Records)

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Know your harmony theory inside out, but be honest and intentional with your writing and playing. Be you, because authenticity transcends time.

What is in the near future?

You can expect a full-length album from me in the next year and I will be performing as a solo artist for the first time with my project. So stay tuned! Other than that, I will be collaborating with local female artists like Vivi Hu and Daria Jones on a regular basis.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

My greatest fear when I perform is that I eat something bad beforehand, and that would upset my tummy. LOL.. just being honest haha!

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

"What A Wonderful World." Yea, I don't know why haha.

By Day:

I teach kids and adults piano lessons.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Hmmm, I'd say an accountant or a sales lady!

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

Lyle Mays, cause I wanna ask him about his approach to his writing and playing.

If I could go back in time and relive an experience, what would it be?

Watching Joni Mitchell, Lyle Mays, Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, Don Alias and Michael Brecker's live performance of "Shadows and Light."

What is your goal as a musician in the industry?

I want to make a musical statement as an Asian female figure in the music industry. I want to inspire other Asian women to step up as artists, leaders, creators and entrepreneurs.

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