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Photo courtesy of cuongvu.com • Photo by Virginia Valdes

Born to blast the horn
Joe Nguyen, editor
March 22, 2006

Prior to the start of the Cuong Vu Trio’s performance Dec. 9, 2006 at the Dazzle Jazz Club, the man introducing the band asked the audience to refrain from idle chit-chat. This was so the musicians were not disturbed during their show.

“I was one of the guys that committed blasphemy by saying that I think that Miles (Davis) was a noodler.”
– Cuong Vu

As if talking was possible.

Vu's blaring trumpet filled the swanky lounge as Stomu Takeishi's elaborate bass strikes and Ted Poor's rhythmic drum beats accompanied it. The packed crowd sat in awe, quietly letting the sporadic notes sink in. The music being played didn’t quite fit into any genre, but being that it was in a jazz club, most accepted it to be jazz.

“In the big scheme of things people would consider it jazz,” Vu said. “I’m talking about educated people, those who know what music is. But to the common listener, if you say jazz, they think of fusion that’s played on CD 104, Kenny G or Wynton Marsalis.”

(Photo by Joe Nguyen) Cuong Vu performs in front of a packed crowd Dec. 9, 2006 at The Dazzle Jazz Club.
Photo by Joe Nguyen

Cuong Vu performs in front of a packed crowd Dec. 9, 2006 at The Dazzle Jazz Club.

The baby-faced 37-year-old trumpeter has a different name for his sound. He calls it, “Jazz-informed, experimental rock.”

“But the words ‘jazz’ and ‘informed’ usually turn people off, so I don’t even want to use it,” he joked.

His influences are gathered more from Led Zeppelin and Björk rather than jazz greats Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis.

“I never was a huge fan of Miles’ work,” he said. “I was one of the guys that committed blasphemy by saying that I think that Miles was a noodler … I am not influenced by him at all.”

Vu has come a long way from his humble beginnings banging on pots and pans to the radio as a child to becoming a Grammy-award winner as part of the Pat Metheny Group.

He came from a musical background as his father was a musician and his mother was a singer in Vietnam. Growing up in Seattle, he said he felt as if he was more into music than his peers. At the age of 11, his mother gave him his first trumpet.

“When I started playing trumpet and found that I had some ability,” he said, “I kind of knew that I wanted to play music. I didn’t know that it was going to be this hard or challenging to make a living, or to get recognized.”

Times have changed since his early days. When his first toured Europe, he said he would book five weeks at a time. Now it’s difficult to do two. Here in the United States, he said it’s tough to do a tour that lasts more than five or six days.

“You can book a two-week tour, but it’s hard and it doesn’t pay very much,” he said.

Despite these challenging, he said there’s a movement of younger people who are searching for something new in terms of music. He believes that finding them by means of Internet sites, such as MySpace.com, can help turn things around for many musicians who are struggling.

“The way the music industry is set up, it’s really bleak for musicians like me,” he said. “Any creative music that’s not going to be mainstream and geared toward making as much money as possible is going to be hard.”

But it’s not just about the money; it’s the love of the music.

“I just knew I wanted to play music,” Vu said, “or be a football player. But my dad said I was too small.”

For more information on Cuong Vu, visit his official website at http://www.cuongvu.com.

Joe Nguyen is the editor in chief for AsiaXpress.com. Joe can be reached at Joe@asiaxpress.com.

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