Pianist Helen Sung is establishing herself as an exceptional young artist. Her playing has been called "passionate," "brimming with life," "astonishing," and her follow-up release Helenistique to her debut CD PUSH (both on Fresh Sound Records), has been described as "...one of the year’s most exciting listens." (JazzTimes)
Of Chinese heritage and a native of Houston, Texas, Helen attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA). She initially aspired to be a classical pianist but was bitten by the jazz bug while pursuing undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin!
Her choice to switch to jazz piano was decided in 1995 when Helen was accepted into the inaugural class of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory of Music. An intensive program accepting only seven students (forming a jazz septet), the Institute proved to be an unprecedented opportunity to study and perform with some of the greatest masters of jazz music.
The septet performed with Clark Terry, Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Heath, Jackie McLean, Harry "Sweets" Edison, and James Moody; and studied with such artists as Ron Carter (artistic director of the program), Barry Harris, David Baker, Slide Hampton, Lewis Nash, Jon Faddis, Curtis Fuller, Albert "Tootie" Heath, Bennie Maupin, and Sir Roland Hanna. The class toured India and Thailand with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, performed at the Kennedy Center, and presented workshops for students.
After graduating from the Institute in 1997, Helen dove into the Boston area jazz scene – some highlights include presenting a jazz music workshop with the late, acclaimed bassist Ray Brown, performing with fellow artists at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, and being featured on local television shows. She also taught a group piano class for low-income elderly adults sponsored by New England Conservatory’s Continuing Education Program & the YMCA.
Helen presently lives in New York City. She has worked and/or recorded with such jazz masters as Slide Hampton, Benny Golson, Buster Williams, and legendary composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter; and with such jazz luminaries as Regina Carter, Steve Wilson, and Lonnie Plaxico. She has also played with the Mingus Big Band, Clark Terry’s "Young Titans of Jazz" Big Band, and Diva. Most recently, she can be seen performing with drummer T.S.Monk, trombonist Steve Turre, and trumpet giant Clark Terry.
In addition to her work as a sideman, Helen is steadily gaining prominence as a bandleader. She was a featured guest on Marian McPartland’s acclaimed NPR Piano Jazz show and XM Satellite’s In the Swing Seat w/Wynton Marsalis. In print, Helen has feature pieces in such publications as Downbeat, JazzTimes, JazzIz, and AllAboutJazz-New York. Her band works both nationally & internationally, headlining at venues & festivals including Bern’s celebrated Marian’s Jazzroom, Andorra’s 2006 Temporada di musica i dansa, the American Jazz Museum’s ‘Blue Room,’ Cleveland’s Tri-C Jazz Festival, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and some of New York City’s finest jazz clubs.
Helen’s experience at the Monk Institute inspires her to remain committed to educational endeavors, such as working with JazzReach, the Newark Boys Chorus, and conducting masterclasses/clinics at various colleges and universities. She is also a recipient of a 2006 Chamber Music America grant, enabling her band to conduct a jazz residency program benefiting Camden’s (of New Jersey) Urban Promise Academy and Camden Forward Schools