Bassist Hwansu Kang will present a collection of all original compositions at The Jazz Gallery this week. The overarching theme is “We go forward,” which has become something of a mantra for Kang. A graduate of The New School and a masters student at the Manhattan School of Music, Kang uses music to emphasize how he and his peers have collectively been discovering the beauty of a tradition of “music that never stays same.”
For his show at the Gallery, Kang is presenting a quintet featuring New York-based colleagues—Brandon Woody on trumpet, Abdulrahaman “Rocky” Amer on trombone, Guy Moskovich on piano, and JK Kim on drums. Speaking by phone, Kang dove into a few of his compositions, and shared his artistic vision for the upcoming generation of young musicians.
TJG: You graduate from school next year, correct?
Hwansu Kang: This will be my last year, yes. I graduated from the New School last year, and I’m at Manhattan School of Music right now for my masters, so I have one more year to go. It’s really good, things just got started again this week. Stefon Harris is the chair right now, and he’s bringing great artists through school. Buster Williams, Kendrick Scott, lots of amazing people.
TJG: You assembled an interesting quintet for this show at The Jazz Gallery. Could you tell me a little about some of the people you’ll be playing with?
HK: JK Kim is my best friend. I met him in New York about two years ago. When I first played him, he was the drummer I always dreamed of, the one I’d always wanted to play with. We speak the same language, we’re from the same country, and we understand each other musically. In a short amount of time, we grew up together as musical partners. He always brings more than I expect. I also met Brandon, the trumpeter, at MSM, where we put a combo ensemble together. He’s got a great thing going. He speaks through the trumpet. His language is so unique, his voice is so fresh to me.
We met Rocky, our trombone player, through the same MSM ensemble. He can literally speak anything through his instrument. He knows how to control it, how to make any sound, how to express himself. And Guy Moskovich, I’ve probably known him for a couple of years, but had never played with him until last year. I brought him in to play a tune of mine once, and he played exactly how I wanted it to be played: I didn’t explain anything, we didn’t really talk, we just started playing, and he just got it. We’re all from the same generation, and I believe we understand certain things that we don’t have to talk about. I trust and appreciate every one of these musicians in the band, and they respect me as a composer and bassist.
TJG: What will you be playing?
HK: It’s going to be all my originals. Almost everything has been written while at MSM, and the music has just come out of me. I’m going to playing some of these tunes for the first time in this show, and I’m really looking forward to it.
TJG: Tell me about the newest tune, the one you wrote most recently.
HK: I had an idea about these three simple words: “We go forward.” In the event listing, I talk about this. I want the show to mean something, and I want to give a message to the audience. We look forward, we keep moving, we never stop. I always believe that artists have to say something and mean something. You can’t just play music, play the gig, go home. We have a message. It’s not my job to judge my generation, but fifty or sixty years from now, people will see that certain artists of today really represented and captured the time. There is a tune called “We Go Forward” that we’re going to play. I haven’t written it down on paper yet, but it’s a short, seven-measure vamp type of thing. There are some things that I just can’t put on paper. So I’ll play the tune for the band on piano, they’ll get into it, and we’ll just play.
TJG: Is this idea, that artists should always be moving forward, a new belief of yours?
HK: Yes, it is. You know, I started playing just because I liked playing. I like the instrument, I like the sound. But I realized that a lot of musicians that I appreciate, fortunately some of whom I’ve played with, have certain things they need to say. Every artist should be like that. What I’m trying to do is say something through the music. Even if I’m playing the standards that everyone else has played, to do so in a way that expresses myself.
TJG: Have you talked to the quintet about this idea?
HK: Oh yeah. It’s something I live by, so they definitely know already [laughs].
TJG: What’s another piece you’ll be playing?
HK: We’re doing another piece called PDL, which I wrote last year, and stands for “A Promise of a Decade of Loneliness.” Last year I was always having to write tunes for a class or show, but with this tune, I didn’t need to write anything, I just went to the piano and it came out. I probably wrote it in about ten to fifteen minutes. It doesn’t have an A section or B section, it’s just one long passage of maybe thirty or thirty-two bars, something like that. The end of the piece is also the beginning, so the tune itself circulates. What “A Promise of a Decade of Loneliness” means is that, every decade has something that promises you. You might have experienced something, maybe something’s happening right now, or maybe it’ll happen soon. I’m not talking about 2018 to 2028, or anything so specific like that, but in certain periods of time, you can feel miserable, like there’s no hope. This is something I’ve felt in the last two years in New York. There’s a feeling, where you’re so busy, you can’t rest, everybody is working so hard, all day and all night. Even though we go through these periods, I want to use music to say, I promise that the period has an end, that it’s going to be okay at the end.
The Hwansu Kang Quintet plays The Jazz Gallery on Thursday, September 20, 2018. The group features Mr. Kang on bass, Brandon Woody on trumpet, Abdulrahaman “Rocky” Amer on trombone, Guy Moskovich on piano, and JK Kim on drums. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $15 general admission (FREE for members), $20 reserved cabaret seating ($15 for members) for each set. Purchase tickets here.