Born in Malaysia, raised in, Perth, Western Australia, Linda started classical piano at age four and took up clarinet at eleven and bassoon at thirteen. In 2002 she was accepted into the W.A Academy of Performing Arts and started taking lessons on double-bass. Linda now lives in New-York City after completing her Masters at the Manhattan School of Music (now teaching bass in the precollege division). She has performed with the likes of Steve Wilson, Kenny Barron, Dave Douglas, Kevin Hayes and Cyrus Chestnut. She is also working on a jazz quartet with string quartet concept “Concert in the Dark” where the musicians play with specific movements throughout the audience with very minimal lighting to enhance the listening experience and create a spatial surround sound effect. Her self-released debut album Entry featuring Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet and Obed Calvaire on drums had a good reception. Her second album Initial Here released May 22nd, 2012. Read below for the full interview…
How important is it to have diversity in your teachings as a student? What strengths does this add to a musician to work with a wide variety of people, music, and arrangements?
Linda: I was lucky to have a variety of mentors and teachers who exposed me to a lot of different styles and forms of music. I’m grateful to have had some teachers instill in me the importance of learning the fundamentals and history of jazz, as well as others who exposed me to other things, knowing the importance of studying aspects that you want to (i.e. not have to).
One influence of mine includes Greg Cohen who played with Tom Waits, to Ornette Coleman, and to John Zorn. I enjoy being a bass player because I’m often given opportunities to delve into unknown realms as a side-person – it’s great to be challenged. Right now, I’m enjoying playing various genres within jazz, as well as some gospel gigs and occasionally rock and latin. As part of personal practice right now I need to be constantly checking out African rhythms/bass playing e.g. from Cameroon or Morocco, not necessarily for doing those gigs, but for personal growth. For me it’s really all music, all valid in their own way and we all have the privilege of choosing what we want to play and what I want to study. It was important to me because I was already into many different genres of music. I think it’s important to expose students to a wide spectrum of music to not only increase their capabilities and skills as a player, but also to help find one’s own voice. It’s an ongoing process that will never stop.
Having just got back from a pretty extensive tour, visiting places like Belgium, Amsterdam, and Perpignan…what kind of experiences have you had on your tour, musically speaking?
Linda: On this particular tour, it was priceless to tour with these more experienced musicians. Hearing the stories of Joe Lovano, Joey Baron and Dave Douglas were priceless for me.
The difference in generations was apparent to me, in that I, and many of my peers experienced jazz in the settings of high-school, and music-conservatory settings. Much of what we learned was through formal jazz education – very different with the experiences of Joe, Joey and Dave. In school somehow there can be more of an emphasis on what’s correct and what can you “do”- this is in order to learn specific musical skills and get through the course in order to get the degree. It’s easier to grade someone in a system like that. It was refreshing to play with the musicians in this band where emphasis is more on the feel and the spirit of the music as opposed to what is right and what is wrong.
Has the role of a bassist changed in the past decade for jazz musicians? Listening to your music it seems you’re the bandleader delivering a strong rhythm and melody. Is this the kind of variety you wanted to showcase in your latest album?
Linda: I’m not sure if I’d say that the “role” of the bass has changed significantly in the last ten years, but I do think that roles of all instruments are constantly evolving as different players come along, and different influences become absorbed. I remember talking to a bass-player who remembered New York in the 90’s when it was common for bass-players to play quite amplified, with low action – that was thing to do at the time. Then eventually the trend shifted to having a higher action with Velvet strings (gut strings wrapped in copper). This is of course a generalization and not everyone adhere’s to this, but when key players come up in the scene the obvious thing to happen is that younger players aspire to be like them and thus adopt their setup and style.
One drummer in his 40’s mentioned that he was hearing more and more of the younger drummers tuning their drums higher and playing with more of a gospel influenced language. I think these trends are constantly evolving. I did want to experiment with textures and melody in the bass with this album, yes.
As a kid, how long did you live in Malaysia before moving to Australia? Western Australia has a lot of young jazz musicians, but was curious to know if Malaysia has a good scene as well. Did your place of birth have any influence on your picking up your first instrument at such a young age?
Linda: I was three when my family moved to Perth, so unfortunately, I was and am a little ignorant of the jazz scene in Petaling Jaya where I was born. So thus, my place of birth did not have any relevance to me starting with piano. [Laughs] As a child in a Chinese-Malaysian family, I don’t think you really have a choice of your first instrument, you just do as you’re told! Starting classical piano was what my parents wanted for me and my sisters, but I’m very grateful for it.
You are a strong advocate of formal education. In your opinion do you feel the most well rounded musician should go to University to study music? What kind of advantages would a young musician receive?
Linda: I’m actually not a strong advocate of formal education, I have mixed feelings – yes, I did go through a lot of formal music education, and I am grateful for everything I have learned and all the amazing people I have met through it. Living in the New York City, I don’t believe jazz students should have to pay $30,000 + a year to study a four-year degree ending up in thousands of dollars in debt, trying to pay it off with restaurant gigs here and there that barely pay $100 (as is the case with many of my friends). Though some are fortunate enough to get scholarship, and others in Australia and Europe are lucky that the education is a lot more affordable.
The advantage for me, was that although I was lucky enough to have scholarship, and to be able to do gigs while studying, I also was pushed by great teachers, and met some amazing people – many of the students I still play with today. I also learned a lot about theory, harmony and orchestration. Though so much of what I’m learning, traveling with and playing with more experienced musicians can’t be learned in the school.
The study of music, in and of itself, can be very fulfilling and enriching. In the real world, though, most of us need to be able to make a living. How do the Banff Centre curricula prepare students for gainful employment in the music field?
Linda: Both times I went to Banff, the emphasis was not at all about preparing for employment, it was about being in an artist retreat where we were exposed to very different and ideas and introduced to a diverse array of musicians/artists. That’s what made it such a beautiful experience.
Do you have any favorite Asian films?
Linda: I have a few Asian films that struck me – one was Lust Caution, and the other was Electric Shadows.
On Initial Here, you explore both Cultural identity and musical identity. Indicative of experiences, attitudes, and many directions, did you have to become vulnerable as a person in order to record music of this magnitude?
Linda: It was a great experience completing Initial Here. There definitely contains a lot of personal and sentimental family experiences within the music, but I think in most music I write I like to think there’s a degree of vulnerability and honesty, because that’s the music that moves me the most.
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson did some renditions of hip-hop songs entitled ‘A Suite for Ma Dukes’. As a musician, are you open to exploring jazz renditions of other genres? What challenges does this present?
Linda: I think music is music, and there’s so much music I love that is not necessarily jazz. On my first album I did a trio version of Soul to Squeeze (a Red Hot Chili Peppers tune). This song is close to my heart and I think a lot “jazz versions” of non-jazz music can be very dangerous. I love experimenting with the concept though, but I think it has to be coming from an honest and though-out place – considering not only the arrangement, but the instrumentation and the players themselves.
Lastly, what is on the horizon for you? Do you have any plans for a next album after your tour dates wrap up?
Linda: I’m working on a few things at the moment. I recently recorded a live project at WKCR with Ben Wendel (tenor sax) James Muller (gtr) and Ted Poor (drums) which I might be releasing later next year. I’m still in the process of mixing my string quartet commission at the Jazz Gallery. I’m enjoying the process of recording live – it seems to capture a lot more of the energy and spirit of the moment for me.
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