Young Jazz Singapore: Saxophonist Sean Hong Wei Puts His Soul into Playing Music
Despite his young age, saxophonist Sean Hong Wei has a good head on his shoulders—and a lung capacity to match. Besides improving on his saxophone technique, the 22-year-old hopes to work on himself as a person because “it relates very much to how you play music and what comes out of your instrument”.
Hong started performing professionally at age 17 and now performs regularly with both the Jazz Association Singapore Orchestra (Jasso) and its youth wing (Jassyo!). He finds it a pleasure to play with youth musicians like himself—many of whom have become his friends—sharing passion and knowledge, and also counts himself blessed for having had the opportunity to play alongside jazz luminaries, including Benny Golson, Randy Brecker, Antonio Hart, Tony Lakatos and Lewis Nash.
No mean feat for someone who only started playing the saxophone in his secondary school band. On how he hopes to come across to his audience, Hong expounds: “I just want to be as honest as I can, as true to the music—no pretence of trying to be something that I’m not”.
“I was 13 when I chanced upon Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite. It was also when I picked up learning to play the saxophone. I was awestruck—I’d never heard music being played like that before. I didn’t understand anything about jazz back then, but I didn’t have to. The feeling was enough for me to fall deeply in love with the music ever since.”
“I started on the alto saxophone and played for a good four and a half years, until I bought a used Yamaha tenor. I felt so much more comfortable playing the tenor because it had a more similar range to my vocal range. The saxophone is just an extension to your vocals as you have to sing through your instrument to make the horn sing. I was also exposed to the rich tradition of tenor masters such as Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.”
LESSONS ON STAGE
“One of my favourite performances with Jassyo! was at the first Lion City Youth Jazz Festival in 2017. It felt unreal that I was sharing the stage with other youth musicians and playing the compositions (which have become timeless standards) of jazz legend, Mr Benny Golson—and with the man himself. I made sure I practised hard and nailed my parts. From that experience, I’ve learnt that every performance requires one’s responsibility to work on your parts and show up prepared as everyone has to play their part in a big band to present a good show.”
“Local musicians, including Andrew Lim, Christy Smith, Jeremy Monteiro, Uncle Louis (Soliano), Weixiang Tan, Joshua Wan, Chok Kerong, and more, all have very graciously passed on their knowledge and inspiration to the younger generation of musicians.”
Jazz standard: “Without A Song by Stanley Turrentine. I dig the infectious swing of Turrentine’s sound. The saxophone and organ combo is one of my favourites.”
New release: “Blue World by John Coltrane is a previously unissued cache of studio recordings by the classic and immortal John Coltrane Quartet—and it is as fresh and new as it was back in 1964.”
Wildcard: “She Doesn’t Know (I Love Her) by Johnny O’Neal. This is a beautiful arrangement of a beautiful tune.”
In case you missed it: Behind The Byline: Life Lessons With Jeremy Monteiro
- Art DirectionJana Tan
- GroomingBenedict Choo
- ImagesJazz Association Singapore