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Interview: Flutist Hanna Kim of H & J Quintet
(Published: September 01, 2019)

Q: What are the earliest memories of music you can recall?

A: Thinking back to my childhood, my earliest musical memories started with my grandmother when I was very young at age of 3 or 4. I remember my grandmother babysat me while my mom was working every day. Also during those time, my grandmother became a Christian and started singing hymns from her songbook. I loved whenever she sang a song for me because those melodies and her voice comforted me. My grandmother wasn't a trained singer, but I remember that she sang from the heart. We had great times together when we sang the hymnals at church or during our long days at her home. Sometime she cried while she was singing the hymns. I was confused as to why she cried when she sang, because I couldn't quite understand at the time. I was too young to know about the hardships of life. Now I think perhaps my grandmother was going through so many things at the time or she was deeply thankful for God's love. As I grew, I started to understand why she cried, because I also cry sometimes when I sing hymns these days. Hymns are not only just songs but it is sincere prayers to our loving God. I am so grateful for my grandmother because she introduced me this beautiful and inspirational music with her faith and love in God. Because of her, Christian hymns were my lullaby and my first beautiful memory of music. That's the reason why this special memories of hymns keep inspires me to still play and arrange them to this day. Someday when I go to heaven, I will still sing and play hymns with her to praise our God. Making music and praising God's goodness is my present life's calling that continues until the end of my days and beyond.

Q: Do you recall a strong musical community in and around where you grow up, which is where, actually?

A: My strong musical community has always been church since I was young. In my home church, we played CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) which is one of the genres of Christian modern pop-rock music. This music plays with all different kinds of contemporary grooves which includes various instruments like drums, guitar and piano. We also sing. All the lyrics were meaning to praise God and about how thankful we are as his children.

Since I started playing this music, I felt very blessed and loved. It was different than just playing the music, because the songs were about the love that completely fulfilled my empty young heart. I also learned to improvise while I was playing with this church band. This training was a huge blessing for me to become the musician I am now.

I learned not only how to play the music but also how to communicate with other musicians.

In addition, I played the flute with one of the choirs at my home church. My mom was in the choir at the time, and I remember I was really happy to go there with her. Everyone was so nice and welcoming always. All the singers were like my family. They always took turns preparing a delicious meal after rehearsals, and that was the best time for me. I definitely felt loved because I saw they care for each other. For the choir music, it wasn't always arranged to flute music, so I had to come up with my improvised flute melody lines. I usually got an idea about how to improvise when I listened to the piano chords or vocal melody lines at the rehearsals. I felt like that was a great training for me to become a jazz flutist.

Q: Why are you attracted to the styles of music on your Reminisce album?

A: While I was attending at the Berklee College of Music, I played in the various musical jazz ensembles such as Afro-Cuban Jazz, Blue Note Jazz, Brazilian Jazz ensemble and more. Throughout these ensembles I learned how to play different styles of jazz. I loved playing with such a diverse jazz music under direction of inspirational professors. When I think back, I know it was a huge blessing for me to learn in such a great musical atmosphere at the Berklee College of Music.

While I was in those ensembles, I loved playing Brazilian music in different grooves and genres such as, choro, samba, baiao, bossa nova and more. These inspiration encouraged me to create my own arrangement that influenced by different style of music such as hymnals, Brazilian, and traditional jazz. That is the reason that why the Reminisce includes those three diverse elements of my music.

After I graduated from Berklee in 2016, I released our debut album Reminisce by H&J Quintet, which demonstrates how I draw from different styles of music. It is a collection of old hymns arranged alongside an original composition ("Prayer for Boston"). Combining elements of Brazilian music and rhythms with old school traditional jazz (baiao, samba, bossa nova, odd meter, swing, and ballad), I wanted to create a special arrangement of hymns in an original way.

H&J Quintet's debut album Reminisce is available on many major music platforms. As a composer, arranger and flutist, I want to keep pursuing the creation of my own style across genres while connecting with my audience. My professional goal is to be an artist who truly appreciates many genres of music and creates a new style of Brazilian and jazz music for today's audience.

Q: Did you study music in school?

A: I studied and finished degrees in three different schools in the United States. I went to a small Christian school called Bethesda University in California for my first undergraduate degree (B.A in music). After this, I moved to Riverside, California to pursue my Master's degree in performance and conducting (4 yrs concentration) at California Baptist University. During the four years of conducting and performance, I learned how to lead an ensemble as well as professionally perform in front of audiences. For the first two years, I concentrated on flute performance and for the next two years, I concentrated in choral conducting which really challenged me. At first, leading a large ensemble was uncomfortable and demanding because I was used to playing the flute and following the leader as a performer. Stepping from a more passive role as a performer to an active role as a conductor forced me to grow musically as I noticed my confidence affecting the music made by the university choir and orchestra. Throughout my master's program, I was able to grow as a musician and leader.

As I grew in my master's program, I realized that I wanted to pursue opportunities where I could be creative and explore new genres of music, including improvisation and jazz. After careful consideration and prayers, I moved to Boston in 2011 and started to study at the Berklee College of Music in 2012. It was my second Bachelor's degree in music, which concentrated on jazz performance. In the transition from classical music to jazz and in particular improvisation, I found my musical calling. Studying at Berklee College of Music was an extremely blessing for me to become a jazz musician. I learned and received an inspiration from great jazz musicians, teachers, and professors at the school. I was honored to receive different kinds of scholarships and awards while I was at Berklee. I played in numerous ensembles that guided me to explore different genres, allowing me to play improvisations on my flute. Brazilian jazz and latin jazz in particular deeply inspired me to embrace the creative process of making music.

Q: Which musicians have inspired or influenced you and how?

A: There are so many musicians that I have inspired in this journey. As I am a flutist, arranger, and composer, I would say the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim definitely influenced me to play and compose Brazilian music in my musical journey. He is the first Brazilian musician who deeply inspired me. I was really intrigued by his playful bossa nova groove and his distinctive chord progression. Whenever I listened to him, the music brought me to the places that he sang about, that I had never visited but I could imagine myself in these places. I think Bossa nova was a starting point which opened the door for me to explore more different Brazilian grooves such as samba, baiao, choro and more. As I am listening and getting into Brazilian music, I received tremendous inspirations from Djavan, Gilberto Gil, Elis Regina, Eliane Elias, Cesar Camargo Mariano, and others. Also, I would like to say the choro (a type of Brazilian popular music that is originated in 19th century) musicians and modern choro artists really inspired me to write and play music. I like how the choro music has sophisticated rhythmic and harmonic structure on top of such a beautiful melodies. Because of it, I love listening to choro of Jacob do Bandolim, as well as Hamilton de Holanda and Anat Cohen. In addition, besides Brazilian music, I listen to influential jazz artists like Chick Corea, Fred Hersch, Stefano Bollani, Avishai Cohen, Hiromi, Hubert Laws, Duke Ellington, Sam Most and others. These great musicians' recordings always push me to grow more and more as I pursue jazz music.

Q: Are there any artists who influenced you to change your approach to music and how?

A: The Brazilian jazz bandolinist, Hamilton de Holanda is one of my favorite performing artists who deeply inspires me. I like how he makes his own style of music with his virtuosity with two main genres of music; choro and contemporary style jazz. One of his tunes, Baiao Brasil, is one of my favorites. It shows a high degree of musical complexity. During my Berklee years, my ensemble professor introduced this tune during our class. Since then I still love listening and playing the music. Last year, Hamilton de Holanda visited to perform at Berklee, and my husband (drummer Joseph Seo) and I were able to get his concert ticket. We were so excited to see and observe the master's performing in front of us. I am thankful that I talked to him after the concert and even I gave him our CD as a special gift to him. These days I am listening to his one of the recent albums, Jacob Bossa (2018) which inspired me with my own choro and jazz compositions. One of my recent compositions, Hanna's Choro I was influenced by choro music as well. This my original composition performed at the Brookline Porchfest this past June.

Q: What led you to become a flutist?

A: When I was 7, I started learning the violin and piano. But I remember, after attending a flute concert, everything has changed. I had never seen such a beautiful instrument before. The flute was shiny on stage, and it sounded gorgeous and silky. After the concert, I asked my mother if I could play the flute. As I grew up, I met great flutists and music teachers during my high school, college and graduate school years. I think each of these music lessons led me to become a better musician and a flutist. I feel very blessed by God because He allowed me to learn from such a wonderful flute teachers in the South Korea and United States. I am so thankful to each of my teachers who taught me flute and gave me tremendous inspiration through his/her music and teaching. I want to send my very special thanks to each of my teachers and professors who taught me how to play the flute. When I think of my childhood, I realize that I had no idea it would lead me to where I am today. I am also truly thankful that my parents invested in me learning music from a young age, and for the great teachers I had along the way.

More Information: https://hannakimflutist.com/music

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