Q&A with Cuong Vu: Back in Seattle
With his career heating up following a stint in the Pat Metheny Group, in 2006 Cuong Vu made the opposite of the usual exodus and moved from New York City back to his former home of Seattle. There the Vietnamese-born trumpeter, now 41, revitalized the young jazz scene centered around the university of Washington. One former student, bassist Luke Bergman, appears on both of Vu's new releases: 'Leaps of Faith', a collection of re-imagined standards by his 4-tet, and the self-titled AGOGIC, with alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo and current student Evan Woodle on drums.
JAZZIZ: Why did you decide to move back to Seattle?
CUONG VU: I've always had a hard time living on the East Coast, and the quality of life in New York just isn't that good unless you're pretty rich. So I thought I could move somewhere else and start doing my part, trying to educate people about new, creative music.
JZ: Could you describe the burgeoning scene that's been growing up around the UW?
CV: The guys who were already here get offended when they hear me talk about this "burgeoning scene." But in the 80's, there was this incredible energy here; people really supported the music. Even if it was conservative, it was still kickass burning. When I came back it felt a little soft and lazy. So my focus was to get younger kids excited about putting out new music that's theirs and not about trying to hold up to traditional ideals.
JZ: You formed AGOGIC with your old friend Andrew D'Angelo, who recently went through a traumatic battle with brain cancer. How did the band come together?
CV: I did a benefit concert for Andrew where I played with a student band, and something happened with them performing that music. Suddenly on that gig they came into their own. And when Andrew came to visit, they were really challenged and inspired by him, so we thought this would be a good way for us to reconnect musically.
JZ: What inspired you to take such a radical approach to standard repertoire on 'Leaps of Faith'?
CV: When Pat Metheny hired me, I had to go back and reexamine the standards, and the link between what I did and the tradition became more clear. I found I could approach that music and still make it sound in line with my own voice.
JZ: What did you learn from working with Metheny?
CV: That whole experience was school, and there was a lot of information that I absorbed. I'm sure a fair amount of it is going to be subconscious, but the thing that I got out of it the most is probably that people don't get famous and successful without working their asses off.