Shun Ng and Quincy Jones Get Cooking
by Holley Dey @2013 OnTapBlog all rights reserved
Photo by Ralph Jaccodine
Twenty-three year old singer-songwriter and guitarist Shun Ng met the legendary Quincy Jones recently at the producer’s home in Los Angeles. They exchanged recipes. Ng shared his simple but flavorful approach to braised short ribs, while Jones emphasized the importance of slow cooking the gumbo and layering the ingredients. The two foodies agreed that chefs are true musicians; they use seasoning rather than notes to spice the composition. “When you eat,” said Ng, “it’s like music you can taste.”
They harmonized over a late lunch of turkey sandwiches and guacamole during a meeting that even two weeks earlier neither had anticipated. A mutual friend had sent Jones the link to Shun’s most recent music video; Quincy was floored by the young artist’s performance. An invitation promptly followed, and a meeting was hastily arranged. The younger musician was awestruck at the opportunity to meet his idol, but Q offered a generous welcome to his living room, exclaiming “Hey man, you can really play!” When they sat together, the conversation soon turned to more than music. Food, culture, social justice and the world community were topics in a wide ranging conversation that continued well beyond its scheduled limit and into the evening.
By the time Mr. Jones asked Ng to perform one of his original compositions, the producer might have anticipated the selection. Shun performed “SLAM”, a song that showcases not only his vocal and instrumental ability, but also his passion. The lyrics describe the hardships and injustice faced by Thailand’s Lahu tribe. The tribe inhabits a remote village where educational resources are limited, and where child labor and prostitution are common. Shun remembers a lovely young girl who at the age of fifteen was sold by her parents for $5,ooo, then silently and permanently disappeared from the village. Ng’s original song describes the plight of these and other forgotten children. The lyrics cry “..how does it feel to wake up to no sound…get out of bed to be kicked right down?”
Says Ng, “I do music because of my passion for social work. Fingerstyle guitar is a means to the end. It catches the attention, puts (me) in a position to share and to teach about love.” And he makes clear, “I want to make music to change the world.” All of the proceeds from Shun’s 2011 Christmas album were dedicated to helping members of the Lahu tribe attend school, although Ng insists that the most important gift he offers the tribe members is friendship.
Shun himself is currently a student at Boston’s Berklee College of Music where a Dean’s program allows the young talent to tour while completing his studies. Schoolwork doesn’t come easily. Ng suffers from severe dyslexia, a condition that diverted his attention from books to music at an early age. He listened to the greats, and found the beauty and understanding that was missing from the printed word. Born in Chicago, but raised in Singapore, Shun’s early musical choices included Jimmy Hendrix, BB King, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Earth, Wind & Fire and more. He listened intently to jazz and blues music, intent on the fine details of the composition and instrumentation. This was the music that Quincy Jones has described as “the classical music of America”. When the difficult choice had to be made, Ng knew that his musical destiny lay across the ocean, and at twenty-two he left family and friends for the West.
Shun is completely self-taught and the first musician in his family. His father bought the then fourteen year old boy his first guitar. Shun recalls his early attempts to play the instrument. He practiced “Hey Jude” over and again, fingering the strings, singing the melody and chorus. His Dad noticed. “That’s nice! Did you write that?” His son remembers with a smile in his voice, “Of course I said yes!”
Ng takes the same minimalist approach to his music that he does to cooking. He describes the sound as conceptually jazz, but improvisation based. “I play a funky, groovy form of jazz,” he says. “I just play.” He layers the music, adding percussion with his voice and the heel of his hand over intricate fingerstyle guitar that is remarkable for its speed, its accuracy, and for the passion of his play. His vocals reflect an understanding of musical culture and history; he scats, adds emphasis with singular sounds gleaned from his many years in Singapore.
When Shun picked up his guitar in Los Angeles, he played for one as though he was playing for an audience of fifty thousand. The reaction from that one was immediate and enthusiastic. “Wow man, that’s really special. You’re going to blow people away.” Quincy Jones went on to say, “So many things are going to happen for you, but remember to let go and let God.”
Q’s kind words and enthusiasm were received with gratitude and understanding. Shun has a plan, and a vision of the artist that he wants to become. There’s another level that he wants to reach to be “a better performer, a better communicator, a better social worker, a better human being.” “You can’t force it,” says Ng, “but you have to work at it every day. I want to be the channel through which the music flows.”
Shun Ng’s next live performance will Friday, July 19 at Boston’s Outside the Box Festival. More information is available here.
The following videos showcase two of Shun’s original compositions, “Funky Thumb Stuff” and “SLAM”.