Guitarist Nguyên Lê, born in Paris to Vietnamese parents, embodies the exotic multi-cultural mosaic fueling the vibrant jazz and world music scenes flourishing in the French capital... A self-taught musician, majored in Philosophy & Visual Arts, Lê has developed a distinctive sound that draws upon rock, funk and jazz as well as traditional Algerian, Indian and Vietnamese styles.
Who are your favorite jazz greats?
Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Gil Evans... Jimi Hendrix, is he a jazzman ? and also Hariprasad Chaurasia!
Why is it important for young people today to learn about jazz?
Jazz is one of the few kinds of music left that resist the hegemony of the art business. It’s also one of the best that exists, because it combines in the best way liberty (of improvisation), emotion of expression and intelligence (the complexity of the harmonies and the rhythms).
What is your most memorable jazz 'moment'?
Last July, I had the chance to play my music in Hanoi with an orchestra of local Vietnamese artists. I was received as a national hero! For years now I have been trying to forge a Vietnamese identity to jazz. That day I felt that I had succeeded, since my country was recognizing me, me who was born in Paris and don't speak Vietnamese. At the same time, thanks to my work, Vietnamese people are discovering jazz, which has been a style of music that was for years politically forbidden and also they are rediscovering their own traditional music, which they tended to neglect because of MTV.
Do you think that music (and jazz in particular) can promote peace and tolerance?
Music is an art beyond words but it only becomes a universal language if we learn about other people's cultures. It’s the same procedure for peace, and music –which, in order to be created, brings together people, generations and nations that are so different- is the most beautiful example and symbol.
Why do you think a day like International Jazz Day is important?
It’s a great way to show to people at what point jazz nowadays can speak to everyone.
What is one action the public could do to promote Jazz Day or the values of jazz?
Buy jazz albums, go to concerts, talk to their friends about jazz!
Do you think jazz brings together people from different cultures? Can you give examples from your personal experience?
For 20 years now I've played jazz as a language that allows for an integration of different cultures, and to show at which point these meetings can be enlightening, if they are sincere and clairvoyant. Of course, I give concerts all around the world, but also create projects which bring music and musicians from everywhere, from Vietnam (with numerous albums like "Tales from Viêt-Nam") to Algeria (Maghreb & Friends"), from Cameroon to Martinique ("Ultramarine"), from Spain to Turkey (Bakida), from India to Japan, with the Saiyuki trio, with which I will play at UNESCO.
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