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Linda May Han Oh and Fabian Almazan are in the zone

The bass may not be the flashiest instrument in a jazz combo, but it can serve as the platform that controls the rhythm and holds up all the other sounds. Linda May Han Oh, whose “innovative range and stellar improvisations have made her one of the most dynamic rising stars in jazz today,” according to The Wall Street Journal, has played this role with artists ranging from Vijay Iyer to Pat Metheny. She even accompanied popular artist Jon Batiste and appeared in animated form in the Academy Award-winning Pixar movie Soul

Oh and her husband, acclaimed pianist Fabian Almazan, will continue their ongoing musical collaboration over six Spoleto Festival USA performances, starting June 2 at Festival Hall. Their cooperation and the different layers of their music are like leading you to a building where, by the time the music is over, you end up at a higher level. We invited the two to talk about jazz and the performances they will give at Spoleto. 

City Paper: Where do your inspirations come from? 

Linda May Han Oh: We get inspiration from all places. My last album is called Aventurine, which symbolized creativity and evolution. I wrote a song on it about my niece and about child’s play, which we can often forget as adults. The idea behind my next album, The Glass Hours, is what we choose to do in the limited time that we have on this earth.

Fabian Almazan: For me personally, music is such an abstract art form because everybody gets something different from it. Pretty much everything is a source of inspiration. As an artist focused on sustainability and climate change, I think an artist’s role is to help people feel things they might not have felt. 

City Paper: Fabian, you mentioned sustainability and climate change, and I know you love nature and creatures. Does this love influence your music? 

Almazan: I do focus on that. In Cuba, lots of music and dances derive from African tradition. People can find solace and comfort in this art form, which reflects the natural world and imitates different animals. I think it is a natural human thing to connect nature to the music. 

City Paper: Linda, what do you think the bass’s position is in jazz? Has it changed over the years? 

Oh: Originally, the role of the bass within a jazz context was to hold a fundamental, harmonic and rhythmic foundation. And I think it is important to know the history and tradition. I still think most of my role is foundational, but there is such a wide spectrum to explore. I value that position of being a strong support, but I also value being a leader. 

City Paper: What can you tell me about the experience of playing Miho in Soul?

Oh: It was really exciting. The Pixar team is incredible. It is interesting to have those different cameras on you, then the animators can see what will happen exactly, like the fingerings. 

City Paper: Do you feel the same way when the movie talks about musicians entering their zone?

Oh: Yeah, I definitely feel that. And sometimes you are in the zone with somebody else. For me, it is like a bubble with the crowd: You can be in the zone alone, but you can also be there with other people.

City Paper: Can you talk a little about the music you will perform at Spoleto?

Almazan: It’s inspired by John Cage. Complete silence.

Oh: No, he is joking. We won’t do that. We will do a bunch of things from various albums, but we are also writing new material. We probably will perform something from The Glass Hours, and it can vary from night to night. 

City Paper: Can you talk about what jazz represents in the music industry today? 

Oh: Sometimes it is hard to think about the business aspect, though it’s necessary. But jazz itself, as an African-American platform, is important to the culture, the country, even the world. We play with musicians that we just met, we may not even speak the same language, and we are able to make music immediately. It is beautiful when international musicians all acknowledge the roots of jazz. 

Tina Zhu is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.

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