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Q&A with Cuong Vu of Speak

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Forward-thinking trumpeter Cuong Vu has performed with the likes of Pat Metheny, Laurie Anderson and David Bowie. He's toured the world and released four albums under his own name. After a stint in New York, Vu moved back to the Northwest, where he is now assistant professor of jazz studies at the University of Washington.



It's there at UW that he coached an ensemble that included members of Speak. After mentoring the students -- saxophonist Andrew Swanson, keyboardist Aaron Otheim, drummer Chris Icasiano and bassist Luke Bergman -- forty-year-old Vu says he decided to join the band because the younger musicians “have the energy and they have a vision for the way things are done and it fuels me."



While they've all studied jazz at length, Speak's self-titled debut, shows how far the quintet's influences span, from avant-garde composer Gyrgy Ligeti to the metal band Meshuggah. Or as Vu puts it, “It's almost like we're playing this experimental rock music that's coming out of being rooted in jazz music."



We caught up with Vu, who performs with Speak at Dazzle tonight (Tuesday, April 6) at 7 p.m., and spoke with him about playing with Speak, his experience with the the Pat Metheny Group, studying with Joe Maneri, recording with Denver's Ninth + Lincoln Orchestra and more.



Westword (Jon Solomon): What was it about Speak that made you want to join the band?



Cuong Vu: First of all, they're really great musicians, and they definitely have all their own perspectives and approaches. You know, the youth, they have the energy and they have a vision for the way things are done, and it fuels me. It informs my music, too. It's a lot of fun. It's something different and new for me.



WW: It seems like it's really some challenging music. Do you find it challenging at all?



CV: No. This music is like ear candy to me. It's really experimental, but having checked out experimental classical music and experimental rock and experimental jazz and all the avant-garde, you get to a stage where you just kind of expect the unexpected. And you're able to sit there and feel, basically, what the music has to offer, without having to rely on feeling comfortable, because your expectations are met.



And that, to me, is really fun and really exciting. So, all this stuff is not ... it's only when the music is not good, is when I feel uncomfortable. But if I'm really interested and it takes my attention and I'm gripped, I'm all good.



WW: Do you get something out of this group that you haven't gotten playing with other groups?



CV: Yeah. First of all, they are a collective of young people who are all friends and have developed, musically, together. That, in itself, is a really unifying and important thing for the sound of the band. But also, as I said before, it's just great to get the energy and perspectives of the younger generation.

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