Introducing Stephanie Chou, Saxophonist, Singer and Composer

Steph Chou by Emra Islek

Stephanie Chou is a saxophonist, singer, and composer based in New York City. Her music combines classical and Chinese influences with jazz and pop harmony and rhythm, and you’ll be able to see her on May 5th at our fourth Global Mashup of the season.

We’ll be mashing up two cultures one stage with an open dance floor that evening, featuring Stephanie Chou, whose music combines Classical and Chinese influences with jazz, and Jamaican artist Owen Romeo with his group Tribal Legacy, presenting an array of Caribbean music. (Tickets are available here.)

Stephanie recently released a new album, Asymptote, which features fresh arrangements of Chinese classics including “The Moon Represents My Heart” and “Kangding Love Song,” a tongue-twister about Eating Grapes, and songs influenced by her love of mathematics and literature. Asymptote features jazz musicians Kenny Wollesen, John Escreet, David Binney, and Zack Lober, as well as viola and erhu virtuoso Andy Lin. Chou’s goal is to create global music that is artistically challenging, bold and fearless, and which presents a unique musical perspective.

(You should check out Stephanie’s “Quiet Night Thought Video” here and an interview she did recently in Chinamerica Radio here.)

Tell me a bit about your background and particularly when you began singing and playing the sax?

I was born in New York City and grew up in Irvington, a small town in Westchester County.  I have been in New York City since 2005. My mother grew up in Taiwan and my father is Chinese-American.  I learned Chinese before learning English. I went to Chinese school on Saturday mornings in addition to public school in Irvington. My mom spoke to me in a mix of Chinese and English at home; my dad mostly spoke in English.  My grandparents, who only spoke Chinese, lived with us for extended periods of time during my childhood.  We frequently visited them in Taiwan.   After attending the Horace Mann School, I graduated from Columbia University with a BA in Mathematics, and also took graduate classes in music composition at the City College of New York.    I have a strong interest and background in classical piano and saxophone, and in college became interested in jazz and improvisation.

I studied classical piano for approximately 15 years during grade school, and have been playing saxophone for nearly 20 years (I started in 4th grade). I have always sung, but only began formal voice studies about 5 years ago. Incorporating my voice into my compositions and performances has felt like a natural outgrowth of what I’d explored musically before, and it has now become my primary instrument.

What can your audience expect to experience at Flushing Town Hall?

They can expect to hear live versions of many of the pieces from my new album Asymptote. We’re playing as a quartet for this show – saxophone/voice, erhu/viola, piano, and drums.

My goal is to create global music that is artistically challenging, bold and fearless, and which presents a unique musical perspective. For those listeners who have some background in Chinese culture and know some of the references, I hope they feel the songs provide a fresh perspective on something they are already familiar with. For listeners for whom the source material is completely new, I hope the music provides an interesting gateway into Chinese culture. Above all, I hope listeners find the music to be intriguing, inventive, and informative. 

What is your impression of Flushing Town Hall?

It seems like a wonderful community center where tons of interesting and cutting-edge music, art, and cultural programs meet. Flushing Town Hall is an important part of the New York community and gives so many people access to great programming they otherwise might not be able to find. Flushing Town Hall supports such a wide variety of music, art, education initiatives from local and international groups – and is a major cultural institution in Queens. I am very excited to be performing there for the first time!

Steph Chou by Emra Islek

What do like most about live performances?

I like the feeling of playing together with other musicians, in real time. I like the temporal aspect of it. Most of all, though, I enjoy performing as a way to interact with the audience through music.

What intrigues you most about the global Mashup series?

The chance to be paired with a group that I’d most likely never otherwise be programmed on the same night with. Interacting with music from another culture in a spur-of-the-moment unpredictable new way and performing for an audience interested in various world musics.

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