ListN Up: Stephanie Chou (April 9, 2021)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Stephanie Chou is a composer, saxophonist, and singer based in NYC. Her music combines classical and Chinese influences with jazz and pop harmonies and rhythms to create an entirely original, bi-lingual (English/Mandarin) musical world. Recent works include the song cycle Comfort Girl (2019), which explores the plight of WWII “comfort women,” and the album Asymptote (2017), which features fresh takes on Chinese classics. Stephanie was a 2016 ACF | create participant, a program of the American Composers Forum with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation.

Hi, my name is Stephanie Chou, and I’m a composer, saxophonist, and singer based in New York City. I hope you enjoy listening to my playlist, which contains songs that I love that transport the listener on a journey and contain vivid imagery.

“San Jacinto” from New Blood by Peter Gabriel

This is an orchestral arrangement of one of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs from his 1982 album Security, and both versions always make me cry when the “I hold the line” lyric enters. It’s a powerful song that tells the story of a traditional Apache ritual every boy must go through before being deemed a Brave–he goes with a Medicine Man into the mountains where a rattlesnake is allowed to bite him. The Medicine Man leaves, and the boy must either find his way down the mountain or die. The song also comments on the clash between modernization and tradition, and contains a Lakotan call to the Great Spirit.

Fight Typhoon (Zhan Tai Feng 战台风, sometimes called “Battling the Typhoon”) by Wang ChangYuan (王昌元)

This is a famous solo guzheng (Chinese zither) piece by eminent guzheng performer/composer Wang ChangYuan written in 1965, and one of her signature pieces. It depicts a dramatic fight against the forces of nature, and is such a masterful showcase of the instrument’s capabilities, sound palette, and extended techniques. You really “hear” the typhoon happening. This has been one of my favorite pieces to listen to since childhood.

A Taste for Passion by Jean-Luc Ponty

Jean-Luc Ponty is a French pioneer of violin in jazz and rock contexts and expanded the vocabulary of modern music so much. This composition is riveting, and I love the different sections it moves through, from the driving piano arpeggiations to the soaring electric violin melody. He also plays organ, piano, and violin on this piece.

“Guess Who I Saw Today?” performed by Nancy Wilson, written by Murray Grand and Elisse Boyd

This is Nancy Wilson’s signature song, and when I first heard it I was completely surprised at the ending. I love her conversational delivery and the immediacy of her masterful vocals, which she maintained throughout her long career. To me this is one of the ultimate “story songs.”

Prelude, Cadence, et Finale by Alfred Desenclos, performed by Arno Bornkamp (saxophone) and Ivo Janssen (piano)

This is my favorite classical saxophone piece and a well-known piece in the canon. I wanted to include some classical saxophone in this playlist since it’s not so widely known outside of saxophone circles. Desenclos was a French composer of mostly-liturgical romantic music. I love the rich harmonies, vivid imagery, dramatic moments, and balance of virtuosity and lyricism. The interplay between saxophone and piano is also fantastic. I first learned the piece as a teenager and have returned to it many times over the years as a continual source of inspiration.

This I Dig of You from Soul Station by Hank Mobley, performed by Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Art Blakey (drums)

Soul Station is one of my favorite hard bop albums, and this song is a classic. The lineup is Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Art Blakey (drums). They are all just cookin’ on this album. Great composition, fantastic solos, interesting chord changes, and stellar performances. Hank Mobley is often underrated. This was one of the first saxophone solos I transcribed and listening to these masters play is always such a joy.

“Roundabout” by Yes

An iconic Yes song, this is the band in its prime. Like many Yes songs, the music goes on such a wild journey to unexpected places. The imagery of mountains coming out of the sky, driving through roundabouts, combined with Jon Anderson’s unique voice and the band’s sophisticated arrangements really inspires me. This was written by Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe. I love how the beginning reverse-piano effect adds drama to the beautiful guitar part, setting up the launch into the rest of the song, with a great solo by Rick Wakeman. I am somewhat of a new listener to progressive rock, even though I’ve often been told my compositions have progressive influences. When I started listening to more of it in recent years, its complexity, unexpectedness, epic-ness, and accessibility immediately sounded like music I wanted to write.

Eating Grapes 吃葡萄 from Asymptote by Stephanie Chou, performed by Stephanie Chou and Kenny Wollesen

This piece is based on the well known Chinese Tongue Twister 吃葡萄吐葡萄皮 – Chi PuTao Tu PuTao Pi 不吃葡萄, 不吐葡萄皮 which means, “If you eat grapes, you spit out the peels. If you don’t eat grapes, you don’t spit out the peels.” This was one of the earliest Mandarin tongue-twisters I learned as a child, and I thought a vocal/drum duet would be a fun take on it. Kenny Wollesen plays drums as well as many of his homemade Wollesonics on this recording, and in the improvised middle section, I talk about different colors of grapes, ask who eats them, do you spit out the peels? Are there seeds inside? Do you eat grapes, does he eat grapes, does she eat them? We all eat grapes! This is always such fun to perform live.


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