An espresso with…
Annie Chen

January 22, 2019

SECRET TREETOP

We have interviewed Annie Chen and we talked with her about her latest project, Secret Treetop.


How did you choose the musicians for this project?
When I started this band, I was still studying for my Master’s Degree in Jazz Vocals at Queens College. We were a sextet and we were playing my original music. After graduation and touring in festivals and residencies in China, I composed a lot of new material and then I started searching for the best musicians to play this music. They all had their own individual and specific styles and sounds. I started talking to them individually. Then we rehearsed, had sessions, and concerts all together. For this octet, I worked with many musicians for almost a year before settling on this group of musicians who really fit my music style.
 
The music is a mix of different styles: how do you work on compositions and arrangements?
I’ve been working on the music in this new album for three years; it’s a major milestone for me and this octet. All of the compositions here are feelings derived from music, films, arts, literature. It represents my artistic development, encompassing my experiences in New York over the past several years. I guess, most of the time, I’m doing only the music I like. For me, there are a lot of influences from Chinese traditional music, Balkan, Classical, Mongolian, Eastern European etc... But, being true to yourself is the only way to make honest and, hopefully, impactful music.
The guitarist, Rafal Sarnecki, arranged most of my compositions on this album. After I wrote the compositions, I gave him a rough idea about the arrangements. After that, we talked, discussed, and played together and tried different things for the arrangements.
 
What does the title, Secret Treetop, mean?
When you are standing at the top of the tree, you can see a much wider world. That’s what making music is like: You need to see farther and open your heart and mind. Everything must be open. Just like the lyrics that I wrote: “This is where we’re staying, standing top of the secret tree.”
 
Jazz is cosmopolitan yet very personal. Is your music influenced by your Chinese roots?  How?
Yes, in growing up I was surrounded by Chinese traditional music, and this is undoubtedly part of my identity today; but jazz spoke to me in a way I hadn’t tried before. Actually, in addition to Chinese traditional, I like many different kinds of music including Balkan, Classical, Eastern European, Mid-Eastern etc. I need my whole collection of feelings to make my music whole. It’s through this complexity and this struggle that I find freedom to compose what I want.
 
Define Secret Treetop with three adjectives.
Fearless, Innovative, Colorful.
 
What are your next projects?
My next project will probably be a duo or a trio ensemble but not necessarily with a fixed instrumentation. I might invite different musicians to join me in a slightly less composed - more improvised repertoire, but this is just an idea I had. I need to start writing some new materials.
 
 
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