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Helen Sung: Words and Music

On Sung With Words, the pianist teams with poet Dana Gioia to meld poetry and jazz

Helen Sung at the 2018 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal
Helen Sung at the 2018 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (photo: Sharonne Cohen)

One of the most interesting collaborations in recent years between a world-class jazz musician and an acclaimed poet—the album Sung With Words—got off to a rocky start.

Several years ago, the pianist Helen Sung played in the West Wing of the White House at an event organized by the formerly named Thelonious Monk Institute (now the Herbie Hancock Institute). At dinner afterward, she was seated next to Dana Gioia, the noted poet and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Sung didn’t know who he was. “I remember looking at his name tag because I got there before him and just thinking, ‘What a weird last name—four vowels in a row?’” she recalls. “And I thought it was a woman, too. What guy do I know has the name Dana?”

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