Artist profile: Winterplay
Now it’s Korea’s foremost and possibly only mainstream jazz group Winterplay, which is out with a new album and poised to enjoy even greater success than it did with its debut in 2008.
SONG OF THE DAY
Winterplay – “Billie Jean.” I love covers when they’re done well and offer an artist’s own spin on the original song. I’m sure we all know where this one comes from, right? (If someone doesn’t, me and my creaky old bones will be very, very sad.) [ Download ]
THE ORIGIN OF WINTERPLAY
Winterplay isn’t a conventional jazz band, though it’s hardly a typical pop group, either. Group leader and trumpeter Lee Joo-han explains that he, the contrabassist, and the guitarist are all trained as jazz performers, but they took a more pop-inflected approach as Winterplay. Lee explains, “We formed the band with the attitude of jazz musicians making a pop album.”
Winterplay aren’t seen regularly on television like other pop and rock acts. In fact, their rise in the public consciousness came mostly through a commercial that featured one of their songs.
Lee Joo-han says, “Normally, jazz musicians have some time off in the winter, so we formed a band with the idea of only acting as a project group that performed in the winter. That’s why we took on the name ‘Winterplay.'”
They got together and began making music without a music label, but they were able to complete the recording and mixing on their album with the aid of their now-label (Fluxus) president (who’s also Lee Joo-han’s friend). Upon hearing their music, he invited them to sign with him immediately to form not a project group but an official band.
They released their first album in January 2008, which contained a song that drew a request by the Samsung Hauzen appliance brand to be used in a CF starring Witch Amusement actress Han Ga-in (CF and song here). Winterplay re-recorded their album’s “Happy Bubble” for use in the commercial, and the song reached #1 on the domestic jazz chart.
Now they’ve released a special album, “Hot Summerplay,” which just about doubles their playlist. Included are some new tunes featuring their now-recognizable mix of pop, jazz, blues, and bossa nova. Their first single from the album is the song “Gypsy Girl” (which was featured in the preview video for the film Ogamdo).
Winterplay – “Gypsy Girl” [ Download ]
Lee Joo-han. The trumpeter (43) and group leader made his pro music debut back in 1995 with his solo album “직관” (Intuition). In 1996-97, he was the band leader in MBC’s “좋은밤입니다” (It’s a Good Night), and also put out albums in 2002 and 2009.
Moon Hye-won. Vocalist Hye-won (24) graduated from Dankook University after studying music. She debuted in 2007 as a featured vocalist on the Sonagi Project album “Cinema in Jazz.”
Choi Woo-joon. The guitarist (32) also played with the Woong San Band (Woong San is another jazz artist, a solo singer whose real name is Kim Eun-young). Choi’s musical debut came in his solo 2007 album “Saza’s Groove.”
So Eun-kyu. The contrabassist (35) made his official musical debut with Winterplay’s 2008 debut album “Choco Snow Ball.” He was a former performer in the Gwangju Biennale.
Lee Joo-han says of the relative unfamiliarity of jazz to Koreans, “Jazz isn’t difficult, it’s just that people aren’t familiar with it. In Europe, the States, or Japan, jazz bands are around, but we have to go to an applied music department at a university to learn jazz here, which shows the difference in how Koreans approach it.”
Guitarist Choi Woo-joon: “The more we keep performing, it feels like we’re changing our style as if to say, ‘So what if it’s not jazz?’ With our old jazz roots, even if we perform intending to make pop music our old habits remain, which I think is fun for the performers and fresh for the listeners.”
Winterplay – “너의 기억만으로” (Just through your memory/Remembering you) [ Download ]
Winterplay – “Quando Quando Quando” (repost) [ Download ]
Winterplay’s potential has been recognized, it seems, more quickly overseas than at home. Universal Japan’s Classics & Jazz director Hiroshi Aono called Winterplay “this year’s strongest new artist”
But Winterplay’s goal isn’t on necessarily to become world-famous: “You say we’re part of Hallyu? We’re just people who make music.”
In 2009, Winterplay signed with Universal Japan for sales in Japan; their full-length album goes on sale beginning July 22, and the band will hold showcase events in Tokyo and Osaka. In its first week, their first single, “Songs of Colored Love,” hit #1 on Japan’s mobile ringtone chart.
This came about unintentionally. Lee Joo-han had sent their recording to a recording company in England, but it was sent over to the Japanese side. The Japanese representative liked it, and signed them with a Japanese label.
When asked about the term “Jazz Hallyu,” contrabassist So Eun-kyu waves his hand and says, “We haven’t even begun yet. We’re just showing our music to different audiences; we’re not going to conquer a new market.” Music isn’t specific to a nation, he feels, and the expression on his face shows that he is not a fan of the Korean habit of attaching the label “Hallyu” to any actor or musician who travels overseas.
The reporter asks, “Do you want to play in other places?” Lee Joo-han answers, “I’d like to go to Russia, Czech Republic, and France, but it’s just that the opportunity to go to Japan came first.”
Winterplay – “Who Are You” (a repost) from the Who Are You drama OST. [ Download ]
Winterplay – “Who Are You?” (bossa nova version) (repost). I like both versions of this song, but if I had to choose, it would be this loungier, jazzier one. [ Download ]