OFF Jazz | Ruiqi Wang: Inspiring and Creative

Interview by Frédéric Cardin
Genres and styles : Jazz

Additional Information

Ruiqi Wang is perhaps China’s answer to Japan’s Hiromi and South Korea’s Youn Sun-Nah. And Montreal has something to do with it! The McGill student has developed a solid background in jazz, which she combines with her Chinese cultural roots and the European classical and avant-garde traditions. Ruiqi will be releasing her debut album on 27 October, which I urge you not to miss (listen to it opposite). In the meantime, I urge you to go and hear her tomorrow evening at 5 pm as part of the OFF Jazz at Improv Montréal, on Notre-Dame Street West. Don’t miss this chance while she’s still easily available, it shouldn’t stay like this for long! Ruiqi will be surrounded by a chamber orchestra adept at improvisation, with Stephanie Urquhart – piano,  Summer KoDama – bass, Mili Hong – drums, Sadie Hamrin – violin, Eddie Rosen – violin, Dannick Bujold-Senss – viola and Julian Shively – cello.

PAN M 360 conducted an interview with this inspiring, creative, original and articulate young lady.

PAN M 360: Tell me about your musical background and family upbringing…

Ruiqi Wang: I am the first and only musician/artist in my family. My parents like music from

time to time, but music to them was only a small occasional addition. I knew I loved singing from a very young age. I felt tremendous joy whenever I sang. My mother sent me to piano lessons, starting when I was 7. I never made big achievements with the piano, but going to lessons for almost ten years meant that my life structure included spending a consistent amount of time with music for all those years. When I was in elementary school, I was a huge fan of a Taiwanese singer called Jay Chou. I think I knew more than 100 of his songs by heart, and I loved singing them whenever I could. Music got interrupted when I was in my teens. There was a lot of academic pressure for teenagers in China, and I spent all my time studying and doing extra school work. I started at McGill as a psychology student, and I almost forgot that I had always wanted to be a singer growing up.

PAN M 360: What is your family thinking of your career choice?

Ruiqi Wang: They are very supportive. They think it is really cool that there is an artist in

the family now because my parents did not really have the option to participate in art when they grew up. I think they feel happy seeing how passionate, alive and clear-minded my state of being is now. It’s a big change from before I studied music. There is still worry and doubts, because no one in my family knows anything about the music industry, and I didn’t study much music growing up. So I think once they see me being able to support myself independently, they will be 100% relaxed and happy.

PAN M 360: What brought you to Montreal?

Ruiqi Wang: When I was in high school, I decided that I wanted to pursue an undergraduate education abroad to experience different kinds of education and different ways of living. I decided to come to Canada because it costs a lot less than in the US or the UK. McGill’s psychology major also has a good reputation. I also thought Montreal seemed cool because people speak French here. It was really just a few intuitive thoughts that brought me here.

PAN M 360: How do you evaluate what studying at McGill has given you?

Ruiqi Wang: I am extremely grateful for this experience. As I mentioned, I did not start university in music. So I was just really grateful that I got to study music at McGill. I felt very welcomed by the community, and I felt there was space for me to grow. I met amazing teachers such as Ranee Lee, Camille Thurman, John Hollenbeck, Christine Jensen, Jean-Nicolas Trottier, Jacqueline Leclair. They are great musicians and also great people. Studying with them was life-changing.

However, towards the end of my degree, I definitely felt it was time for me to explore a different kind of art institute. I think McGill’s music school has a “conservatory” style. There is a strict curriculum with a heavy focus on the jazz tradition. It served me well because I wanted to dive deep into this culture, but I also was aware that only playing jazz was not for me. I still wanted to do more school, but I was craving an environment where self-expression and exploring one’s own artistic vision and identity are more prioritized.

PAN M 360: What are your career plans? Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?

Ruiqi Wang: I plan to build a career in Europe. I am considering moving to Berlin after my master’s. I would like to keep performing and composing for various ensembles in the realms of avant-garde jazz and new music. I would also like to tap into interdisciplinary work, incorporating movement and music, and making installations. I would love to maintain my connection to Montreal through projects and festivals. In 5 or 10 years, I would ideally be floating between Berlin, Montreal, China, and maybe New York City.

PANM 360: If I told you that you could be China’s answer to Japan’s Hiromi and South Korea’s Youn Sun Nah, what would you say?

Ruiqi Wang: That is motivating to hear. I do want to work towards that level of musicianship, and it would be nice to receive that kind of recognition one day. But I don’t think about end results like that very much. In my day-to-day life, I just focus on having a good work-life balance, keeping my creativity flowing and staying in good health. If I keep living a creative, healthy and sustainable lifestyle, I don’t think I will care very much about whether I get that kind of recognition. But at the same time, I am an ambitious person and I have high standards for myself. So hearing something like that is a nice motivation.

PAN M 360: Your music is influenced by so many things: traditional Chinese, Classical, Jazz. What is the proportion of each in your final results, would you say?

Ruiqi Wang: It’s hard to measure the proportion since it often gets so dynamic and fluid. But they do play different roles. I think my musical foundation lies in jazz. I learned to compose and improvise mainly through studying jazz. Classical music is an important source of inspiration for composition. I always feel that it broadens and deepens what I learn in jazz. It makes me think of music and composition differently.

Traditional Chinese music is something that’s in my blood. Despite the fact that I have never studied it with any teacher, I feel it is an inseparable part of me. I am bringing elements of traditional Chinese music into my performance and composition very carefully because I know there is so much more that I need to study. But what I do end up bringing into my music world feels very authentic and close to me.

PAN M 360: Where do you start when you compose? A written figure and then you make it grow? An improv that you “organize” after? What is the process?

Ruiqi Wang: I like to experiment with different ways and processes of composition. “A written figure and then you make it grow”, A Descent of Lilies came exactly from that process. I heard a melodic phrase in my mind on a morning walk. I figured out what that was after the walk and wrote it down. Then I developed the whole piece out of this one short phrase. I didn’t compose anything more than that one phrase. The concept, or the story I want to tell through a piece of music is always the most important thing. So when I compose a piece, I always figure out what I want to say first. Sometimes it is a need to compose because there is something I want to communicate to the world through the music I write.

PAN M 360: Evil Question: Do you improvise with contemporary sounds or do you write contemporary music that improvises?

Ruiqi Wang: Evil Answer: I do both! I am an improviser, and I consider myself to use contemporary sounds,

because I try to develop my own improvisation language, instead of being a medium to continue a certain type of improvisation tradition lineage. I think it’s important to study the traditions deeply, but it doesn’t feel authentic for me to just improvise in any traditional way. I look for sounds that belong to myself and the present moment. I write music for improvisers. Improvisation is usually a part of my composition that brings the music somewhere. It’s like an X factor, and I like working with that kind of unpredictability and giving musicians the freedom.

PAN M 360: You will be pursuing studies in Bern, Switzerland. Is that farewell?

Ruiqi Wang: Definitely not. I still need to see and live in more places to decide where I want to live long term. But one thing I do know is that I have lots of friends here in Montreal, and a lot of them are really incredible musicians and artists that I want to create music and art with. I cherish those friendships and I would come back for them.

PAN M 360: About the concert on the 12th (tomorrow night), what can we expect? How much will it be like the album?

Ruiqi Wang: Yes, we will play the album. But it will be different from the recorded versions, just like when you tell a story for the second time, you still tell the same story, but more or less you will change things around so that you don’t bore yourself, and things remain natural and fresh.

Pan M 360: Can you tell me about Orchard and Pomegranates (the label under which your album will be released)? What is the mission?

Ruiqi Wang: Orchard of Pomegranates is an international community of improvisers, vocalists, musicians and artists that Ayelet Rose Gottlieb founded in 2019. I got to know Ayelet in 2020 by taking the workshops and lessons she offers through this community online. Eventually, I started studying with her in person. And it is through this mentoring process that we started brewing ideas about the album. I think the mission is to create a worldwide community where people share creative ideas, improvise, sing, and listen deeply together.

PAN M 360: What does it mean to play at OFF Jazz?

Ruiqi Wang: It is my first major show in Montreal not as a jazz student, but as myself, as Ruiqi, as an artist, as someone who sings and creates. It is a very special and personal show for me. I feel very honoured to have

this opportunity to play at OFF Jazz, and feel grateful that I get to share my cultural lineage.

Ruiqi Wang will perform on October 12 at Improv Montréal, at 5 PM. For info ant tickets, click HERE.

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