I AM NOT A VIRUS from composer Jordan VanHemert and Big Round Records is a collection of contemporary music uniquely fitting for this unprecedented juncture in human history. Called an “excellent outing” by jazz historian Scott Yanow, the collection of lively, piano-driven jazz band performances takes inspiration from a wide swath of timely subjects—everything from the coronavirus pandemic to racially charged police killings and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.
Featuring tight horn arrangements and energetic percussion, VanHemert’s compositions are sophisticated yet distinctly approachable. Alongside these original works is his arrangement of the traditional Korean Arirang— through his reharmonization of the Korean melody in an American jazz style, VanHemert meditates on his own Korean-American identity. Compelling music composed with purpose, I AM NOT A VIRUS is a must-listen for 2021—and beyond.
Today, Jordan is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to discover how he feels the album represents his identity as 100% Korean and 100% American at the same time…
Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I discovered a Charlie Parker among my late grandfather’s CD collection, I was hooked. I listened to that CD over and over again, and I still remember the magic of hearing the cut of “Stella by Starlight” from Charlie Parker With Strings on my parents’ stereo.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
At a school career day, I was put on the spot and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had gone through several things, but I was completely unsure at the moment, and after pausing for a few seconds, I said that I wanted to be a professional musician, because at that time, I could not put my saxophone down (well, I still can’t). I was eleven years old at the time, but I thought it would be the coolest job. Here I am several years later, and I was correct.
If you could make a living at any job in the world, what would that job be?
The job I am doing now! This fall, I will begin a job as the Director of Jazz Studies at the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University (Columbus, GA). Being a professor has been my dream for a long time. Fostering students’ love for music is a very rewarding career.
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would love to spend some time creating in Korea. Being around the beautiful mountains and immersed in the rich cultural landscape would be something truly special.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
The ending of Arirang. The intimate moment between the piano and saxophone is one that I still remember in the studio very fondly. When I was writing the arrangement, I wanted to find a more declamatory way to end the album, but as I was playing through a draft of the arrangement with Lisa, the pianist on the record, I realized that the way I wanted to leave the album was with an intimate portrait of the two of us playing together as a way of giving the listener a portrait into the intimacy of my connection with this song and my Korean heritage.
What does this album mean to you personally?
To me, this album is representative of who I am. It is both 100% Korean and 100% American–just like me. To be able to express my heritage in a way that is so deeply personal to who I am, using the saxophone and composition as the means by which to express this, is very special to me.