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Meet The Jazz Audience: Isabelle Cha

Isabelle Cha of Queens, N.Y.
Isabelle Cha of Queens, N.Y.

Tonight, saxophonist Bill McHenry will perform in NPR Music's Live at the Village Vanguard live webcast series, in partnership with WBGO. Last month, during our broadcast of pianist Fabian Almazan's trio, Blogger Supreme Lara Pellegrinelli wrangled students into our chat room from music classes at Miami University of Ohio, Wellesley College, New England Conservatory and the Queens College course taught by David Adler. Last week, Pellegrinelli had a chance to visit Adler's class in person and chatted with freshman Isabelle Cha about her virtual Vanguard experience. And here's the rest of our Meet The Jazz Audience series. —Ed.

Isabelle Cha, 24
Performer: Fabian Almazan Trio
Venue: Village Vanguard (accessed online)
Date: Oct. 13, 2011

So how did you wind up in our online audience for Live at the Village Vanguard? Our professor told us we could have extra credit if we participated, so that gave me an extra push. It was actually the first time I've ever seen live jazz. It was easy to just sit back and watch it.

I think a lot of students feel that way. Honestly, I didn't expect much, because I didn't know much, but it opened my eyes. So last week I went to Birdland, saw the house band, and even talked to them a bit.

You went to Birdland? Not the Vanguard? Just kidding, of course.
David Adler: Well, I told her it was okay.
Cha: Next time. That will be my next outing.

Okay, if you promise. Is it easy for you to get around out here?Well, I live in Whitestone [Northern Queens]. It's not so far. I grew up in Staten Island and I came from Korea when I was in elementary school. My parents live in Korea now, so I'm on my own. When I finished high school they went back and my brother went back, too. It was hard for them to start a business because of the language barrier.

What made you decide to go back to school? I think it plays a role in what kind of jobs you can get. I owned a small dry cleaning business for a few years. It was great, but there are more possibilities if you have the educational background. I'm interested in international business.

And do you imagine that a jazz class will help you? Maybe. We're not just learning about the music, but the historical context.

Do you like the music?I like some of it. I like the blues. My favorite so far is the Benny Goodman trio's "After You've Gone." I find the big band a little intimidating, but you can pick out all of the instruments in the trio.

It's also just a really pretty tune. What do you like to listen to?I grew up listening mostly to classical music like Mozart. My mom made me learn to play piano when I was five. I like George Winston.

Not K-pop?No. Really no. The groups change every month anyway. It's too hard to keep up. I've always been a fan of the saxophone. When I was a kid in Staten Island, I was in a jazz band. Back then I just read the notes and played them, but I didn't really know what I was doing. Improvising is a lot more interesting than playing the notes you are given.

And were your Mozart-loving parents okay with the sax?No, they hated it. They wanted me to stick with the piano and the flute. But one day I just brought it home. And they had to say, 'fine.' I'm very stubborn that way. Now I want to know more. I don't think you can really appreciate anything until you know something about it.

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