About Jen Shyu
New York-based performer Jen Shyu is a groundbreaking multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, dancer, and producer known for her genre-bending performances. A multilingual artist and longtime associate of boundary-pushing saxophonist Steve Coleman, Shyu has studied traditional music and dance in Taiwan, Brazil, China, South Korea, East Timor, and Indonesia, influences that she readily incorporates into her unique multidisciplinary performances. Along with Coleman, she has collaborated with a bevy of innovative artists including Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Vijay Iyer, Chris Potter, Michael Formanek, David Binney, and others.
Raised in Peoria, Illinois by Taiwanese and East Timorese immigrant parents, Shyu became interested in performing at a young age, first joining a local ballet company at age five. By age eight she was also studying piano and violin, and at age 12 she competed in the Stravinsky Awards International Piano Competition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a teenager, she sang in local musical theater productions, a passion that led her to Stanford, first as a theater major, and finally as an opera major. While at Stanford, she became interested in jazz improvisation and began seeking out performance opportunities at local clubs. After graduating, a trip to Cuba further stoked her interest in jazz, salsa, Latin, and Afro-Cuban styles of music, all of which she pursued upon returning to San Francisco. She released her debut album, the standards collection For Now, in 2002.
However, it was after meeting and studying with saxophonist Steve Coleman in 2003 that she began developing her own sound outside of the standard jazz repertoire. She joined Coleman's Five Elements band, touring and recording for several years. Her next album, 2011's Synastry, showcased her growth in a series of tonally ambitious and deeply felt duets with bassist Mark Dresser. Her work with Coleman also informed the 2015 album Sounds and Cries of the World. Introducing her Jade Tongue ensemble, the album also included appearances by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, string player Mat Maneri, and others. The album was highly lauded, and in 2016 Shyu was named a Doris Duke Artist. The following year she returned with Song of Silver Geese, which once again featured Jade Tongue, as well as the Mivos Quartet. ~ Matt Collar