‘Winterplay’ adds diversity to music scene

December 31, 2013

Lee Ju-han, Haewon of Winterplay find fun elements of jazz

Jazz pop duo Winterplay performs at an open air concert on city bus, near Myeongdong, central Seoul, in this August 2013 file photo.  (Courtesy of Loud Pigs)

Jazz pop duo Winterplay performs at an open air concert on city bus, near Myeongdong, central Seoul, in this August 2013 file photo.
(Courtesy of Loud Pigs)

By Park Jin-hai

Winterplay's internationally released album "Two Fabulous Fools," repackaged and released in December, 2013, with added DVD feature.

Winterplay’s internationally released album “Two Fabulous
Fools,” repackaged and released in December, 2013, with added DVD feature.

He looks geeky and she is gorgeous. He was a lone trumpeter, but she was an idol-aspirant on a vocal training course. This seemingly odd pair makes incredibly amazing music together as a duo called Winterplay.

In a music video for their recently released album “Two Fabulous Fools,” Lee Ju-han’s upbeat jazz trumpet solo adds swing to Haewon’s sweet vocals.

The quirky duo’s music — Lee is 48 and Haewon 29- is neither jazz nor pop. It’s on the borders between pop, jazz, Latin and lounge, making it light and refreshing to all listeners.

The five-year-old band is one of the most commercially successful Korean jazz groups. Since their debut in 2008, their single, one of the most famous among Korean audiences called “Happy Bubble”, topped the local jazz charts and its 2009 special album “Hot Summerplay” went gold.

Lee recruited Haewon after hearing through the jazz grapevines that there was a talented newcomer to the scene. Then after working together on a sound track for a movie, the two decided to work as a music duo.

Their success was not limited to home territory. Notwithstanding their low-budget music label, their albums have been released in 26 countries including the United Kingdom, Switzerland and China. They have performed famous in concert halls such as Japan’s Blue Note and Billboard Live. In Japan alone, they have given more than 50 live performances.

Referring to their first international release showcase in London in 2010, music critic, Clive Davis, for the Sunday Times in United Kingdom gave a rating of four out of five stars and compared them to the American band “Pink Martini.”

Asked upon their global appeal, Lee said it is uniqueness. “Unlike typical jazz songs dependant on piano, we have no piano. Our music is strong in melody and short in length. On the foundation of jazz, we added a pop feel,” said Lee, founder, producer and composer of the duo.

Their third album “Two Fabulous Fools,” internationally released in October, 2013, rose to the top of the jazz charts in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As of Dec. 23, it has remained in second place in album sales on Hong Kong’s HMV Jazz Chart.

In December, 2013, they were given a new spotlight when they were invited as rare foreign guests to perform at one of Hong Kong’s most prestigious music shows Jade Solid Gold, broadcast on TVB, a free-to-air TV station and one of the largest commercial Chinese program producers.

“I believe that they like us, because we present them something totally new at a time when the Korean music scene is almost all about K-pop and idols,” said Lee.

“K-pop has become a norm. In Hong Kong, we felt that the audiences were already acceptable to listen to songs with Korean lyrics. What they want now is something different from K-pop.”

The graduate of Washington State University says that because of their tricky position, sometimes people ask about their identity. But, he said he has never given serious thought about it.

“I am a popular musician and not a typical jazz artist. It doesn’t matter if customers in the jazz section find us and feel unfitting. Regardless of genre and section, if they listen to our music and feel good, then that is all that matters,” Lee added. “Like Jeremy Cullum, I want to do something trendy and in the mean time constantly communicate with audiences.”

Haewon says that from the onset of its launch “Two Fabulous Fools” has intended to tell people that they don’t have to be serious all the time and it is okay to loosen up a little bit. “Fun, catchy and happy sound should deliver listeners a festive mood and make them wish to go on a journey,” she said.

Haewon points out that Korean audiences often regard jazz as difficult music filled with scatting. However, she mentioned what is encouraging is that the local jazz industry is on the steady growth, while its global market has dampened.

To make their music more accessible, Winterplay created last year the “moving series.” They have thrown open air concerts on city buses and ferries. “We have featured in various musicians’ albums, most recently in Dynamic Duo’s album. This year also, we expect to work with many more artists,” said Lee.

At the same time, they make funny videos and update them on Facebook. “We believe all these are critical to expose our music to grab public attention. We want to be remembered as the funny two people who try fresh and innovative things. Expect us to throw concerts in elevators or even aircraft in the future,” said Haewon.

Their third EP “Two Fabulous Fools” has 10 tracks, including catchy lead song “Yeoboseyo Baby” and jazzy salsa “Shake It Up And Down.”