Samson Trinh
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Samson Trinh

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Review by Scott Fraley

A music major at Virginia Commonwealth University, Samson Trinh has gathered a group of Richmond’s finest pickers, singers and players and released VERY STRANGE NIGHT as a companion piece to his Senior Jazz Recital. What Trinh has done is write and arrange all of the songs (except one), as well as conduct. Trinh salutes big bands by having singer Terri Murphy lend her considerable pipes to “That’s Why” and “To You, Near You, With You.” Trinh goes to the lounge by having Adrian Duke contribute some smoky vocals and bluesy keyboards while fronting the so called Upper East Side Big Band on “Signs are Full of Jive.” “Thank Goodness” is a break from the big bands, being an acoustic shuffle featuring Jackie Frost’s sentimental vocal alongside Charles Arthur’s crying lap steel guitar.
The strangeness of the titles “I Can’t Believe I’m Addicted To O.C.” and “I Tried To Talk To Her But She Thought I Was Too Weird” hint at the music. The former features a free jazz battle between saxophonists J.C. Kuhl and Emily Avesian giving way to some Bill Evans like piano from Daniel Clarke. Kuhl and Clarke both return in the latter trying musically affirm the oddness of the title.

What are most impressive to these ears are the arrangements of the Upper East Big Band’s takes on the title track and the standard, “Time After Time.” They both really swing and bring out the nuances in the melodies. You also can’t ignore “Piece for Trumpet and Piano,” which begins with some powerful classical trumpet flourishes by Rex Richardson, before entering into a jazzy duet with the sensitive piano of Laura Candler-White. - 9X Magazine (4/15/2006)


Review by Peter McElhinney

Goes well with Richmond jazz and “The OC.”

Starting with its opening, a retro needle-drop sound effect, there is nothing remotely tentative about Samson Trinh’s idiosyncratic and ambitious debut. The material ranges confidently across genres, lounging in lush, romantic jazz with guest vocalist Terri Murphy, dipping into Hammond B3 organ soul with Adrian Duke, stealing through outskirts of Lyle Lovett territory with Jackie Frost, and tumbling through blazing instrumental workouts with titles like “I Can’t Believe I’m Addicted to ‘The OC.’”

With 48 of the area’s best musicians taking part, it’s a bit like the Richmond Jazz Circus. All get their spin in the spotlight, but Trinh remains the ringmaster. The 22-year-old former Upper East Side Jazz Lounge entrepreneur wrote every song but one, and arranged and conducted everything except for a string section led by his model and mentor, Doug Richards, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor and big-band leader. Richards’ influence is reflected in Trinh’s complex but uncluttered architectures; each instrumental voice shines through with clear, Technicolor individuality.

The CD works on a variety of levels: as varied entertainment, as a surprising mature statement from a young artist, and as a vivid snapshot of the Richmond jazz scene circa 2006.

Trinh’s senior recital, which doubles as a CD release party, will be at the VCU Singleton Performing Arts Center on Sunday, March 26, at 8 pm. - Style Weekly (3/15/2006)


Review by Peter McElhinney

If every night were like closing night, Upper East Side Jazz Bar and Sports Lounge never would have closed. The parking lot overflowed, the bar was crowded and patrons danced with abandon to the opening Dixieland act, the Doctors of Jazz. The venue had already been spruced up for its new tenant — a jazz-free sports bar. But even with the walls uncovered by old LP covers, and the blinking stripper lights stripped from the mirrors (left over from a previous tenant), it remains an essentially funky space. Its quixotic location, across from The Dump on an unglamorous stretch of North Side sprawl, isn’t particularly promising. But when Virginia Commonwealth University jazz student Samson Trinh saw the chance to open a jazz club in his family-owned building he took it.“When we started we were just kids,” says Trinh, 22. “We didn’t know anything about the scene, the competition or how to book acts. We learned the hard way.” Trinh worked with energy, imagination and flexibility, delivering some great musical performances, all too often for a small, if select, crowd.

Trinh’s energy was on display when his Upper East Side Big Band took the stage. The 18-member group includes a cross section of the area’s best players, including many once or current VCU players like soul-tinged vocalist/pianist Adrian Duke. Their set included classic Ellington tunes and other standards with uncluttered arrangements crafted to provide solo spotlights for individual players. In the hard-blowing unison sections in such a small space, the massed horns had visceral punch. (It’s not surprising that jazz bands were the heavy metal of the pre-amplified era.) In a blur of action at the front, saxophonist Trinh conducted with fierce, insistent joy.

Before the night was over Trinh led applause for his mentors, VCU professors Doug Richards and Skip Gailes, and plugged Duke’s and his upcoming Big Band CD (on his newly formed label, “Giggity”). He also brought his parents up for the curtain call.

The club may be closing, but for Trinh and his youthful collaborators, the night had the bittersweet air of graduation.
- Style Weekly (12/7/2005)


Review by Peter McElhinney

Highly evolved arrangements of “New Testament” Basie are the model for the Upper East Side Big Band. Drawn from the current generation of VCU players, in part inspired by their still-youthful Devil’s Workshop elders, the young musicians render the half-century old charts with undiluted energy.

The band is named for its home base, the Upper East Side Jazz Lounge and Sports Bar, a funky North Side venue with mirrors and glitzy lighting left over its earlier incarnation as a strip club. Alto sax player Samson Trinh, whose family owns the club, is the prime mover behind both the band and the venue. “It’s a fantasy come true,” he says. “And it’s all because of this place.”

Trinh’s hero and model is VCU music professor Doug Richards. The Devil’s Workshop and Swiss Swank Account are direct spin-offs of his VCU jazz ensemble. And D’earth has a long association with Richards’ Great American Musical Ensemble. “We’re all from the school of Doug,” Trinh says.

Trinh models his leadership on Richards, taking the trombone section repeatedly through key passages until the timing and textures are polished. It’s meticulous work, but in concert the lines will spin out with effortless assurance. “Rehearsing is the magic,” Trinh says. “Sometimes the actual performance is secondary.” - Style Weekly (7/7/2004)


Review by Clarke Bustard

Claim to fame: Tenor saxophonist, bandleader, budding jazz impresario.
Stats: 20; junior in jazz studies program at Virginia Commonwealth University.
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Q. Your venue has, shall we say, a colorful history ...

A. The restaurant, at 7103 Brook Road, was originally The Celebrity Room. In 1985 my mom, Phoenix Trinh, opened it as the Phoenix Chinese restaurant - my parents are Chinese from Vietnam. It went through other names and operators as an Oriental restaurant, but our family still owned the property.

In July, my mom and I talked about what to do with the building, and I suggested it might make a good jazz lounge. She went for the idea.

We opened Dec. 11 as the Upper East Side Jazz Lounge and Sports Bar. We present live jazz by local artists at 9:30 Thursday and Friday nights, and we show sports on 14 screens on other nights.

Q. You're pretty young to be booking acts for a nightclub. You're not even old enough to drink yet.

A. Well, it's a family operation and I'm the musician in the family. My older brother is the bartender. I know the local jazz community from being at VCU and working with some groups, like the Jack Diamond Orchestra.

So far, we've had the Upper East Side Big Band, a 15-piece group I started as our house band, and John Winn's group, the John Winntet. This week, we've got the Butterbean Jazz Quartet on Thursday and the Skip Gailes Quintet's CD release party Friday.

Q. Why is a nightclub in North Side Richmond called "Upper East Side"?

A. I have this fascination with New York, especially the New York of Woody Allen movies.

I was a jazz composition student at Manhattan School of Music before I came back here to study at VCU with Skip and Doug Richards.

When my mom and I were discussing a name for the place, she was thinking "upscale." And I recalled the old "Jeffersons" theme song - "Movin' on up to the East Side ..." She loved it.



- Richmond Times Dispatch (1/4/2004)


Review by Brandon Reynolds

Anna Tulou, 26, is the director of the Nouvelle Burlesque Troupe, and she’s preparing to use an 11-piece band, physical comedy and a trio of chairs to reintroduce Virginia to female sensuality.

Samson Trinh’s theory of arrangement: “The main thing is just adding color to a piece and making it full.” Trinh, 23, has the enviable task of arranging the music for the show, taking Cake and pouring it into an 11-piece band, modifying old standards and turning Prince’s “When Doves Cry” into a tango.

Tulou “called me and said she needed a madman who could arrange and direct,” says Trinh, who used to run the Upper East Side Lounge and wrangle a 17-piece band. In March he released an album of original compositions, bringing in a total of 48 veteran Richmond musicians for the project, but no one sported a red checked bikini top during recording. Trinh took the tune from the dream radio, as sung by Tulou, and arranged it for his 11-piece. And now “Rather Be Alone” exists in the real world.
- Style Weekly (7/12/2006)


Discography

Very Strange Night (2006)
Upper East Side Big Band "Live" (coming 2007)
Songs From The Jukebox (coming 2007)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

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VERY STRANGE NIGHT
(A Collective Nostalgic Experience Designed to Enrich Your Senses)
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Samson Trinh’s debut jazz compositional album, Very Strange Night was a project he worked on during his last year as a Jazz Studies major at Virginia Commonwealth University. The majority of the songs on the album were school assignments. For the recording, Samson hired 48 of the best musicians in Richmond including his 17-piece Upper East Side Big Band and vocalists Adrian Duke, Jackie Frost, Terri Murphy and international jazz trumpeter, Rex Richardson. All the songs were composed, arranged, orchestrated, conducted, and produced by Samson Trinh.

Very Strange Night is a concept album, which takes the listener on a musical journey across genres. The disc itself looks and feels like a record vinyl that starts the album off with a needle-drop sound effect. The night’s exhilarating experience includes lush jazz string orchestra arrangements, big band, country influences from the 1960s, classical, funk, and long song titles that also challenges the listener’s ear such as “I Tried To Talk To Her, But She thought I Was Too Weird.”

In conclusion, Samson was the first student ever in VCU history to have a CD release party at his Senior Recital, which covered works from Very Strange Night. All the seats were filled at the concert hall and hundreds of CDs were sold. Samson also encouraged students that night to make an album during their last year of school. Very Strange Night is not just a student project; it is an album crafted by a hard working composer and his colleagues to capture creative ideas within a moment and to showcase most importantly, Samson’s writing abilities that feature songs that will make a listener smile over and over again.

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Who Is Samson Trinh?
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At 23 years old, composer, arranger, orchestrator, bandleader, musical director, producer, and saxophonist, Samson Trinh has had a lot on his plate! Born in Richmond, Virginia on May 8th, 1983, Samson received a Merit Scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music's Summer Program and several Merit Scholarships from Virginia Commonwealth University where he has earned his B.M. in Jazz Studies. At VCU, he studied composition and jazz arranging with Doug Richards (founder of the school’s jazz program) and saxophone with Skip Gailes, John Winn, and principal New York Philharmonic saxophonist, Albert Regni. In 2005, he was the winner of Richmond Jazz Society's prestigious Joe Kennedy, Jr. Scholarship. Samson is an alumnus at New York's Manhattan School of Music where he studied jazz composition with well-known composer, Michael Abene.

From December 2003 to November 2005, Samson became co-owner and booking manager for Richmond, VA's Upper East Side Jazz Lounge, which featured a great wealth of talented musicians in the Richmond scene. He has performed, composed, opened, and recorded with/for Plunky Branch, Fighting Gravity, Al Jarreau, Nellie McKay, Mulgrew Miller, Desiree Roots, John Winn, Richmond Jazz Society, Virginia Commonwealth University's Jazz Orchestra I, and members of the Richmond Symphony.

Samson is also the founder and musical director of the 17-piece Upper East Side Big Band, which is made up of the finest young musicians in the capital of Virginia. Their repertoire features the swingin’ big band sounds of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller. The Upper East Side Big Band’s vocalist and pianist, Adrian Duke, will also blow listeners away as he croons popular standards from the Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles songbook. In 2005, the band opened up for Kool & The Gang at Richmond, VA's Jazz on the James.