Artist Interview: Sara Kim’s Watermill Project

In advance of her upcoming Winter Jazz show, we spoke with Sara Kim about The Watermill Project, which interweaves traditional Korean music and modern jazz.


What has your training been like in both jazz and in Korean music? How has your education influenced your performance approach?

I have a BMus from Capilano University in jazz studies (vocal performance). I think since I was a performance major, it helped me to think about the performing aspect – things like how to be present in the music and how to keep the momentum going throughout the performance. But overall, I think the more I perform the more I think about these things because I learn so much from every performance/gig.

I also have training in traditional Korean vocal music. Going back to South Korea to learn this music back in 2016 reignited my passion for music and singing. Also, from the summer of 2019 until recently, I was in Korea learning some more. If time permits I wish to continue going back and forth to keep learning and exploring because by doing so, I am also learning more about my “roots” – my Korean heritage.

How did the Watermill Project come about? 

I started the Watermill Project right after I came back from Korea in 2016. It was fairly easy for me to ask the first two members of the group to join because I went to school with them, and even though I never had a chance to play with them back in school, I always wanted to at some point. The start of this project was the perfect time to do so.

How have you found the experience of using Korean traditional musical influences with non-Korean performers in the band? 

It’s been fun and inspiring to see what happens to the music. In the beginning, I remember myself verbally explaining what the songs were about but then I realized that it wasn’t that necessary. Everyone in the group is creative, open, and musical which makes it so fascinating and easy to just watch what happens.

What do you love most about performing with this specific ensemble?

Other than Itamar, who is joining us for the first time on this show, we’ve gotten to work and play music together for over three years. I always appreciate their thoughts, ideas, and musicalities. I think a lot of musicians would agree that it’s not always easy to find people that you connect with personally and musically, so it’s been a blessing.

What can the audience expect at your Winter Jazz show?

I started this project to explore traditional Korean folk songs (Minyo) and traditional Korean vocal music (P’ansori) through jazz. I hope the audience will get to experience energy and life created with this music but also get to have a cultural experience. Since Vancouver is one of the most multicultural cities in Canada, I think our Winter Jazz show is a great chance to offer that to the audience. I want to thank Coastal Jazz again for inviting and having us!

Are there any other projects/gigs/adventures in the year ahead that you’re particularly excited for? 

I really wish to record this music soon so I will be focusing on that this year. Plus, I hope to take this music to other parts of Canada and also to Korea!

The Watermill Project play Winter Jazz on Granville Island Saturday, Feb 22 at 3:45pm. Admission is free, but we recommend that you RSVP to guarantee your seat. All RSVPs will be entered to win a pair of tickets to Hiromi at the Vancouver Playhouse, June 23 (during the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival).


Made possible with the financial support of Granville Island.