We had the good fortune of connecting with ZENG and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi ZENG, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
I’ve found that balancing my time between being a doctor (Neurology/Psychiatry) and professional musician can often be very difficult and very taxing (especially now in residency). But I also think that one shouldn’t view work and life/hobbies as completely separate things. Regardless of what one does, I feel that one should always find value in it (easier said than done) and that part of your purpose in life is your work (along with all the important things such as family, love, faith, etc.). I think they’re all intertwined, and I like to view them as all important facets that make up a human’s life. That being said, I find myself working in the hospital a lot more now (and try to schedule gigs and sessions when I’m not), and so finding time for my family and friends can be tough. As I get older, I realize more and more how important it is to prioritize time with the ones you love as well as prioritizing your own mental health and well being. Being intentional with time is perhaps the most important thing one can do to maintain this balance, and it’s something I try to do more often.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Prior to the pandemic, I was gigging as both a bandleader and a sideman, playing and recording a bunch of different kinds of music from jazz to R&B/Neo-Soul to pop to big band music, and I felt that, at least with regards to my own stuff, I wasn’t creating the music I truly wanted to make. I just kind of got into the habit of playing the same old songs the same way and writing the same old stuff. When the pandemic hit, it was actually kind of a welcome break from performing, and it allowed me to focus a lot more on myself as an artist, songwriter, and a producer as opposed to just a pianist/keyboardist. This was pretty liberating, and I was able to start a new musical project from scratch. My latest album “Loading…” is a result of this time during the pandemic when I really hunkered down with Ableton and spent a lot of time producing and writing (and not practicing as much piano as I probably should have been, but oh well!). My goal was to create a dance music album that was heavily jazz-influenced, featuring so many of my favorite jazz musicians who are based both in NY as well as LA (including Braxton Cook, Maurice Brown, Marquis Hill, J. Hoard, just to name a few). It was also nice to have one of my songs from the album (“CNS”) be featured on NPR Live Sessions with my band.
Though there are a ton of things I would change about the album now (it’s pretty hard for me to listen to my own stuff), it represents an amalgamation of all the things I was listening to at that particular time in my life and solidified my identity as not only a jazz musician but also as a dance producer who is trying to bridge the gap between jazz and dance music. And I think that’s kind of how a lot of my musical peers view me now. I’m working on a new album now and also have a bunch of songs I’ve been working on with artists in the NY and LA scenes that I hope get released soon. Being truly bicoastal as a producer and keyboardist is one of my goals currently. And in regards to my career in medicine, I’m very much trying to bridge the gap people have in their minds between music and medicine. For me, they are both two sides of the same coin, and I think maintaining this disciplinary barrier between the two hinders the therapeutic potential and application of music to alleviate both physical and mental distress. Both music and medicine heal and both are art forms that are similar to each other not only in content but also in their practice. I’ve done psychiatry/cognitive neuroscience research at Princeton, MIT, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, Yale, and Mt. Sinai, and some of the projects I’ve been working on most recently have been focused on how understanding music can be a window into understanding cognition and also how music can be used a targeted therapeutic tool for psychiatric/neurologic illness. I hope I can continue to straddle this line between music and neuroscience in the future.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
One of my favorite jazz clubs in LA, the Blue Whale, unfortunately didn’t survive the pandemic, otherwise I would’ve completely recommended there. And like NY, LA has such an amazing comedy scene (the Laugh Factory, the Comedy Store, etc.). If we’re talking NY, there are so many dope music venues (Smalls, Blue Note, Village Vanguard, Canary Club, Arlene’s Grocery, and so many others), and also so many dope restaurants (especially K-Town!). Honestly, there’s too much to even mention, but that’s where I would start.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I of course want to shout out my family who have, more than anyone else, shaped me into the person I’ve become. Also my wonderful girlfriend (who is from LA originally) and all my homies from Princeton, the Manhattan School of Music, and all the dope musicians and friends I’ve met at Arlene’s Grocery at the Honeytrap session. Honestly, shout out to the whole NYC and LA jazz and beat music scenes.
Other: Ropeadope Records artist profile: https://ropeadope.com/artists#/zeng/ NPR Live Session Video: https://livesessions.npr.org/videos/david-zheng-cns JAZZIZ feature: https://www.jazziz.com/the-loading-doc-david-zheng-fills-a-prescription-for-groove-with-his-genre-blurring-debut-album/