ZENG is a pianist, composer, and musical producer whose popularity has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. He is most well known for his unique hybrid style of jazz-dance music, as well as for his unconventional start.
Background Overview: Falling in Love with Jazz Music
ZENG (real name David Zheng), was born in New Rochelle, New York and was raised by his Chinese American family in Rhode Island. Growing up, ZENG remembers practicing the classical piano for a prolific number of years ‘solely because’ his parents forced him to.
Initially, the proclaimed musician revealed that he was neither good at the piano, nor did he particularly enjoy it and consequently during his middle school years he chose to segue into the field of Jazz after ‘randomly’ being introduced to the recordings of eminent Jazz musician Mulgrew Miller and instantly falling in love with them. This led to ZENG identifying primarily as a jazz trumpeter during his adolescent years.
David ended up matriculating into Princeton University (magna cum laude) for his undergraduate degree, where he studied Philosophy before moving on to study Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania- further explored below. Determined to follow his dream, he decided to continue pursuing the practice of playing ‘as much jazz trumpet’ as physically possible during college- following in his idols’ footsteps (Miles Davis, Roy Hargrove, Freddie Hubbard, etc.). Unfortunately, however, during this time ZENG had apparently become quite disappointed with the potential he saw in his trumpet playing; as the instrument can be overtly unforgiving, he found that his at-the-time expertise was not yet up to par to allow him to express the plethora of innovative musical initiatives that he had in his mind.
Consequently, after experiencing a particularly unfortunate night whilst playing a Miles Davis ‘Birth of the Cool’ tribute concert whereby ZENG’s chops “got destroyed”, the talented musician decided to defer back to his roots and engage in the instrument he felt most comfortable with, the piano.
‘I wanted to go back to the instrument I felt most ‘at home’ with.’- says ZENG.
Attending Medical School and Career Progression
ZENG then took the next step towards what has turned out to be quite a fruitful career by moving into Philadelphia to study medicine in the University of Pennsylvania; this is also where the musician took his interest of the music industry one step further- immersing himself in a much more holistic way and participating in gigs and concerts all around the city.
To this day, David credits the city of Philadelphia for providing him with a supportive and holistically immersive atmosphere that allegedly went a long way in allowing him to quickly establish his ‘musical identity’ as a jazz pianist. This was a crucial step in his career, as it gave him the confidence and self-reassurance he needed to audition for and receive a scholarship to attend the Manhattan School of Music during his third year of Medical School- where he networked, studied, and practiced with a variety of his ‘musical heroes’, including MacArthur Genius Miguel Zenon, acclaimed gospel pianist and musical director Damien Sneed, and celebrated drummer Kendrick Scott.
This experience allowed ZENG to additionally focus a significant amount of his time on other elements of the music industry (such as his songwriting, composing, and producing) and consequently saw him getting signed to Ropeadope Records in early 2020 and officially releasing his first ever album- titled ‘’Loading…’’, which features a plethora of the most well known jazz musicians in the entire New York scene and incorporates dance and jazz music in an unprecedented way. As the acclaimed international jazz magazine JAZZIZ writes, “Merging jazz, R&B and hip-hop sensibilities, and featuring collaborations with and performances by top talents from a multitude of genres in the NYC music community, Loading… finds Zheng floating his jazzy sensibilities atop a sophisticated blend of hard-hitting dance-floor grooves, intricately textured electronics and dreamy atmospheres.”
Moreover, as a result of ZENG’s extensive cognitive neuroscience research during his time at Princeton- as well as MIT, Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania, Mt. Sinai, and Yale, he has personally been able to dive into and explore the direct relationship between music and cognition and start to understand the ways in which music can be incorporated into medicine and used as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of a plethora of neurologic and psychiatric illnesses. He is continuing his training as both a neurologist and psychiatrist at NYU next year.
A Final Take: The Importance of Believing in Yourself
ZENG has also commented on the significant struggles that he felt he had to overcome as a musician in his chosen field.
Particularly, he notes how he faced a lot of critique- both external and internal, on account of his career decisions which saw him momentarily segue away from medical school so as to follow his dream career, and how this often discouraged him at times due to the prolific number of ‘incredulous haters’ that judged him.
Indisputably, ZENG can serve as a perfect example of the importance of persons always believing in themselves and having the confidence to carve out their own personalised paths and follow their own dreams regardless of any discouragement or antipathy that they may face in the process.