Wen Wu is an artist and musician based in Phoenix. Through her father’s clarinet, she found a love for music and decided to pursue it professionally. After attending Capital Normal University in China, she became an exchange student at Northern State University in South Dakota, transferring to Arizona State University to get her Master’s and Doctorate! Now, Wu plays with the national tour of Anastasia and various Brazilian, Cuban, and jazz groups. Offstage, Wu is a paper artist and practices quilling and sculpture art. Her advice to young actors? “Enjoy it!” Read on to learn more about Wen Wu and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Shengwen Wu. But people call me Wen.
Heritage: 100% pure Chinese.
Hometown: Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China.
Current City: Phoenix, AZ.
Current project: National tour of Broadway’s Anastasia (reed 2 musician, playing flute, clarinet and tenor saxophone.)
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
I love anything. Musically I like to collaborate with talented people, I play in many jazz, Brazilian and Cuban groups. I also enjoy solo projects. I’m a paper artist as well. Mostly doing quilling and paper sculptures.
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
I don’t really have any advice besides ENJOY IT! Take breaks as you need. And it’s okay to take breaks from your passion!
How did you get your start?
My dad plays the clarinet. When I was little, I tagged along every time when he went to his clarinet lesson. Then I started to play with it, and eventually “stole” his clarinet.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
I treasure every opportunity I have. Musically, I got to perform for many great artists at many incredible venues. I was in a band that opened for George Clinton, I was invited to play a solo for cellist Yehuda Hanani’s concert series, I was the baritone saxophone player when Chris Mann and Johnny Mathis toured to Phoenix… and currently, I’m with theAnastasia national tour, traveling and playing around North America.
As for paper art, I had many commissions over the years. But one stuck out the most was from a local restaurant in Phoenix. During the pandemic, the restaurant wasn’t doing so well. But there were many nice, generous people trying to support local, by ordering food from this place and left good tips. The owner was very touched and he saved all the receipts. One day he came to me and asked if I could turn those receipts into a piece of art. So I made an art piece called the Buddha’s Eyes.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
As an artist, I think the biggest challenge is to inform others that what I do is a job, just like any other job. I, and all other artists, deserve to get appropriated and paid fairly.
Many people try to hire me or my band to perform for an unbelievably low rate. I have to patiently explain why I nor my band can take the job unless the pay is a certain amount. Unfortunately most of the people’s reaction is “you charge how much?! I can get a band that charges half of your price” or something like that. It’s a little soul crushing when the general public thinks spending money on art or music is “too much”.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I can play spoons as an instrument. I can do some fancy pen spinning tricks (very Asian of me. My teacher took away soooo many pens from me because we were not allowed to spin pens during class but I do it so much.) When I’m bored, I do math… as a game. I have an app, it’s called Mental Math.
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
I work for many non profit organizations. One that I really like is the Phoenix Theatre Company. I was a regular sub at the Phoenix Theatre Company since 2012. I love the working environment and the people there. They are professional, and they always put on high quality shows.
Who do you admire?
Honestly, this is going to sound so cheesy but, my husband. I think he is absolutely the smartest person I’ve ever met in my life. He’s very knowledgeable, like a walking google scholar. Yet he stays humble at all times. And he is just a good person overall.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
I was always into anything but coursework lol. When I was little I loved machines and I always took things apart trying to figure out what’s going on. Then I got really into music, I enjoyed being on stage performing. Then I got into paper art… I never liked to study. But I could practice or make art for hours non-stop. When I was in college in China, I was a recording engineer major. I wanted to be a sound engineer and I did films, live music, recording and mixing, etc. I thought that was my true passion. After coming to America, I got to play in so many different music groups and eventually settled as a freelance musician.
Is where you are now where you thought you’d be?
I definitely dreamed about touring, playing Broadway musicals. But I never thought it would come true. I thought I would be a professor at a local community college, and have some performances here and there. But I guess life is unpredictable… in an awesome way!
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
Communication. A great communication skill can make things go smoothly and easy. 10/10 would recommend.
Where did you study at?
I did three years of college in China (Capital Normal University) before I came to America as an exchange student. During my exchange student time, I was in Aberdeen, South Dakota, s school called Northern State University. I loved it and eventually transferred there and finished my undergrad study. After that I got into Arizona State University, finished both my Master’s and Doctorate degree.
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
Oh gosh… I have way too many goals haha! I want to be in a film, as a musician, or an actress. I want to open my own art gallery or at least have my own art show… I mean, one can always dream, you never know when it will come true, right?!
What do you love most about what you do?
Seeing people’s happy faces, or their eyes lighten up when something cool happens on stage, or when they know the tune and trying to mouth the lyrics with the actors on stage, or they can’t help but dance with the band… it’s rewarding.
How do you deal with performance anxiety?
I don’t have performance anxiety. I get very excited to perform. I want to show people what I got!
How do you think your creative process has changed over time?
I think I focus on details more, with both music and paper art. I used to think “the big picture”. But now I try to add small, tiny, detailed things. For fun, and for people who pay extra attention to notice.
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
2015, I broke up with my fiancé and took a trip to New Orleans. I was in an unhealthy relationship. But after I got out, and took a trip to “a the land of dream” I had a different perspective towards life. That trip also shaped my jazz playing.
To find out more about Wen Wu, please visit her at:
Band Website: Lavahotjassband.com
Band Instagram: https://instagram.com/lava_hot_jass_band?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
Art Instagram: https://instagram.com/wenartcraft?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=
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