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Faculty trumpeter Cuong Vu plays in David Bowie’s Toy box 

Submitted by Joanne De Pue on November 1, 2021 - 4:55pm
Cuong Vu (photo: Steve Korn)
Cuong Vu (photo: Steve Korn)

UW School of Music professor and trumpeter Cuong Vu has performed with some of the top names in the music business throughout his acclaimed career, but one of his proudest musical collaborations, with iconic rocker David Bowie more than 20 years ago, never saw the light of day—until now.

The estate of the late Bowie recently announced the January 2022 official release of Toy, a collection of re-recordings of some of Bowie’s earliest songs plus new songs that were recorded live in studio in 2000 and scheduled for 2001 release with EMI/Virgin, but that remained unreleased due to what Bowie later termed “major problems” at the label.

Vu had been added to the lineup of Bowie’s band for the project when the artist saw him perform at a club in New York City on a bill with Holly Palmer, a friend and musical collaborator who long toured and recorded with Bowie as a backup singer and percussionist. Palmer and Vu had been mutual fans of each other’s work since they were teenagers growing up in the Seattle area and rising stars of their respective high school jazz bands (Lake Washington High School for Palmer and Bellevue High for Vu).

Vu spent two days recording with Bowie for the Toy sessions, and his distinctive trumpet work is featured on several tracks on the album, including the title track, “Toy (Your Turn to Drive).” 

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In an October 2021 article in Rolling Stone, Toy producer Mark Plati singled out Vu's work on the track "Karma Man, calling it "notable for Cuong Vu’s opening and closing lines, and especially the glorious backing vocals from Holly Palmer, Emm Gryner, and Lisa Germano — they had so much to do with the sound of Toy....When I re-listened to these tracks, the sound of fall 2000 came flooding out of the speakers, from a song I’d not heard since then. I’m not too proud to say I shed a bit of a tear, something that happened a few times while mixing it.”

Toy is among several posthumous releases included in a series of box sets covering different phases of Bowie’s career. The box set Toy: (Toy Box) includes the original album plus alternate versions and deluxe artwork and packaging in both CD and vinyl formats. It receives its official release on ISO Records/Parlophone on January 7, 2022 (Bowie’s 75th birthday).

Learn more about this release.

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