For Nate Wong, drumming has been a lifelong obsession, and one that started in his early childhood. “My parents remember me marching around the living room with a toy snare drum when I was a child,” recalls the Hong Kong-born musician with a smile. This initial fascination with the instrument gained greater focus at the age of 10 when he took up percussion lessons, and by the age of 14, he was performing regularly.
At high school in California, he studied under acclaimed jazz drummer Chris Braun and won several outstanding soloist awards at jazz festivals in the Bay Area. Already dedicated to becoming a full-time percussionist, Wong undertook a bachelor’s degree in Performance at Berklee College of Music between 2007 and 2011, where he learned from jazz greats such as Ralph Peterson, Ian Froman and George Garzone.
“Berklee was an amazing experience,” recalls Wong. “I was exposed to many different styles, approaches and lines of thought. There are so many talented people at Berklee, it’s almost impossible to be the most skilled. In order to make an impression you have to play with your heart and play with your own style. I carry this with me whenever I play to this day.”
While at Berklee, Wong founded jazz trio The Jazz Tellers, and in 2010 toured across the US, China and Hong Kong. Wong’s interest in tapping the potential of the Hong Kong music industry was piqued, and in 2014 – after a stint working as a music teacher in Ecuador – he moved back to the SAR.
“Having lived in several countries before Hong Kong I feel I have a unique perspective on it,” says Wong of the city’s music scene. “No doubt it’s hard to do art for a living anywhere; but that being said, in relative terms, I think it’s easy to break into the music industry here. The level of playing in the professional field is high, but it’s not completely oversaturated like it is in New York or LA; musicians are constantly looking for new talented people to play with and there is a lot of room for new bands and new projects to enter the scene.”
Since his return, Wong has collaborated on pop, rock and jazz projects with a variety of Asia’s top musicians, including Eugene Pao, Ng Yin, Ted Lo, Jing Wong, Yoyo Sham, the City Chamber Orchestra, Veloz, Shaolin Fez and Bamboo Star. He is also a founding member of indie rock outfit Nowhere Boys and leader of jazz ensemble Wong Way Down, who currently host Peel Fresco’s high-energy Sunday night sessions. “I love being a musician in Hong Kong,” he says. “I find that there are many creative and driven musicians here and I find the audiences to be open-minded and of a high quality.”
As a leading light among the next generation of Hong Kong musicians, Wong was also recently invited to take part in the second edition of the Hong Kong International Drummer Festival at ArtisTree and judge the finals of the Asia-Pacific Drummer Competition.
Wong’s talents have helped him make his mark on the local music scene over the past three years, and he has some sage advice for anyone hoping to emulate his success. “There are two main aspects to a successful career: your skills and your network,” he says. “The combination of these two things will let you have success in the music business. I strongly encourage the focus to be on improving your skills, though. At the end of the day, audiences respond to good playing. If you don’t have the skills to move a room or to keep a gig after you get it, it doesn’t matter how many people you know.”
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