Sunna Gunnlaugs

The Intrigue of Jazz Division

November 18, 2009 10:41 pm | Filed under: Music | Comments (0)
Tags: , , , , ,

Lately, I have had the good fortune of being featured on other people's blogs. Trumpeter Jason Parker from Seattle is an active blogger who features other musicians every Friday and calls it Makin' it Happen. Well last Friday he was kind enough to feature yours truly, which you can read here.

Slightly further to the north, Ottawa-based reviewer Peter Hum just posted a review of my album "Songs from Iceland" on his jazzblog.ca where he calls it "… a warm, satisfying blend of rigor and freedom." You can read that here and leave comments too.

Interestingly both Parker and Hum bring up my catchphrase "bridging the Brooklyn-Reykjavik jazz divide with European elegance and a fiery New York drive." This was actually a homework assignment for a course I took with Ariel Hyatt on how independent musicians can promote their music on the internet. The first thing I learned when trying to come up with the "pitch" (as they say in the business), is it's really hard to describe your own music with words. I got the inspiration for the phrase from another reviewer John Kelman. In what I thought was an excellent and dead-on review for allaboutjazz.com of my album "Live in Europe" Kelman called it "a wholly captivating set that combines the elegance of the European approach with a more fiery American-sounding rhythm section". Obviously, I thought that was well put.

What the pitch/catchphrase is trying to say is that my influences come both from the European side and the American side of jazz. I love Keith Jarrett's European Quartet, Bobo Stenson-Jan Garbarek Quartet, Kenny Wheeler and the Bobo Stenson Trio which is probably played the most in my house. On the other hand, I used to listen to Hank Mobley's Soul Station over and over again when driving long distances (for $50 gigs) in the US. It was the best driving music along with Dexter Gordon's Go, Miles Davis' My Funny Valentine and Ornette Coleman's Tomorrow is the Question. I learned piano solos by Herbie Hancock, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland and Kenny Barron when studying at William Paterson College in NJ, but interestingly never solos by Bobo Stenson or John Taylor. However, I think that even if I hadn't listened to European jazz my background would still have shown through. By that I mean the lyrical element and even the melancholy in traditional Nordic music is a part of me. So naturally, when I write or improvise it will come through.

Having lived in the US for 12 years certainly shaped me as a musician too. Especially my years in Brooklyn, where I was surrounded by great musicians who were into playing sessions just for the sake of playing. We usually played both standards and original music at these sessions. Everyone was writing music and passionately seeking opportunities to perform it. There was a kind of a contagious drive or hunger to create. I wonder if what partially fuels that contagious drive is that it is so hard to make ends meet as a musician in New York and you just don't have a moment to sit back and chill.

It is quite different in Scandinavia. There seem to be plenty of teaching positions available to keep musicians comfortable and therefor less need to put your music out there. I know I don't write or play as much as I used to when I was living in New York. Life is more focused on the family (I have two little girls) and that comfortable teaching position makes it possible. Still, some of that drive and the need to create is still there and when I went to New York last summer to play and record my old New York Quartet (with Loren Stillman, Eivind Opsvik and Scott McLemore) I felt that I had the best of both worlds: I had the comfort of family life with national health insurance in Reykjavik and the opportunities to meet up with old playmates in Brooklyn, thus a bridge over the Brooklyn-Reykjavik (jazz) divide.

Leave a Reply