Makin’ it Happen – Sunna Gunnlaugs

by Jason on November 13, 2009 · 3 comments

in Makin' It Happen Friday

Every Friday on this blog is “Makin’ it Happen Friday”, where I feature another musician who’s found a way to make a living playing music. I am constantly inspired by others, and hope to pass that inspiration on to you.

Sunna Gunnlaugs

Sunna Gunnlaugs

“Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs bridges the Brooklyn-Reykjavík jazz divide with European elegance and a fiery, New York drive.”

This is the first line of Sunna Gunnlaugs’ press kit. How can you not be intrigued by that description?

Luckily, Sunna doesn’t disappoint! One listen to her latest release “Songs from Iceland” and I was hooked. The 5 Icelandic folk songs that make up the CD are the perfect example of Sunna’s bridging “the Brooklyn-Reykjavík jazz divide”, which in her capable hands sounds perfectly united. At once modern and timeless, worldly and other-worldly, these tunes from Sunna’s heritage are wonderful vehicles for her and the band (Tony Malaby, sax; Drew Gress, bass; husband Scott McLemore, drums) to improvise on.

I don’t remember who first introduced me to Sunna, but since I started to follow her comings and goings on the internet I’ve been impressed not only with her musical and compositional abilities, but also with her ability to connect with her fans through her website, Twitter, Facebook and her newsletter. She has embraced all of the new technology available to the modern musician and uses it to build real relationships with her fans. She also has a ton of FREE music available.

As you’ll see from her answers below, Sunna knows the value of a balanced life. She has taken complete control of her musical career and uses her organizational skills to stay on top of practicing, composing, booking, promoting, etc. We can all learn from her example.

OWM: How’d you get started in the music biz?

SG: My first professional jazz gig was with a fusion band that I was a part of in my late teens. I quickly moved into acoustic jazz though and started to gig a little in Reykjavik, Iceland before going to school in the USA. Everybody at school was trying to get gigs at Borders Books and Music so I just went with the flow and gradually started gigging around NJ and NY playing standards with a trio. After I had moved to Brooklyn in 1997 I started to focus more on performing my own music.

OWM: What 3 things have helped you the most in becoming a working musician?

SG: Not necesarily in this order but:

1. Being very organized and hard working. You have to plan and set goals. Then work very hard at reaching those goals. Booking gigs is very time consuming so you have to be organized about it.

2. I had great teachers along the way and wonderful people to play with who encouraged me to find my own voice. I think it is important to have something personal to offer whether it is original music or simply approach and style.

3. I think being a woman from Iceland has been helpful in getting the press interested. Promotion is important and being different in some way or having a story to interest journalists is definitely helpful when trying to reach an audience.

OWM: What advice to you have for aspiring musicians?

SG: Be organized and become versatile. Making a living is easier if you can play in various settings, as a leader and a sideman. Don’t ignore your weaknesses. They’ll hunt you down later. Be nice to other musicians. Nobody likes to play with a jerk. Don’t be a copycat, take from the masters and make it your own. Find your voice, it is there somewhere.


Thanks Sunna! I really appreciate your thoughtful answers and work ethic.

Here’s a video of Sunna and her current quartet (featuring Loren Stillman, sax; Elvind Opsvik, bass and McLemore, drums) playing her song “Anima”, with a short interview to set it up:

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

jnpdx November 14, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Loren Stillman on saxophone got left out of the credits somehow – what a great player!

Beautiful composition as well.

Jason
Twitter: 1WorkinMusician
November 14, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Thanks for catching that. I messed up the link html. He’s in there now.

And thanks for stopping by the blog!

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: