Feature/Interview

Sun-Mi Hong (Birmingham and London tour dates 8-10 October)

Sun-Mi Hong is a Korean drummer who is currently based in Amsterdam, having studied at Amsterdam Conservatoire, where she graduated in 2017. With her fluent style, switching easily between dramatic but controlled powerhouse outbursts and a relaxed groove, she has quickly
made a big impression on the Dutch scene.

A talented composer, she released her debut album featuring all original compositions, First Page, in late 2017 and went on to win the Sena Dutch Jazz Competition with her group in 2018. She has since been selected to participate in the Young VIPs Tour, which sees the Netherlands’ most promising young jazz musician-composers given a platform at venues including the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. She brings her quintet to Birmingham and London in October as part of the Going Dutch project, her first visit to the UK as a leader, having previously appeared over here with Scottish bassist and fellow Amsterdam Conservatoire alumnus, Brodie Jarvie’s group. Rob Adams reports:

Sun-Mi Hong. (Photo: Petra Beckers)

LondonJazz News: What attracted you to playing the drums and how did you get started as a drummer?

Sun-Mi Hong: I can’t really describe what attracted me to playing the drums but the connection was very strong from the beginning. When I was 12, I saw a drum kit and heard the sound of drums for the first time. Since then I always wanted to learn drums and would imitate drummers on the table with my chopsticks. At 17 I finally managed to convince my parents and I went to drum academy. I learned how to play single strokes and I played only that for 4 hours non-stop. I was so so happy. On the way home from my first lesson, my legs and arms were shaking because I used my muscles too much!

LJN: Did you play any other instruments before you took up the drums?

SMH: My parents let me learn the piano at age seven. I was so shy that I didn’t like to play in front of people so I quit lessons after five years. I basically grew up in church though, so I got to sing a lot.

LJN: Was there any particular drummer who made you think, That’s what I want to do?

SMH: Many drummers! However, the guys who really changed my perception of music and drumming were Brian Blade, Roy Haynes, Jack DeJohnette, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams.

LJN: What led you to studying in Amsterdam?

SMH: There were not many jazz teachers or Conservatories in Korea back then. So I met very good friends who wanted to go to Amsterdam to study jazz and they inspired me to apply to school.

LJN: What did you get from the experience?

SMH: Six years of studying Jazz with some of greatest drummers in Europe changed my life. The way I perceive music has changed completely. There’s so much culture to be learned. Their way of thinking, way of approaching music. As well as being with, and playing with, friends from all over the world. The whole experience shaped who I am now. The cultural transition was also challenging and took a lot
of strength. I feel it made me stronger, more open to change and embracing the unexpected.

LJN: How did you go about choosing the musicians for your group?

SMH: Friendship won in the end! I thought a lot about what sound I wanted to put in my compositions. Who can inspire me to write more songs, who can boost me to develop in musicality and playing together. You don’t really know in the beginning how this will all go. But I had trust since we rehearsed for the first time. Alistair, Nicolo, Yonng-Woo and Alessandro are a totally necessary part of my
compositions and artistic output. Now that we’ve spent so much time together playing and hanging, I feel compelled to continue to develop.

LJN: How do you compose and when you compose for the group, do you work with these musicians sounds and personalities in mind?

SMH: I compose on the piano mostly, always with a large sheet of manuscript paper. As every musician has their own sound, I can’t really think of each of their sounds and try to put five colours in one. However, I definitely have an idea about their energy or their approach in my music. So I’m understanding more and more how to arrange throughout the group. I try to play in my own way on my
compositions. This is more challenging than I expected but it results in the band sound being very personal and unique. This makes my music very honest and connected.

LJN: What can audiences in the UK expect to hear from your group and your music?

SMH: I don’t write with a specific topic or subject in mind, so people can read into the music as they wish. Although, from my perspective, it has something to do with struggle, and perseverance. Something I’ve had a little too much of over the years! This is how I wish to touch people through the music. So, if anything can be predicted to happen during our performance, it would be a rollercoaster of emotion and energy.

Jazz writer Rob Adams is assisting the Going Dutch project with publicity 

Tour dates:

Tue 8 Oct: The Spotted Dog, Birmingham

Wed 9 Oct: Ronnie Scott’s, London (support set)

Wed 9 Oct: Spice of Life, London (main show)

Thu 10 Oct: Ronnie Scott’s, London (support set)

LINK: Sun-Mi Hong’s website

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