Amanda Carr sits down with saxophonist, songwriter
and recording artist, Myanna.
You are easily recognized by one name: “Myanna” (from Myanna Pontoppidan). It’s more than just a lucky brand; it’s a proclamation of Diva-dom that usually happens organically. We all want to be known as Whitney, Cher, J-Lo. You’ve achieved that icon status as a soul, blues, jazz and pop saxophonist whose name evokes that someone significant has arrived. When did you realize that your last name wasn’t needed anymore?
Well, as you might imagine, my name – both of them actually –has been mispronounced my whole life. So it was a pretty easy decision to drop the last name professionally. I was just lucky that I have a melodious first name with more than a single syllable.
Although we all evolve as musicians, your style has been consistent since your inception. Did you study in another genre prior to breaking out into the performance scene? Or was the music you play always of interest?
I listened to a lot of jazz in high school – it’s what got me interested in the saxophone. But mixed in there was Jimi Hendrix and BB King, so a fusion of musical styles made sense. From when I started playing professionally in 1976 through the late 80’s, I mostly played Pop, R&B and Rock & Roll. I had studied jazz in college however, so when I started writing seriously around 1989 or so, what emerged was that amalgam of genres that fit my playing style.
You and I have spoken a bit about what it takes for an independent artist to self-produce and release albums. How has this process affected your goals from, say, 25 years ago, to now?
When I began my solo career in the early 90’s, the internet was in its infancy. So promotion was done the old fashioned way using the telephone, and print media mostly. I spent a lot of time on promotion and trying to get a “record deal”, because that was the only way to get wide distribution for a CD release. That didn’t happen, but I continued to write songs, and put out two more discs after that first one that I “shopped” to labels. Now, through YouTube, Facebook and using other internet based tools, one can create a buzz much more easily. Plus, with the surge of smaller in-home recording studios, it can be much cheaper to record an album. I plan to get back in the studio soon; probably keeping it a bit lower budget than the last one. I guess my goals and expectations are a bit less broad than they were twenty years ago too. (LOL)
The connotation of one ‘re-inventing’ themselves is something that I’m not sure I completely understand or is widely understood. Is it a complete ‘re-do’ of image, or an abandonment of established musical ideals or genre? You seem to have stayed steadfast on your brand, image, and musical genre, choosing to ‘evolve’ rather than re-invent. Can you speak a bit about what you perceive the difference to be and the benefits of musical “evolution’ vs. “re-invention”, both in music and brand? How would you apply these elements to yourself?
Well, I guess what seems like re-invention could sometimes be simply experimenting with a different genre that is of interest. I doubt an artist would call a change of direction a “re-invention” – that seems to be more a term the media might use. I suppose my recordings do exhibit more of a musical evolution, but that doesn’t mean my next album won’t be a Beatles tribute! I think listeners and fans come to expect a certain sound from their favorite artists, and sometimes rebel when there’s too much of a departure, but if the music’s good, and honest, there’s always an audience.
Can’t have an interview with Myanna without asking about your influences: then and now.
Interestingly, even though I started on alto, my early influences on the saxophone were mainly tenor players. I was mostly drawn to the guys (yes, they were all guys) with a big sound such as Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet, Stanley Turrentine, and of course John Coltrane, among others. Additionally, Bird and Cannonball spent a lot of time on the turntable as well. Through the years, some others who have been added to that list are Michael Brecker, Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett, Paquito D’Rivera, Grover Washington, Maceo Parker, Joe Lovano, Ernie Watts – the list goes on. I continue to get inspiration from newer artists, as well as a lot of the older ones as well - Cannonball is still one of my favorite saxophonists to listen to – his sound and approach never gets old.
When you began your career, Contemporary female sax players were quite rare in the late 70’s and 80’s, only spilling onto the scene in the 90’s when female jazz and soul instrumentalists began to emerge as ‘in demand’ headliners. Some of these artists are quite deserving with their undeniable musicality. But others might be relegated as ‘fluff’. Do you think that the business has become too saturated with female artists who think lipstick, high heels and karaoke tracks are an entree to stardom?
I think it’s unfortunate that it still seems to be the case that women in the performing arts get more attention if they wear sexy clothes and makeup, than if they don’t. It is certainly a litmus test that isn’t imposed on men. There are doubtless plenty of talented women out there that are deserving of wider recognition, but have decided to focus more on the music than the trappings. For myself, I’ve never felt comfortable trying to strive for that societal ideal of what a woman needs to look like i.e. high heels, lipstick (it gunks up the reed!), etc.
Your stage presence is a unique blend of relaxed execution and dynamic confidence. Having performed with you a few times, I key off your energy, but also feel a sense of respect and inclusiveness when sharing the stage. This attitude is something that both the audience perceives and also the musicians you play with. How important do you think having a good attitude is in career longevity?
Of course having a good attitude makes everything easier – your relationship with yourself, other musicians, the audience. I don’t think it’s essential for career longevity – there are certainly plenty of examples of people with negative attitudes; people who didn’t treat fellow musicians with respect; that had very long careers. When I’m blowing my horn, for the most part, I’m feeling good! - Especially when there’s a really good musical connection happening. So I think that’s just an energy that is felt by folks – in particular the ones sharing the stage.
Have you ever sung? Tried to sing?
I think all musicians probably wish they could sing – it’s the one on board instrument – the ultimate. When I was studying and playing guitar in high school I sang quite a bit – folk songs mostly. Then years later, I took some singing lessons, and I did sing a couple of songs on my first solo CD. I enjoy singing, and wish I was blessed with a better voice, but I guess saxophone is the next best thing!
Is there anything about you that you'd like people to know?
Besides music, another big interest of mine, and a great creative outlet, is woodworking. It really is just a hobby, but I do spend a lot of time and get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction doing it. In the last several years, I’ve made quite a few pieces of furniture – so far just for myself. People have asked if they could commission something, and what I tell them is they could never afford it! I work very slowly and methodically; each piece takes quite a while to finish. Right now I’m working on a dresser; two and a half years in, and the end is finally in sight!
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MYANNA, CHECK OUT www.MYANNA.com