SUN-MI HONG: Dreams From Her Kit

The Sun-Mi Hong Quintet certainly knows tone and shading, coloring and rhythmic play. As leader and percussionist, Hong skillfully guides the music by adding texture on drums, allowing each member of the ensemble equal space and bandwidth. Collectively, it’s a jazz breeze.

Her 2020 album “Self-Strewn Portrait” was beset some of the now well- known obstacles of the lockdown. The strength in each track comes through loud and clear with courage and assertive melodic statements. Nine tracks with a variety of flavors: sax driving the train forward, bopping and popping high registers (“Thoughts to be Spoken”) and the lament and artful drag of “P Stands for Palace” that stirs up to its sunburst moment. There are amazing harmonies in evidence throughout the album and opposing counterpoint that grab the listener enough to know this is something fresh.

A talented leader who says “It’s my band, but I play as a side-woman.”  

When did you start playing drums and why?

Age 17. I was in love with the drum since 12. I saw them in a church service!

At what age did you hear jazz for the first time (also state the year), and how did you feel about it?

When I was 20. It was Joshua Redman. I felt a groove and freedom.

What was your first drum set and do you still use it?

An electric drum set that my dad bought for me to play in church.

What moods do you like to coax from percussion?

Any kind of moods. Rhythms are powerful!

What was the most difficult part of breaking into a career in music?

Keep making music and getting better at it is the most difficult part.

What was the most important lesson you learned about technique that helps you today?

To breathe. To play with the air.

What was the most important lesson you learned about the music business that has helped you?

Don’t rush it. You will have chance to get things you want at some point!

What was your goal when you started your quintet and how did you choose the musicians?

My goal was to find myself via my own compositions, playing on the drums and being surrounded by people that I admire. I was very interested in learning their language, music and attitude for music and for life.

How would you describe the sound of your band, the vibe, what it brings to listeners?

Honest, intense, wild, lyrical.

Talk about the release tour for “A Self-Strewn Portrait” and how was it affected by COVID?

I released the album right beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. We had a lot of concerts that were all cancelled.  We are excited to share the stage again. Doesn’t matter where we are, which stage we are, we want to share each moment with the band and audience.

What was the best part of producing the album?

The momentum of recording.

How would you describe your individual sound and your style?

A signature of rooted groove in combination with well-tempered outbursts

Best part of being a jazz musician today?

I can live with doing what I love.

For more information visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.

© 2021 Debbie Burke

Deb Burke’s newest book #1 New Release on Amazon

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