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New England saxophonist Myanna Pontoppidan (who only uses her first name professionally) has acquired a reputation for being one of the edgier, more aggressive, and hard-blowing players in the pop-jazz/NAC field. Although Myanna (who plays the tenor, alto, soprano, and baritone saxes) is far from a bop purist, her melodic, accessible, groove-oriented blend of jazz, R&B, and pop has tended to be gutsier and much more improvisatory than most of recordings that NAC/smooth jazz stations favored in the ‘90s and early 2000s -- Myanna is too much of an improviser to be lumped in with Kenny G, Dave Koz, and Richard Elliot. Stylistically, her work often recalls the pop-jazz, soul-jazz, and jazz-funk of the ‘70s and early ‘80s; David Sanborn, Tom Scott, David "Fathead" Newman, and the late Grover Washington, Jr. are strong influences, as are Wilton Felder (of Crusaders and Jazz Crusaders fame), Maceo Parker (who spent many years in the employ of James Brown), and Spyro Gyra founder/leader Jay Beckenstein. Another valid comparison is early Ronnie Laws (as in 1977's Friends and Strangers and 1976's Fever), and when she gets into the occasional Latin-ish groove, Myanna can hint at Gato Barbieri's more commercial, pop-minded side (as opposed to his straight-ahead post-bop and blistering avant-garde free jazz). Myanna's albums may, on occasion, include an R&B vocal (usually of the quiet storm variety), but she is an instrumentalist first and foremost.
It isn't surprising that Myanna has so many ‘70s influences; that was when the saxophonist (who grew up in Weston, MA listening to a variety of jazz, blues, soul, rock, and pop) began to make her presence felt on the New England music scene. After studying with saxman Joe Viola at the well known Berklee College of Music in Boston and with veteran drummer Max Roach at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Myanna joined a ‘70s soul/funk band called Lilith (who were based in Northampton, MA). Myanna left Lilith in the late ‘70s and hooked up with an outfit called the Bill Bellamy Project; then, in 1984, Myanna formed the group Girls Night Out with fellow saxophonist Cercie Miller and singer Didi Stewart. At first, Girls Night Out was a cover band that paid tribute to the girl groups of the early ‘60s (artists like the Shirelles and the Ronettes), but they went on to write and record original material and enjoyed a small local following. After the breakup of Girls Night Out, Myanna spent some time in the Love Dogs -- another local Massachusetts group -- but eventually, the New Englander got around to recording some albums as a leader. Myanna released her self-titled debut album on her own label, Bridge City Records, in 1992; that disc was followed by 1997's After Hours (Myanna's sophomore album) and 2004's One Never Knows, Do One?, both of which are also on Bridge City. ~ Alex Henderson