The Swedish 'wonder woman' of jazz

Swedish jazz musician Gunhild Carling is living her dream.

November 17, 2016 22:06
4 minute read.
Gunhild Carling

Swedish jazz musician Gunhild Carling. (photo credit: CLAES HALL)

Jazz goddess Gunhild Carling will perform with the Israel Chamber Orchestra. The concert, appropriately titled Wonder Woman, will take place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Monday and Tuesday night.

Carling, 41, is precisely what the show’s name implies, a musical superhero. With long blond hair and sparkling blue eyes, the Swedish singer, dancer, composer and multi-instrumentalist is as a big a stage presence as Israel has ever seen.

“I haven’t ever been to a music teacher,” reveals Carling. “I come from a family that plays music. I grew up in the south of Sweden, outside of Malmo. Our house was full of variety – circus, acting, dance, vaudeville and novelty. I just picked up instruments from when I was very young and played them. I started with the drums, then the recorder, trombone and trumpet. Then I started tap dancing, and after that harmonica and bagpipe. Later, I began composing music. I believe in the voice from the heart, the voice of inspiration.”

Carling spent the beginning of her professional life on the road with her parents and three siblings.

Today, she tours solo as well, teaming up with local musicians in each destination.

This will be Carling’s fifth time in Israel. Her prior visits brought her to the Super Jazz Ashdod festival, where she performed alongside celebrated pianist Leonid Ptashka.

“I love this country. The people here are very nice, and the audience has a very good musical understanding,” she beams.

Carling has a formidable Internet presence, including a live online program called Sweet and Vintage, in which international viewers call in requests for the Carling Big Band to play. Her videos bring in enormous numbers of views, sometimes reaching millions of eyes. It was through the Internet that the collaboration with the Israel Chamber Orchestra was born.

“We saw her videos online,” says Rinat Avisar, general director of the orchestra, “and we started to look into her, to see if the hype was for real or not. The more we saw, the more wowed we became, so we reached out to her.”

We dropped in on Carling’s rehearsal at the orchestra’s home in Jaffa. She had arrived a couple of days prior and was already packing up for New Orleans, where she will play a charity ball before heading back for her Israel performances.

Carling stands at the front of the stage in a shimmering navy blue dress, a purple flower adorning her braided locks. In front of her are a trombone, trumpet, recorder and harmonica, a small selection of the instruments she will play during the show.

“There are instruments that you find that talk to you, that sing in my voice more than others. When I play trumpet, I try to be close to Louie Armstrong. Sometimes when I’m playing, I can hear him. It’s harder on the bagpipe, for example,” she says.

Her stage presence evokes a different era, a time when big bands were commonplace in nightclubs, and couples swingdanced the night away.

“I think it would be interesting to visit another era,” she says, “but I think we are in better times now.

My heroes were famous for a year or two and then spent the rest of their lives struggling. We have it easier now. But esthetically they had it better.”

The concert will include many of Carling’s compositions such as the songs “Summer in St. Paul,” “Slow and Passionate” and “Back in the Jungle.” Carling leads the excellent players of the orchestra with kindness and enthusiasm.

“You guys play fantastic,” she says over and over. “It’s magical playing with you.”

Carling knows exactly what she wants of each player and directs them with ease and professionalism. Though she has only just met them, she approaches each musician as though they were family, cracking jokes during breaks and leaning in to check their charts.

“This show is going to be ‘Israel Chamber Orchestra going wild’,” she laughs with them.

When asked what tempo to play during one interval, Carling tells the lead violinist to “feel it in your heart.” As she floats around the stage, it is clear that that is exactly where Carling feels the music.

“Jazz is a way of living; 99% of what I do is behind the stage, and it’s about spreading the music to the world. It’s about making people feel good, making them happy. I always have an instrument with me, and I will play anywhere, in the street. I live in a musical dream.”

Wonder Woman will take place on November 21 and 22 at 8:30 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. For more information, visit

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