Take Five with Meg Okura
Hailed by The Guardian as "improvisational virtuosity," Meg Okura is "equally comfortable playing classical chamber music, rock and everything in between," (The New York Times). She is the founder and the leader of the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble, and has won numerous grants and awards as a composer.
A native of Japan, Meg toured as the concertmaster and the soloist with the Asian Youth Orchestra and made her Kennedy Center debut with the late Alexander Schneider's New York String Orchestra as a teen. While attending The Juilliard School as a classical major, she taught herself jazz and made a difficult switch to jazz upon graduation.
She has performed and recorded with musical legends including David Bowie, Michael Brecker, Lee Konitz, Diane Reeves, and Steve Swallow. She was also the featured violinist in three Cirque du Soleil productions. She has performed as a soloist at venues from the Knitting Factory to Carnegie Hall to Madison Square Garden.
Teachers and/or influences?
Teachers: Rob Thomas, Eishin Nose, Nabuko Kiryu.
Influences: Pat Metheny, John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Joe Henderson, Sam Newsome, J.S. Bach, Ravel, Debussy, Miles Davis, and others.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I was four.
Your sound and approach to music:
My style of composition is to combine various musical experiences together; classical with jazz, East and West, contemporary and traditional, etc. I do this because I wanted my music to come out naturally, rather than trying hard to sound like my idols. Therefore, my Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble is my way of accepting myself both as a musician and a person.
Your teaching approach:
Work on one thing at a time. Don't try to tackle too many different things.
Your dream band:
I would like to work with Pat Metheny as a violinist, erhu player, and backup singer.
Jazz Standard for the ribs. Alice Tully for the acoustics and amazing backstage dressing rooms. Blue Note Tokyo for the treatment of artists and the food.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Sam Newsome Global Unity, (Palmetto). It sounds sincere and artistic.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Chick Corea, Expressions.
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
I am trying to erase the negative stereotyping of violinists, Asian people and women jazz musicians by being excellent on the instrument and cultivating unique sounds in my compositions. I incorporate my influences from classical music and music from Asia into my jazz compositions, while using excellent female players in the band.
CDs you are listening to now:
John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside Records);
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, Internal Machines (New Amsterdam Records);
John Coltrane, Impressions (Impulse!);
Michael Brecker, Don't Try This At Home (Impulse!).
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Educating the American children to appreciate its own culture, and teach the importance of culture.
What is in the near future?
New recording Naima, by Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble coming out very soon.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
Concert violinistor a very depressed orchestral violinist. Otherwise, interior designer/architect, painter/graphic designer, or English-Japanese interpreter, or an economist.
Photo Credit Kevin Cody, Courtesy of Easy Reader