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Take Five with Wataru Uchida

Wataru Uchida By

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About Wataru Uchida

Wataru Uchida is a saxophonist and composer. Wataru studied saxophone performance and composition with Chico Freeman, and has been leading his jazz projects in New York since 2003. In 2002, Wataru worked as a teaching assistant of Rory Stuart's rhythm analysis class at New School University Jazz & Contemporary Music program. In 2010, Wataru released his first CD Blue Morpho, recorded with NY-based Brazilian jazz artists, Romero Lubambo, Helio Alves, Nilson Matta. The album is dedicated to Baden Powell, the legendary Brazilian guitarist. In 2015, Wataru has recorded his original tunes with Abelita Mateus, Itaiguara Brandão, and Vanderlei Pereira, and published the album, Predawn Shenanigans Club. Wataru has been supported Tocho Swing Beats Jazz Big Band, the oldest jazz big band in Japan, and ever performed at Birdland, Jazz Standard, and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. May 15, 2010, Wataru performed at Museum of the City of New York, leading his quintet with the select Japanese jazz performers in New York, as a part of events that celebrated 150 years anniversary of Japan-U.S. trade. Wataru joined a recording project of The Paul Sanwald Quartet, and he performed at Bird & Beckett Books and Records in San Francisco as the album releasing celebration in 2018.


Tenor saxophone Teachers and/or influences?

Originally, I was a trombone player. I switched to saxophone, and I studied with Chico Freeman and Junior Mance. They are from Chicago and influenced by Gene Ammons, a legend in Chicago. Chico Freeman helped me to get the "fat" tenor sound that is the Chicago tenor player's trademark. As a jazz composer, Chico Freeman studied with Muhal Richard Abrams of AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). And Chico Freeman gave me some tips to compose.

To learn harmonic structure, I took classes in advanced reharmonization with LeeAnn Ledgerwood. I call her "A Witch Of Reharmonization." I think she goes as far as Richie Beirach does.

And I would say, my first recording project with Nilson Matta was such a big lesson to study and practice on Brazilian rhythm. I studied pandeiro with Ze Mauricio. Also I joined Samba New York and played pandeiro and tambourine. I believe it is important to play percussion to learn the feel of rhythmic formulas, hopefully with native musicians.

Your sound and approach to music.

When I perform and record, I can play something that I have never played before if I am in the zone. The best state of mind is calm, or to say tranquil, without thoughts. To make it happen, I have to know what I can rely on because I grab something in my subconsciousness at such a best moment. Rhythmic formulas and ideas should be there. I have to polish sax sound in my everyday exercise. I have to learn variations of harmonic maps with suitable harmonic rhythm. And I have to forget about all of them when the band starts to play. Phrases sound meaningfully sometimes. I wish I can play only good ones. I think the approach to improvise at each moment is a sort of way to communicate with musicians and audiences subconsciously, sharing emotions attached to life experiences of individuals.

Your teaching approach

Technically, the most important thing to play sax is that you don't blow it hard. A player should just breathe gently in sax. And as African American tradition, jazz musicians added variety of articulations to European music instruments including saxophone. If a player didn't grow up in jazz culture, he should practice on the articulation to make the horn speak. That is what I have been doing. For that, I spend time to listen to Stanley Turrentine as the best example.

My one way saxophone lessons are available on Youtube. People in 170 countries watch my video and 99% of the viewers are happy with my videos. You can type 'wataru sax lesson' on Youtube and they will come up. Also, I teach via Skype and have ever taught students in Germany, Brazil, and some other states in USA. Skype lessons are customized to each student.

Your dream band

It's Led Zeppelin. They lived together and spent so much time to create original music. What I don't like is jazz gigs without rehearsals. Group context won't be good enough to create something original in a day.

Road story: Your best or worst experience


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Bed-Stuy Lullaby

Bed-Stuy Lullaby

Wataru Uchida
Predawn Shenanigans Club

Blue Morpho

Blue Morpho

Wataru Uchida
Blue Morpho: To Baden Powell...

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The Heart Intact

The Heart Intact

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Predawn Shenanigans Club

Predawn Shenanigans...

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