Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

200

Yoko Miwa: New Star in an Old Sky

Gordon Marshall By

Sign in to view read count
Self-effacing but with healthy ambition—and genuinely glamorous—pianist Yoko Miwa is a shimmering study in contrasts. Her music is loyal to sources and roots, yet it is fresh and sexy. Everything is in balance in her work. On a most elemental level she is like a graceful hostess at a grand party, catering to the desires of all; on a deeper level she is an architect. Imagine, far from her native Kobe, Japan, a dilapidated ballroom, say, in Detroit. Say it is the place where the old jazz masters used to play, and you walk in through the doorway for old time's sake. However, the joint has been refurbished, everyone is dancing, and everything is sparkling. That is how it is to listen to Miwa.

It is indeed special to experience her music. And paradoxically, though her music is quite easy on the ear, it is so rooted in feeling and discipline that ultimately its most loyal followers may be the weathered, seasoned jazz fanatics happy to see fleet fingers and a young face gliding over the keyboard defined in its history much by a line of persecuted, neglected and self destructive males. Miwa takes good care of herself, and with her soft, masseuse touch on the keys, makes sure she will not be ignored.

Despite the effortless sheen that tops off her style, Miwa is no stranger to labor. Classical lessons beginning at four were later supplemented with rigorous ear training, and assignments to transcribe and perform long strings of classic jazz solos. Thus her work has a complexity to it belied by its simple surface. It is as if we were looking at the still surface of a lake, and very slowly coming to recognize the nuances and shades of the water, the currents, the driftwood and the plankton. Miwa lets these details play against one another, rather than fix them to fit a defined signature style. That said, it is precisely this play that allows for surprise and the unexpected, as the tiny elements collide and clash with each other.

And despite her democratic embrace of many styles, her deep emotional sway always comes up in the end to direct the flow of song. In many cases, starting with a familiar theme, Miwa will become so lost in the feeling of that song that her solo will become a thing of its own, independent and blossoming away from the theme, but still connected and in harmony. Miwa is at a crossroads in her career, a very strong, vibrant presence on the Boston scene set to serenade a national audience. She has the gift and the right stuff. The question is how her style will unfold over time. One thing is certain. Miwa is so authentically true to herself that however her music ends up fitting itself into the trends and niche markets that characterize modern music, she will always be loved.

Light years from her stage persona, complete with diamonds and a black evening gown, is Miwa's serious, cerebral presence in person. Her reverence for the jazz tradition is deep, setting her apart from so many for whom a break with the past is the holy grail of jazz. It shows in her work. She can play the blues as if she came from the South. She explains this cultural metempsychosis.

Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.. So she learns the words in English. She doesn't know what she is singing, but she can sing it!

"When I switched to jazz, Makoto Ozone was Japan's leading jazz pianist. His father is a Hammond organ player. He also plays piano but he was known for playing the Hammond organ. He was playing organ in a late-night show so everyone knew who he was. He's like Hank Jones, that kind of player. 'Don't touch my organ!,' he would say to Makoto when he left for the day; but when he came home, the organ was turned on. So he was already playing.

"The father, Minoru Ozone, my mom's friends knew him, so when I told my mom that I wanted to study jazz, my mom's friend introduced me to him. That's when I learned about his son, too. He went to Berklee and his first job was a world tour with [vibraphonist] Gary Burton."

"Minoru—his teaching is like, 'Just listen. Copy what I play.' And the first time I went to his lesson he played this entire song, 'Tenderly.' And he played the melody, the solo, and the melody again. He gave me the tape and he said, 'Learn this by next Sunday.' I was 19, playing classical in my music college. I had technique, and I was born with perfect pitch. So I could do it, but he said, 'Don't write anything down.' So I played the tape every day, all day, and then started just note by note. It was a lot of work, memorizing six choruses of melody and improvisation. I memorized one chord at a time. The most difficult part was getting the swing feel. That's the way I learned swing. That's why I don't have a problem swinging. I see lots of Asians, we don't know how to. We don't have that in our culture." There is still the mystery of the feeling involved. "My mom listened to any kind of music even when I wasn't in her body. She loved music. So I think I got it from her."

Tags

Watch

comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Mr. B.G.

Mr. B.G.

Yoko Miwa
Live at Scullers Jazz Club

Live Reviews
Album Reviews
Jazz Poetry
Interviews
Album Reviews
Interviews
Album Reviews
Read more articles
Pathways

Pathways

Self Produced
2017

buy
Canopy of Stars

Canopy of Stars

Self Produced
2008

buy
In The Mist Of Time

In The Mist Of Time

Self Produced
2007

buy
Canopy of Stars

Canopy of Stars

Self Produced
2007

buy
Fadeless Flower

Fadeless Flower

Self Produced
2004

buy

Upcoming Shows

Date Detail Price
May31Fri
Yoko Miwa Trio
The Mad Monkfish
Cambridge, MA
Jun7Fri
Yoko Miwa Trio
Regattabar
Cambridge, MA
$25
Jun14Fri
Yoko Miwa Trio
Palace Theater Poli Club
Waterbury, CT
$27.00
Jul28Sun
2019 Cambridge Jazz Festival
Danehy Park
Cambridge, MA

Related Articles

Interviews
The Baylor Project: A Brand New Day
By K. Shackelford
May 24, 2019
Interviews
Moers Festival Interviews: Scatter The Atoms That Remain
By Martin Longley
May 23, 2019
Interviews
Dexter Payne: All Things, All Beings
By Chris M. Slawecki
May 20, 2019
Interviews
Moers Festival Interviews: Anguish
By Martin Longley
May 11, 2019
Interviews
Catherine Farhi: Finding Home in the New Morning
By Alexander Durie
May 1, 2019