Interview with Mamiko Watanabe: I think it would be the best to have both intellect and soul within music: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist Mamiko Watanabe. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Mamiko Watanabe: – I was born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. Fukuoka is located at the northern coast of Kyushu island that is located in the southwest of Japan. My mother brought me to the music school and wanted me to simply enjoy music. I was also going to the ballet dance school and I had chosen music to continue when I was around 7 years old.

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the piano? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the piano?

MW: – I started going to the music school when I was 4 years old and started playing the acoustic piano around the same time.
Teachers at the music school had helped me learn the basic skills as reading, playing and developing my ear. Later on I was in the special advanced music class and I got to learn composing and play my original pieces at the concerts in Japan and abroad. I also had a teacher who had taught me how to control the sound of the piano and find the beauty of each note. It was like a meditation for me to focus on listening to just one note until the sound disappears.
I also had wonderful teachers at Berklee College of Music who guided me to the next level. I had taken private lessons from Jeff Covell for a few semesters. He picked up the recording I should check out and had me transcribe not only piano solos but also horn solos from different styles to help me understand the concept of each pianist or horn player. Phil Wilson had also guided me and encouraged me to keep working hard on both as a player and a composer. I had learned a lot through playing the piano in his Rainbow Big Band at Berklee. Danilo Perez also helped me understand the rhythmic concepts a lot.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

MW: – I had transcribed solos of a lot of master pianists and memorized some of them. I also had picked up some favorite licks from those transcriptions and practiced to be able to play them in the different keys. It helped me to be able to play phrases with Jazz idioms. Then after that I started trying to create my own phrases which I’m still working on. I’d like to continue adding new things on my music.

I had developed my sound through constantly playing for performance opportunities I got and getting advice from established musicians in NY and playing with them.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

MW: – I had learned different grooves and complicated rhythms through playing with a lot of musicians from different countries in New York which I feel I was very fortunate. Practicing with a metronome is so important for me to be precise and develop the strong inner sense of time. My way of practice pertaining to rhythm is trying to develop my ear by listening to any music that I’m not hearing the details many times until I understand what is happening and it will naturally come out on my playing eventually.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

MW: – Some of harmonies I use are from a conscious decision and some of them are spontaneous. I consciously use a dissonant harmony sometimes. I like to just have fun changing chords while keeping the top note the same. I think it’s a good exercise. I’m also interested in four-part harmony. I just realized I became to be able to improvise with four-part harmony since I’ve been playing a lot of hymns at church every Sunday.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

MW: – I try to surround myself around peaceful, quiet and positive environment for my creativity.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

MW: – I think it would be the best to have both intellect and soul within music. I’d like to elevate both of them.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

MW: – It depends on the situation I was hired for. Sometimes I perform the way that is expected to do.

Yes, of course it is my pleasure to give the people what they want, but also I’d like to be true to myself about how I feel and hopefully people would appreciate my creativity.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

MW: – I had worked with a lot of different bands of different music styles since I moved to NY. I had learned a lot and also got to expose to different cultures. These are irreplaceable experiences.

I had recorded 4 CDs for my own projects so far and each recording session was amazing experience for me.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

MW: – I think we need to keep playing standard tunes and try to create the opportunities to reach out to young people.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

MW: – I admire John Coltrane’s music. I’m grateful for everything what I got. I feel keep creating music is my purpose of life as John Coltrane did.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

MW: – I don’t think I would be able to change a lot, however if I could, I would like to find ways to make more people to have interest in Jazz. I feel it might be possible if I continue working on it … ?

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

MW: – I’d love to listen to any kind of music. If I see the name of the artists that I’m not familiar with, I look for them and check their music out.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

MW: – I would like to go to the future to see where I live and what I’ll be doing musically.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

MW: – What’s your 3 favorite CDs?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Very much, I am even afraid to list them: Keith Jarrett trio: The Jazz Standards, John Coltrane: A Love Supreme, Dave Holland: Conference of the Birds and more etc.

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

MW: – I really appreciate all the people who had helped and guided me along the way. I’ll try to keep growing and make beautiful music.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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