Interview with Tomoya Nakai: my composing is from the heart, and my performances require intense mental focus: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz musician Tomoya Nakai. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Tomoya Nakai: – I grew up in Tsu City, Japan. When I was 6, my mother began taking shamisen lessons, and would bring me along. To keep me occupied, her teacher suggested I amuse myself with the koto she had. At the first glissando, I was in love. She declared that I had some talent, and I began studying the koto in earnest.

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

TN: – I started on the 13 string koto, playing contemporary and Japanese classical music. After I graduated from university, I took up the 25 string koto, again playing contemporary, Japanese classical, and pop inflected music. A few years later, I returned to the 13 string koto and focused intently on Japanese classical music. When I returned to the 25 string koto, I was confident that I could bring out of the koto any sound I desired. It was then that I began to explore jazz.

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

TN: – For fundamentals, working through classical koto compositions has been the most effective method for me to maintain and improve my skills. Playing the koto is physically demanding, so to prevent injuries I’ve been studying sports physiology and trying to eliminate bad habits. I’m also analyzing the ergonomics of traditional koto techniques.

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

TN: – I take care to listen very carefully to what I’m playing to be sure it is my own voice coming through.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

TN: – I make sure I don’t eat too much before a performance so I don’t get sleepy. I’m also careful to stretch , because I need to be warmed up and loose in order to play my best.

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

TN: – When writing and arranging, one’s life experience is expressed in the music. For me, performances are very focused on the technical aspects, playing my compositions correctly and so on. I guess you could say my composing is from the heart, and my performances require intense mental focus.

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

TN: – Of Course! I’m playing for them, not the other way around. In Japan, we say that the customer is a god!

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

TN: – I’m not sure … the Japanese classical music I play is much older than jazz so to me jazz is still recent and accessible.

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

TN: – I’ve never really thought about it, but I think that music can be healing. Music can also be the record of a life.

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

TN: – In the koto world, there are many competing schools and styles with strict hierarchies. I’d like for these schools to fade into the past so we could all make music together.

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

TN: – Recently I’ve been listening to Dimash a lot. He’s an amazing singer from Kazakhstan. I’ve seen him perform live and would love to work with him one day.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

TN: – Music can warm the heart. No matter who you are, music has the power to bring us together and connect us all.

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

TN: – I’d go to Yamaguchi prefecture in 1610 A.D. That’s when, because of Francis Xavier, Christianity was spreading in Japan. It is said that Japanese classical koto music was derived from sacred music brought by missionaries and transposed for biwa and koto. I’d love to discover the true history!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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