July 24, 2024


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Interview with Makiko Hirabayashi: Listening to music without soul woud be like eating food without taste: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Makiko Hirabayashi. An interview by email in writing. 

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

Makiko Hirabayashi: – I grew up in Tokyo and Hong Kong until I took off to Boston at 20. My mother is a big music lover, and sang in choirs and often took us to classical concerts with symphony orchestras. My elder sister and  cousins played the piano, so music was always a natural part of my life.

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?

MH: – By the time I was 4, I wanted to start playing too, just like my sister and cousins. Our piano teacher would come to my cousin’s house and give us all lessons. Afterwards, we would practice ear training and solfege together— it was fun, and helped me to  develop perfect pitch, which obviously helped me immensely later on. When I was 9, I actually took up the violin, and the piano became a secondary instrument to fool around with, which was probably a good thing. I eventually came back to the piano when I started getting deeper into improvisation, as the piano felt more like a part of my body and soul, where as the violin, more like an “instrument”. I’ve had some great teachers along the way, but I think I’ve learnt mostly by listening and playing with good musicians.

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

MH: – In my childhood, I played mostly classical music, but listened to all kinds of music. When I enrolled at Berklee College Of Music, my intention was to compose film music. But soon I got into improvised music, and started learning the language of jazz. I’m a very curious person by nature, so I’ve spent years being open to all kinds of ethnic music and learning from them. My sound reflects my diverse musical and cultural backgrounds, which I try to put into my own words, but I also try to reach for what lies behind all the notes, deeper down, for something spiritual and universal.

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

MH: – I usually practice the music that I’m involved with at the moment, and that involves plenty of rhtythms, so no exercises or routines.

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?

MH: – You can compare it to painting something that is realistic or abstract. My music is sometimes very tonal and narrative, sometimes more abstract. I like the contrast, because in real life, you are also dealing with what’s going on in reality, as well as the more abstract side that goes on in your mind. I’m conscious of the fact that different tunes bring out different types of harmnoies in improvisation. I’m inspired harmonically by listening to artists like Herbie Hancock, Toru Takemitsu, Wayne Shorter, etc.

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

MH: – By trying to be truthful to who you are and not what might “work”  –  by listening inwards.

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

MH: – It’s important to have both sides. Listening to music without soul woud be like eating food without taste. You have to know exactly how to produce the sound you want intellectually, and at the same time completely be open in your mind and searching for that sound while you are playing.

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

MH: – For me, it has to be a dialogue, and not a monologue. The best music happens if you are very open and can grab what’s in the air at that moment. I don’t feel that it’s giving the audience what they want, it’s more like forgetting your ego and concentrating on the energy of the music itself.

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

MH: – Jazz is so much more than standard tunes. It is the music of today as far as I’m concerned! Young people may have a wrong preconception of jazz, and it’s a shame. Maybe we should find a new name for it?

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

MH: – Spirit is what lies in the core of all living things, including the planet and the universe. It’s what makes us humans and not robots. It’s a wonder that we are alive, and we should celebrate that in our lives in all its colours. Music is a way of sharing that spirit.

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

MH: – We need to make a system where musicians can get paid a fair amount for their recordings so they can keep making them.

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

MH: – Craig Taborn “Daylight Ghosts”, Oded Tzur “Translator’s Note”, Enrico Rava, Abdullah Ibrahim, Joe Zawinul, Jan Johansson, Masabumi Kikuchi.

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

MH: – Time before internet, anywhere with great nature I haven’t seen.

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

MH: – Do you get more out of listening to my music after this interview?

JBN.S: – Thank you for answers. Why? I certainly listen and recommend others 🙂

Interview by Simon Sargsyan