Jazz interview with jazz electric guitarist Iwao Ochi. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Iwao Ochi: – I grew up in Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. I had friends who played musical instruments around me, so I was in a band when I was in junior high school. At that time, I was playing rock in the 80’s.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
IO: – I gradually started to listen to rock music from the 60s and 70s, and eventually became interested in black music such as soul and blues. Finally, I went into jazz after seeing Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell’s show in Chicago. When I was a kid, Japanese entertainment was greatly influenced by America. I liked collecting music and movie information from TV and radio even without the internet. Maybe it sounds strange, but before I learned about instrument technology and music theory, I thought I should do more research on the history of American music and culture. I thought that was the way to know the essence of American music. After that, I moved to New York and took Vic Juris and Peter Bernstein’s classes at Mannes Music College. I think jazz is a great black art form of America. I love and respect it. But I think jazz, rock, country, soul and blues are all the same American music. Then I realized that I needed to master the rhythm, such as the timing of note generation.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
IO: – At one point, I realized that the timing of the pronunciation of jazz pianists and organists was characteristic. As far as I know, George Benson and Pat Martino played with the pocket of that rhythm. I think it took about 10 years to play with the pocket of that rhythm. And the basic rhythm of the swing is triple, but by further subdividing it, I always notice 9-tuplets. Therefore, I practice the basics while playing the 9-tuplet in the beat box.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
IO: – Of course, I think it is necessary to have an inquiring mind. But I’m not really into trendy style. Everyone is chasing and playing with the same style. I can’t feel the originality of the performers there. I stick to the belief in playing sounds that reach people’s hearts.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
IO: – I value the feelings at that time. I am trying to find out what to do while feeling the atmosphere of the venue and the audience. Then, focus on the stage and calm and stretch.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2020: <Dem New York Dues>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
IO: – What I like most about this album is that it is traditional but progressive straight organ jazz. The members performed brilliantly on the legendary songs of the organ and the original songs I picked up. I am currently doing an album release tour in Japan with Japanese members.
JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?
IO: – Even in a small ensemble, I began to think deeply about the relationship of sounds. I recorded the demo once with Sam Yahel over 20 years ago, but never released it. I called him because I thought Sam understood me and could trust him. Anthony Pinciotti was introduced by Sam and he did a great job.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
IO: – The soul is honest and the intellect can control the music. Both are equally important.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
IO: – I’m an artist and a music fan. I can understand the feelings of the audience. Especially in jazz music, mutual energy creates a special music space. The lounge music meets the demands of the audience. The live music requires the artist to play their own music, and the audience admires it without knowing it.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
IO: – My first jam session was at Village Gate in New York in 1993. I remember playing Tenor Madness and getting very nervous. I also remember I played with Roy Hargrove in Small’s jam session a couple of times. A lot of gigs with the Japanese organ legend KANKAWA was a fun experience for me as I learned old-fashioned jazz musicians’ ways.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
IO: – Young listeners love discovering new things. The unprecedented new style became a symbol of their generation. I think that new jazz was born that way in the past. But traditional jazz is still brilliant enough to impress young listeners. I think it is important to have a new structure that balances newness and tradition. And so is the coverage in media such as movies and TV. And the other one in the world who listens to music most is the DJ. They know the best of traditional jazz, the best way to tell young listeners. In the sense of making it popular, the jazz world should work more with them.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
IO: – Having a family has made me feel more love. This is important as a person. We are human beings before being musicians, and human beings live in harmony with the earth. By noticing these things, I think that as a musician, you will naturally understand how to deal with music. This is also another story, but I think that many musicians used to be addicted to music while being dragged and destroyed in the old days, which is related to historical background. Anyway, when facing music in the spiritual sense, I think the most proper way to do it is to separate it from financial things.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
IO: – We no longer need business jazz like fashion shows. I think it would be good if it becomes common sense to evaluate by essence rather than visuals and name recognition.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
IO: – Peter Bernstein, Bill Frisell and Keith Jarrett …
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
IO: – Enjoy life with music and cherish true love.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
IO: – I want to meet myself when I’m 17 years old. And I want to tell him, don’t quit school!
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
IO: – How do you think about my music?
JBN: – Very good!!!
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
IO: – I want to overcome difficulties and continue new things. And I just thank people and live with music without regrets. That is my way of life.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan