Jazz Interview with jazz pianist Miki Yamanaka. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Miki Yamanaka: – I grew up in Kobe, Japan. I began taking piano lessons at age 5. I played some big band classics when I was in my elementary school, but started to dig in more in middle school. Jazz was always my favorite music, I never got into pops so much like all my other friends did. Haha …
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
MY: – When I lived in Japan, playing music was a hobby. I majored science in college, but still played with some local musicians. I visited NYC in 2011 alone for about 5 days (that was the only length I could afford at that time) and fell in love with the energy of the city. Moved to NYC in 2012, and my sound drastically changed as I got to play with so many different kinds of musicians.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
MY: – I do not have any practice routine. I like practicing songs with a metronome though. Usually set one in a measure, or 2. When I practice, I just would work on playing standards in different tempos, grooves, meters, and keys.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
MY: – I don’t think letting my influences affect my playing is such a bad thing. Having your own influences is the only way to sound like yourself. Brad Mehldau didn’t become Brad Mehldau without his influences like Wynton Kelly, for example.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
MY: – I like playing while drinking some nice natural wine. Haha. It is not helping the stamina, I’d assume, but definitely helps my mood. But usually once I start playing, nothing bothers me. I just love playing music.
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?
MY: – I don’t think I understand the first part of the question. What is Ism? But I chose the musicians with their unique characters of personalities and sound.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
MY: – Soul is more important. Intellect is second. I honestly just want the soul.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
MY: – Audience’s opinions can differ. Even in a small club. Some would dig what you do, and others don’t. But I try to reflect more flexibly of how they are reacting to the music and I have changed the set list because of that. But usually, if we present the high quality music, they usually like it.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
MY: – When I did a west coast tour with Roxy Coss Quintet, it was one of the most fun things I have ever done, and I couldn’t believe that I get to do that for a living. Playing with your friends is one of the most important things we can do to improve your musicality.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
MY: – I never thought that those standard tunes sound old, in my opinion. If Jazz music was more present in our lives and culture, I bet people would enjoy it without even knowing that is something called ‘jazz’.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
MY: – I prefer not to think too much about it. It should come out naturally through your music.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
MY: – I wish musicians would be compensated fairly for their work.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
MY: – Chick Corea’s “Live in Montreux”, Eric Dolphy’s “Out To Lunch” and Bud Powell’s “The Genius of Bud Powell”
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
MY: – I have thought of people’s negative energy in the world. We all will die eventually, so why don’t we enjoy our lives fully?
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
MY: – Now is good. I am happy with what I have in a good way, and also a challenging way.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
MY: – Thank you for having me here, I appreciate your time. But I don’t think I have a question…
JBN: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?
MY: – I don’t think I understand the question well.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan