May 24, 2024

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Interview with Sana Nagano: We need to let the intellect serve the soul: Video

Jazz interview with jazz violinist Sana Nagano. An interview by email in writing. – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Sana Nagano: – I grew up in Tokyo, Japan and stayed there till I was 16. After that, I went to schools in Oregon, Memphis, Boston and came to NYC at 25. I started taking kids violin classes at 3, it was my mother’s idea. Music feels like one of the most natural and familiar things for me.

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

SN: – I did Suzuki Method’s kids violin classes at 3 where we learnt music from listening and playing only, no reading, no music theory at first. To me this helped me to accept music more freely and openly, boundlessly. By ear-transcribing music daily as a kid, I figured that any sounds and visions, ideas etc. can become music. I decided to pursue classical music seriously around I turned 11 and I studied with a more advanced and philosophical teacher at a conservatory. With her we practiced techniques and repertoires through the understanding and the connection between imagination, breaths, tones, posture, gravity etc. This classical violin training helped me to approach technical music more organically. I went to a classical music university for a few years but eventually developed interest in modern music, then someone told me about Berklee so I decided to transfer. There I studied jazz improvisation under my mentors/teachers like Hal Crook, Jeff Galindo, Dave Fiuczynski, Darren Barret and more. I moved to NYC when I was 25 and played lots of jam sessions, then I started checking out and studying free jazz improvisation with Karl Berger, Adam Rudolph, Mat Maneri etc. while I studied traditional jazz and bebop with Antonio Hart in Queens College. After the schools, I did as many gigs offered in NYC as possible to shape my sounds in various performance situations.

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

SN: – I got interested in Polyrhythms when I was working on Harvey Valdes Trio around 2013 and on. His music had lots of it and it was hard for me, so I typed in the polyrhythms on my Finale, my music notation software and I looped the difficult sections and practiced for hours, daily. I studied and checked out some more rhythms in one of my influential musicians Miles Okazaki’s music, classes and his book “Fundamentals of Guitar”. Composing polyrhythmic music helps too, My rock band project Atomic Pigeons have lots of rhythmic stuff, part of it because I wanted to get better at it in a personal, creative way. Another big influence is the percussion master Adam Rudolph. I have been playing in his Go: Organic Orchestra and we do amazing rhythmic music in an orchestra setting with killer musicians and guests like Hamid Drake, Hassan Hakmoun, Kaoru Watanabe, just to name a few. I saw Adam performed a virtuosic percussion session with Hamid Drake one time, it was so mesmerizing. So generally, I do a lot of creative and diligent approaches to my daily practice when I’m in that phase, and I try to meet people to learn from and learn with.

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


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

SN: – I’ve been thinking that gratitude really helps a lot. My father passed away a few years ago, and he suffered depression most of his adult life. Under his condition, I wasn’t able to get too close to him but he loved music and played guitar a little. I know that he would have loved to see what I do as a musician now and that he wanted to be a musician himself when he was younger. My grandparents financially supported my music studies, even though they didn’t understand most of what I do, saying that they like to support my dream. My mother worked at a supermarket and office jobs as a young mother to finance my violin studies. I myself have been working as a waiter, cashier, bartender etc. to support my life since I was 17. So we all worked hard seeking a better quality of life. To me being able to do and play music is like a huge gift and joy itself. I’ve been evolving as a person during the Covid time, and I am learning to slow down and to relax, and to take care of myself better than before. Daily self contemplation, yoga and breathwork help me to perform and create better these days.

There could be talk or advertising about your CD

JBN: – And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

SN: – I knew Peter and Ken from Karl Berger’s Improvisers’ Orchestra as well as Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra. They were the main band members of Karl and I was just so drawn to their sounds and open mindedness. They are the wise ones, words can’t really describe the unlimitedness they bring into the band. I got to know Joe well when we worked in Harvey Valdes Trio. I met him in a jazz jam session at Cleopatra’s Needle, a jazz club in the Upper West Side. Since then we have been good friends. Usually things go smooth with him, maybe because he is just really good, and because we know each other as friends and as musicians well. It wasn’t hard to select these members, it was all a natural process.

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

SN: – These days I am learning that we need to let the intellect serve the soul. I love this idea so much, this way nobody is an outcast.

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

SN: – In terms of music? I think so, as long as I like it. Most of the time my audience is respectful music supporters so I think I would enjoy it if someone requests fun stuff like merch, song idea or an event.

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

SN: – Joe got back from Berlin for a few weeks and he, me, Ken and Peter were able to play live for the first time in a year, at a friend’s studio space in Bay Ridge. So much raw energy blasted out when we played and I felt that the music wanted to come out through us so strongly. Two of my musician friends were recording and filming, and I really appreciated their energy for listening, holding the space that evening. Keisuke will be overdubbing on top of this video.

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

SN: – I am not an expert on young people, but I taught beginner children and adults part-time for 10 years so I can share my take on this subject. I think that trying to tune in and feeling them out is very important. Be a good role model, so keep working on ourselves and creating, sharing our music or growth authentically, without being forceful. Learn, embrace and enjoy getting to know young people’s life and cultures, histories. Guide them firmly and consciously when we need to, and instead of sugar-coating,  try to be real at the level they can take. If we embrace and let them be, then whoever is supposed to be interested in jazz will naturally be interested, and I believe that’s the right way.

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

SN: – Most recently I’ve been practicing the idea of blurring the lines between myself and the universe, including spirits and music. So I am the universe, spirits and music and music is me, the universe, and spirits, and so on. This way, things feel a little more fluid and connected. I feel more open and thoughtless when I am doing music and it feels amazing most of the time. So for now, I think that that’s probably the meaning of life, to be and become without worrying too much.

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

SN: – I want the musical world and the whole world to be less blinded, and to seek more equality in general. I want musicians, artists and the supporters around to make a better living by purely working for and creating authentic music. I don’t want musicians to need to do the work they don’t need to do, or to change their music style in order to keep paying their bills. I want the world where people can really seek and do what they are truly passionate about, coming from their soul.

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

SN: – I’ve been listening to many of my collaborators’ and friends’ new music. I’m checking out Kevin Shea’s new release today, and have been listening to Talibam!, Juanma Trujillo, Ava Mendoza, also Brandon Seabrook, the Ocelot (Colin Avery Hinton, Cat Toren, Yuma Uesaka), microtonal music by Dave Fiuczynski and his band members, Billy Martin is always up to something new, and I am a fan of everything John Zorn does musically, etc etc. it is endless. I’ve been coming back and reconnecting with some of my college favorites too, like Wayne Shorter, Coltrane, Bill Evans and Miles, Jaco Pastorius. For more deeper and subtle inspirations, I’ve been trying to hear music from non-musical influences these days, like silence, air, colors and feelings, stories, time. But I change what I listen to pretty often.

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

SN: – I read this the other day, out of the Duality and stand in the place of Unity. There are so many oppositions, survival competitions in this world.. A right answer for someone can be someone else’s wrong answer, and the fact that everybody is different from each other also brings beauty and enjoyment to this world. So rather than thinking what’s good and what’s bad, I wanted to suggest an attitude of stepping back and embracing them all, and letting them do their dance naturally.

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

SN: – Future! In a New York-like city (Big busy city). I want to see how humans become in 100-1000 years. I read that in an advanced planet, the thought of love can create a baby so the people (aliens) on the planet don’t need to mate or have another. They exist more in a form of just being a consciousness. So I think something like that can be possible on the earth too, and I’d love to see it.

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

SN: – What is music to you and why do you do (or work) in jazz?

JBN: – Jazz is my life !!!

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

SN: – It feels good to be able to create, share and talk about music openly like now. Music always brings me closer to being more real to myself and also connects me to other people in more intuitive, sincere ways. I do believe that creativity is much needed for the world right now, so I feel good about keeping it going and growing.  Thanks for this opportunity and for your questions.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

Sana Nagano || Red Metal, 65 Fen, April 10, 2017 || DOWNTOWNMUSIC.NET || photo gallery - Image #1

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