“Mom and Dad, I’m going to be a jazz musician.”

July 23rd, 2014

L to R: Yoko, niece Alice, mother Keiko, sister Atsuko, niece Mei.

L to R: Yoko, niece Alice, mother Keiko, sister Atsuko, niece Mei.

“My family thought, as did I, that I’d return to Japan after completing my studies at Berklee. After graduating I did like a lot of international students and did practical training which allowed me to stay here and work for one year. I was just starting to play a lot professionally in Boston so I decided to apply for a 3-year artist visa. I ended up forming my own trio and establishing myself as a bandleader so I renewed my artist visa for another 3 years … then another. The longer I stayed here the more my family realized I wasn’t coming back.

“My mother and father visited me once in Boston in 2002. They made the long flight from Japan and got to see what I’m doing. My father went back after a week, but my mother stayed for a month. I dragged my mother along to every gig and when I wasn’t playing I’d take her out to see live music. I even brought her to New York. She was already understanding the appeal from seeing things in Boston, but going to New York would open her eyes to things she’d never seen in Japan.

“We went to Smalls Jazz Club in the Village. Jason Lindner’s Big Band was playing. I remember the late Dwayne Burno was playing bass and I know Myron Walden was in the band. Everyone was on stage but the drum chair was empty. All of a sudden the room got really quiet as Jeff Ballard unexpectedly walked in and sat behind the drums and proceeded to make that night an experience that neither my mother nor I nor anyone in attendance that evening will ever forget.

“My mother always held hope in her heart that I would return to Japan. Until that day. She not only understood but now also encouraged me. She realized to do what I really wanted to do I had to be here in the US.”

Yoko talks about her introduction to jazz

July 16th, 2014

“I was born with perfect pitch. Even before I started taking piano lessons I played everything by ear. I remember everyone was very impressed and although I was only 4 years old I somehow realized this was something I was good at.

Photo: The Phoenix

Photo: The Phoenix

“The thing is I didn’t know anything about music, I could hear all the notes in a chord but I didn’t know what a chord was! I wanted to take piano lessons and in Japan the way to study piano was (and mostly still is) from the classical music tradition. That meant reading music and memorizing, for those who don’t know that’s what you do when you play classical – you play a piece of written music. The talent of perfect pitch, which is what initially got me interested in
music, was no longer being used.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love classical music (particularly Chopin and Beethoven), and it afforded me with technique for playing the piano, not to mention all the necessary music theory. I became a classical pianist and enrolled at the Osaka College of Music in Japan. I continued to use my perfect pitch on my own to figure out other music or songs that I liked and it was still an asset for learning classical pieces, but I wasn’t using it to full capacity in my directed music studies. That would eventually change.

“One day I saw the movie titled Always, and one of the main songs in the movie just hit me on such a deep level. It was “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” I
remember asking my friend what this music was and they said, jazz! This was the moment when I knew this was the music I wanted to play.”

Lots of chances to see Yoko in July!

July 9th, 2014

Les Zygomates

Fourth of July weekend has come and gone. The heat of summer is here, and we’re all wondering how to stay cool. Wonder no more! You can stay cool in terms of both temperature and attitude by coming to one of Yoko’s shows in the Boston/Cambridge area. For more information on any of these events, visit the Shows page.

Coming To America: Yoko Looks Back At Her First Day In The US

July 2nd, 2014

Yoko on Beacon St during the 1997 Boston Marathon

Yoko on Beacon St during the 1997 Boston Marathon

I arrived in March of 1997. Makoto Ozone picked me up at Logan Airport in Boston. It was a relief to see someone I knew after making the international flight from Japan all by myself. I had studied with Makoto prior to leaving Japan as well as his father Minoru Ozone. Makoto was already a well known musician and was living between NYC and Japan but he happened to be in Boston the day I was arriving. My initial impression was that Boston was such a pretty city with lots of very colorful houses, much different colors than Japan – they looked like cute doll houses to me. Makoto took me out for sushi on Newbury Street then dropped me off at the Hilton where I spent my first night in Boston, I went to sleep that night with great excitement and anticipation of what would happen in this new place.

The next day I checked out of the hotel and Makoto picked me up again and drove me to where I was going live – with a host family in Brookline in a big house with a lot of other exchange students also living there. I remember when he dropped me off I felt so lonely and sad and I was very nervous. He told me I’d be fine.

I met my host mother, who was very nice and was a big music fan. She was excited to have a Berklee piano student living at the house. We sat down and spoke English together and she asked me what percent I understood of what she was saying. I told her 50 percent but it was probably more like 30 percent!

Overlooking Boston, 1997

Overlooking Boston, 1997

I actually had to attend one semester at an English school before beginning Berklee. Since I was on a top scholarship, Berklee called me in Japan to see how my English was. I just remember answering “yes” and “no.” I thought I did pretty well but they thought it was best to study a little English before starting at Berklee. To be completely honest though, I really couldn’t speak English at all.

Behind the scenes with Yoko Miwa – educator

June 25th, 2014

Yoko and one of her Berklee students.

Yoko and one of her Berklee students.

Yoko Miwa spends a lot of her time playing shows, but that’s not the only thing she does in the world of piano. She’s also an educator, teaching piano at her alma mater, Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

“When I came here from Japan in 1997 to attend Berklee, I never thought I would one day be teaching there,” Yoko said. “My original intention was to attend Berklee straight through and return to Japan as soon as I graduated.”

Yoko never applied for a job at Berklee — the school approached her three years ago and asked her to join their piano faculty. Now Yoko has a full schedule at Berklee, teaching between 25 and 30 private piano students each semester.

Yoko with some of her students after her Regattabar show.

Yoko with some of her students after her Regattabar show.

“My students are mainly focused on either jazz or classical but I’m committed to teaching whatever style someone is interested in,” Yoko said. She was offered the opportunity to take over a class from a well-known Berklee teacher who’s retiring, but she turned down the offer to keep doing more of what she likes, private lessons.

“It’s easier to share knowledge which is more closely connected to performing when I teach private lessons,” she said.

Yoko with students after a show at Scullers.

Yoko with students after a show at Scullers.

The site is 4 years old! Plus: Reserve now for Yoko’s Stellina show!

June 19th, 2014

4th birthday

The website turns 4 years old this month! So much has happened in the past four years — tons of gigs all over, meeting new fans and friends, playing with great musicians. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Be sure to explore the site — there’s so much great stuff here, including photos, videos, audio and more.

REMINDER: Reserve now for our show at Stellina!

yoko

We’re so happy to be playing at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown, MA on June 26. It’s a family owned business and they’ve been supporters of ours for years. Their food is out of this world and they have a great selection of wine. Please note that this is an intimate space and reservations are encouraged.

Yoko will be playing in the main dining room, where guests can order from the complete dinner and beverage menus. In addition, Stellina will be offering special bar appetizers during the show.

There will be two sets, one starting at 6:15 and one at 7:45. The cover charge is $10 per person. Reservations are suggested for the main dining room. Additional seating at the adjacent bar is on a first-come basis. Call 617-924-9475, or go to the reservation page.

June 26: Yoko at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown, MA

June 11th, 2014

yoko

We’re so happy to be playing at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown, MA on June 26. It’s a family owned business and they’ve been supporters of ours for years. Their food is out of this world and they have a great selection of wine. Please note that this is an intimate space and reservations are encouraged.

Yoko will be playing in the main dining room, where guests can order from the complete dinner and beverage menus. In addition, Stellina will be offering special bar appetizers during the show.

There will be two sets, one starting at 6:15 and one at 7:45. The cover charge is $10 per person. Reservations are suggested for the main dining room. Additional seating at the adjacent bar is on a first-come basis. Call 617-924-9475, or go to the reservation page.

Vote for Yoko in the Made In New York competition!

June 5th, 2014

Yoko is a contestant in the Made In New York jazz competition.

Screenshot at 2014-06-05 08:10:20

Click here to see Yoko’s entry. It’s a video from the trio’s recent show at The Blue Note in NYC. And help her win by voting and sharing. Thanks!

Beach time! And the last gig in May is this Saturday!

May 28th, 2014

Sure, it looks from this blog like Yoko spends 24 hours a day, 7 days a week playing piano, but she takes some time off, too. Here she is with some cute pups in Rockport, MA.

yoko

Yoko has one more show this month. It’s this Saturday, May 31, at 8 pm at Les Zygomates in Boston. If you’re in the area, stop by!

Photos from Yoko’s show at the Regattabar

May 21st, 2014

Thanks so much to photographer Caroline Alden for these wonderful shots from the trio’s show at the Regattabar on April 25!

YokoRegattabar-33

YokoRegattabar-2

YokoRegattabar-11

YokoRegattabar-30

YokoRegattabar-50

YokoRegattabar-56scott

YokoRegattabar-85