Note: In the last edition of the blog, Yoko talked about playing solo piano. In this edition, she talks about playing with her trio.
The first incarnation of my own group was actually a quintet; it was piano, bass, and drums with tenor sax and trumpet. I love to hear Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans play in any context, whether solo or in a larger group setting, but where I feel they truly shined was the trio setting. This isn’t why I chose to play as a trio though. My choice was more dictated by the financial opportunities (or lack thereof) that exist for performing musicians.
I recorded my first CD, “In the Mist of Time,” as a quartet with tenor saxophone. When I set out to book gigs for the quartet I quickly realized the amount of money that most of the clubs were offering was not enough for four people. Even on my first CD, I had a few trio tunes but I didn’t yet feel confident in playing an entire gig that way. I wasn’t going to let that stop me though, and before long I was comfortable being the main featured soloist the whole night. Also, to my surprise, people started to notice and compliment my playing much more than before. I actually had fans for the first time in my musical career!
I had always considered myself a supportive player who was good at playing in a group setting or backing up a singer, but being forced to go out and do gigs in a trio setting made me realize something about myself of which I wasn’t previously aware. I realized it may be possible that I actually sounded the best in this setting. I started to find it was also the truest expression of my playing — I didn’t have to conform or concede to the other musicians. In the trio setting, the musicians I played with were supporting me and conforming to the way I improvised.
This became a huge part of my musical identity and still is to this day. I find I don’t work well with musicians who are more concerned with making themselves sound good at the expense of the entire band. I like a team player. In my opinion, this approach is not helping jazz move forward. I see a lot of bands comprised of top musicians where individually everyone is so talented, but collectively the music often suffers because everyone is so concerned with putting their imprint on the music, rather than selflessly playing what the music calls for. It gets to a point where the music is secondary or irrelevant. It leaves me feeling kind of empty and it’s something I don’t want my audiences to ever feel.