Tag Archives: jazz piano

Happy Halloween from the Yoko Miwa Trio!

Happy Halloween from the Yoko Miwa Trio

If ghosts were real, we imagine that anyone who has performed at a top-quality jazz club would choose to return after death. Here’s a partial list of people who would have haunted Scullers Jazz Club for a few years or more:

  • Singer and songwriter Lou Rawls
  • Singer and pianist Bobby Short
  • Pianist George Shearing
  • Singer and Pianist Shirley Horn
It sounds like it would be quite a party!
Image by donata ramonaite on flickr .
Image by donata ramonaite on flickr .
Until the day when we can hear ghosts jam, come listen to live music instead! (No pun intended… maybe).

Do you have your tickets yet for the Yoko Miwa Trio show on November 20?

Jazz with Kids

The Yoko Miwa Trio has fans of all ages, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. If you have kids, or if you spend a lot of time with friends’ kids, you may have thought about how to get kids into jazz. There’s no way to guarantee they will share your tastes in music, but there are lots of ways to explore and enjoy music with young children.

  • Head to your local library and pick up some kids’ books with jazz themes. A lot of the kids books on jazz that are out there focus only on the jazz scene from the 20s to the 50s, but still, they’ll be introduced to some legends. Picture books like “Charlie Parker Played Bebop” by Christopher Raschka and “The Jazz Fly” by Matthew Golub are great for reading aloud, as they are heavy on rhythm and onomatopoeia.
  • Try out some musical instruments. The appropriate age to start kids on music lessons varies based on what you and your child hope your child will get out of the lessons, but any age is a good time to play “chopsticks” or bang on a toy drum.
  • Dance around the living room together with your favorite jazz music playing. You don’t have to know any jazz dance – in fact, a lot of “jazz dance” is pretty grown-up oriented because of the sensual moves. Just be silly and uninhibited, acting out what the music makes you feel. Kids are great at this, so you may learn as much as they do.
  • Go to a show with your kids. Choose a venue that’s kid-friendly and enjoy some music out. The kids may not be as focused on the music as you are, but they’ll pick up on the fact that going to see live music is fun. For example, Ryles has some good food for little ones on their Jazz Brunch menu, like French toast, blueberry pancakes, eggs any style, and freshly squeezed orange juice.

Thank you for making the JazzFest Falmouth concert wonderful!

Thank you to everyone who came out to see the Trio on Sunday! It was a beautiful day on the Cape and our first time performing at Jazzfest Falmouth. Here are some reflections on the performance from Yoko.

“First, let me speak of the exquisite piano at Highfield Hall. It was a concert grand Mason & Hamlin, which is even bigger than a concert grand Steinway. When I first saw it I thought it may be hard to play.  Pianists have to play the instrument provided, and over the years I’ve learned how to deal with any type of piano. Sometimes the sound of a particular piano can be so intoxicating that it has a strong effect on how I play. It could be a harsh tone that doesn’t really agree with me but this piano lead me to the right place… this piano was like an old friend who was so happy to see me and I was equally happy.

Yoko Miwa at JazzFest Falmouth, Highfield Hall

“The concert had sold out in record time, so we knew we were going to have an audience, but you never know what your audience will be like until you’re in the midst of performance. This was not only an enthusiastic and appreciative audience,  the room was at capacity and the concert ended in immediate standing ovation. That would’ve been enough but this audience was special.

Yoko Miwa Trio and audience at JazzFest Falmouth, Highfield Hall

“It was one of those wonderful moments where we as performers could feed off the energy the audience was giving to us, helping to guide the direction of our improvisation. We played the beautiful ballad by Jerome Kern titled Don’t Ever Leave Me.” That’s they way we felt toward this audience and I think the feeling was mutual.”

Reviewing the documentary “Note by Note”

Yoko Miwa Trio fans who liked the posts From Key to Ear and Note by Note, or who watched the short Youtube video tour of the Steinway factory we shared on our Facebook page some months back, would appreciate the 2007 Ben Niles documentary Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037.

“L1037″ in the title is the serial number of a specific piano, one of Steinway’s concert grands, and the film follows the year-long process of crafting the instrument. From planing the first boards and crafting the sounding board to stretching the strings and several iterations of tuning, the film interviews craftsmen and women from throughout the process. While mass-produced pianos exist, the Steinway concert grands are as far from mass-produced as you can get, and you can see many parts of the instrument stamped with the serial number as they move along the production process, because each piano has its own character, and all the parts must fit together perfectly.

The film shows the seasons change as L1037 is slowly crafted, but it intersperses scenes following this particular instrument with scenes from the rest of the Steinway factory and scenes of musicians testing and selecting instruments. Located in the Bronx, the factory is both a hometown anchor and an international meeting place. Many of Yoko’s experiences, in Japan and the U.S., at Berklee, and at numerous music festivals, have demonstrated the same thing the film shows – that love of music is a global feeling that can bring people together.

One worker described having sneaked in to play between stacks of lumber in the factory yard as a kid, while many of his coworkers took the job shortly after immigrating. From the way these workers talk about what they do — and, in many cases, have done for decades — it’s clear that a lot of love goes into those pianos. To be sure, the film doubles as a promotion for the company, and it’s not designed to be the kind of documentary that exposes anything that may be wrong, but there’s a ring of truth in the way these workers describe their craft.

Other than the lovely background music (mostly classical, but some jazz), one of the best parts of “Note by Note” is the intimate details of life at the factory: footage of a man blowing sawdust out of his hair with some sort of air hose, the personal items tacked up on the walls of a tuner’s workshop. The film is slow-moving at parts, but never dry, and one that all piano enthusiasts should check out.

When “Listen to This!” is a Gift

The most gratifying time I ever recommended music to someone, I was about fifteen (Tegan, the blogger, here). I considered my mom’s close friends to be like aunts when I was growing up. My mom’s friend Paula, who lived a few towns over, had given us a lot of mix tapes over the years, and I had discovered a number of my favorite artists through her. Then one day, I read an interview with an indie singer/songwriter who it sounded like I would like, and who was going to be playing in the town where Paula lived. My mom and Paula and I went together – a few of my teenaged friends questioned the fact that I went to concerts with my mom, but we had the same taste in music, I automatically had a ride, and she often bought my ticket, so I saw no reason not to. After the concert, Paula said to me, “that was great – thanks for finding her!” I felt so proud that after years of recommendations from Paula, I had a recommendation to share.

This memory came up for me because when talking about weekend plans, a friend recently mentioned to me that she was going to Ryles for the jazz brunch. “I’m looking forward to it,” she said, “I haven’t been to Ryles in years – I keep meaning to go back, but what got me to go this time was that a friend strongly recommended the pianist who’s playing, Yoko Miwa. Have you heard of her?” I had to chuckle, and I explained that I’m not only a fan but the trio’s blogger. The conversation, and the memory it triggered, made me think about two things. One, it’s easy to go for years without going to a beloved restaurant or venue, or the show of a musician you love, unless someone or something reminds you. Two, recommending music to someone can be a very big and very personal gift.

The Trio’s drummer Scott Goulding remembers, “When I was only 16 years old, and visiting my sister at Harvard, I was standing around in Harvard Square at night when someone offered me a ticket to see Stan Getz at the Regattabar. I had heard his name but didn’t know much more about him other than he played saxophone. I ended up becoming a huge fan. I feel it must have been fate though because I never had a chance to see him perform again before he passed.”

Scott Goulding, drummer for the Yoko Miwa Trio

Do you have any special memories of a time when you recommended music, or found a new favorite artist through a recommendation?

Who have you recommended the Yoko Miwa Trio to?

Throwback Thursday

Some blogs and social media feeds have a Throwback Thursday every week, sharing gems from the past. We don’t want to inundate you with throwbacks, but they can be fun once in a while, so here are a few for your reading, listening, and browsing pleasure:

For those of you with a MySpace account, the Trio does have a MySpace page you can check out for a different kind of throwback.

Check out “In the Mist of Time,” Yoko’s 2001 CD, which-legendary jazz critic James Isaacs said “amply displays her burgeoning talent as a writer of melodically inviting, impressionistic material, as well as introducing a technically assured soloist with a clean, singing sound and an occasional penchant for the blues in pastels.”

Video of a performance in Japan in 2007.

The blog only comes out once a week, so if you are craving more Yoko Miwa Trio news, you can follow us on Facebook or Twitter, but you can also explore the rest of the website and the blog’s archives.

Note by Note

If you read From Key to Ear, you know what happens in the piano when Yoko strikes a key. Have you wondered what happens when a piano hammer strikes a string? Three factors affect how the strings (also called piano wire) associated with a particular key produce the note, and a series of balances and compromises between these factors create the differences in pitch and the evenness in sound.

Length: The longer the string, the lower and more loudly resonant the note it produces. This accounts in part for the grand piano’s distinctive shape. When the length of a string is doubled, the pitch is lowered by one octave. Imagine how strange a piano would look if length were the only variable in the strings – considering that a standard piano spans just over seven octaves! If the highest strings were the length they are in a concert grand, the lowest strings would be over thirty feet long.

Thickness, or gauge: The thicker the string, the lower the note it produces. This is how piano-makers avoid the absurd 30-foot-long problem: the strings vary in thickness considerably. The thinnest, highest strings in a piano are about 0.7 mm thick. Once they start approaching 2 mm, pure steel strings start to become stiff, and produce a dull sound. So, starting at around an octave below middle C, strings have a steel core but are wrapped in copper wire to achieve the correct thickness.

Number: Since shorter strings produce softer sounds, the highest notes on a piano do not have dampers to stop their resonance. However, even without dampers, the highest strings just do not transmit sound to the soundboard nearly as well as their bass counterparts. Because of this, the majority of notes on a piano are produced by more than one string. Bass notes have only one string per note. Tenor notes have two strings each and treble notes have three strings each. Each string is tuned to the same note and struck simultaneously by one hammer, which is why they are called unison strings.

The amount of tension the strings are put under, combined with the amount they are pounded on by felt hammers and the way they are stretched during tuning, means that they need to be very strong and well made. In fact, the high-tensile high-carbon steel wires are among the most demanding applications of steel, and only a handful of companies manufacture them.

Yoko to Score a Film

Have you ever had a project that started out small, but then the more you worked with it, the bigger and better it got? That’s kind of what happened with Yoko’s involvement in the upcoming film Midlife.

Midlife is an independent film written and directed by Greg Travis. He is also the star, and has acted in a broad variety of film and television roles, from Watchmen to CSI: Miami. The filmmaker found Yoko on Youtube and fell in love with her original composition Wheel of Life.  At first, he was just going to use the recorded version from the CD Live at Scullers Jazz Club, but after he and Yoko talked,  they came up with a plan for her to compose some new music for the film. Fast forward to a couple weeks later and Yoko is now scoring the entire film, 39 cues!

Midlife a Greg Travis Film

Midlife has already been shot and edited – and the trailer is already out – it just needs music. As Berklee faculty, Yoko was able to get Logic Pro composing and recording software and is hard at work composing and making demos for Greg’s approval. It’s all going to culminate in a recording session in Boston with live musicians playing the parts, including not only the trio but also tenor saxophone, flute, cello and violin.

Check back on the blog, Facebook, and Twitter for more updates on this exciting project as they develop.

Yoko Miwa Trio at Thelonious Monkfish this Sunday

This Sunday, June 30, at noon, the Yoko Miwa Trio will be playing at the Asian-fusion restaurant Theolonious Monkfish in Central Square, Cambridge. The restaurant’s slogan is “jazz for the palate,” but on weekends, they like to bring in some jazz for the ears as well.

The tone of the menu at Thelonious Monkfish is as whimsical as the name of the restaurant. Some of the items come with a paragraph of fictional biography, such as the fairy tale sushi rolls. Someone obviously put a lot of care and good humor into this detail of the dining experience. One Yelp reviewer, Amelia M., summed up the content of menu nicely: “The worst thing about Thelonious Monkfish is picking what you’ll have to eat… because everything sounds extremely amazing. After being tormented for a long while, I settled on an old standard: tofu pad thai. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Yum.”

A word to the wise – at a place popular enough that the door is always opening and closing, the summer heat gets in! If you like it nice and cool, be sure to make reservations or arrive early, because it’s an intimate venue and prime tables can go quickly.

This will be the Yoko Miwa Trio’s first time performing at this venue… who knows, if enough fans turn out, maybe someday Yoko or the whole Trio will have their very own punny namesake dish on the menu!

Yoko Miwa

Thelonius Monkfish is on Mass Ave., not far from the Central Square T stop. (524 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 – Map ) There is no cover charge, but reservations are recommended – call (617) 441-2116.

Defiance: Reviewing Ken Burns’s JAZZ Episode VII

Previous episodes of Ken Burns’s JAZZ showed how jazz symbolized hope, relief, or escape for Americans during the Great Depression, but the seventh episode, “Dedicated to Chaos” shows jazz as a symbol of something else during the Second World War: defiance. This is one episode that is self-contained enough and good enough that I recommend it whether or not you watch the rest of the series.

To many people, both in the U.S. and Europe, jazz represented democratic ideals. It was the music of the people, homegrown, soulful, wildly popular, and with anchors in African American culture and racial diversity. The Nazis took note, first trying to ban jazz because it was “negro music”, and then attempting to co-opt it by writing their own lyrics to well-known jazz songs. The film includes an eerie clip of a jazz performance in a concentration camp which the Nazis staged for a propaganda film. The co-opting didn’t work — musicians and audiences would not let the music come to stand for oppression and racism — and underground jazz clubs in cities like Paris thrived.

Jazz was an encouragement to everyone fighting. Towards the end of the episode, there is a wonderful interview with pianist Dave Brubeck. He describes being a young soldier destined for the front lines, when he stepped up to the piano during a Red Cross show for the troops, and after one night’s performance, he was asked to form a morale-boosting band. He probably entered the war questioning whether he would make it out alive, yet he played alongside Blacks in an integrated military band, became an renowned pianist and composer, and lived to 91.

Music can bring alive the spirit of healthy defiance against adversity in all of us. What music do you listen to when you want to get charged up and ready to face anything? Are any of Yoko’s pieces on that list… perhaps the dynamic La Estacion, for example?

Yoko Miwa Trio