A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Miho Aikawa, courtesy of the artist

Photo by Miho Aikawa, courtesy of the artist

On Thursday, March 28th, Miho Hazama will celebrate the US release of Journey to Journey (Sunnyside) at The Jazz Gallery. The Japan Times praises the album, which has already been released in Japan by Verve, as “refreshingly original,” and writes that it “stood out as one of the most notable releases in Japan last autumn.”

The composer-pianist has collaborated with Yosuke YamashitaVince Mendoza, and Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as large ensembles like the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metropole Orkest. Her arrangements have been performed for audiences in six countries across three continents. In general, Miho chooses to ignore genre boundaries. “To be honest I don’t really like categorizing music,” she says. “I just need some kind of concept, plan or structure in my mind before I start writing.”

Miho began her classical piano studies at the age of thirteen; by then, she had already been exposed to a broad range of music. Her compositional ambitions developed soon thereafter, but it wasn’t until years later as an undergraduate that she first discovered jazz:

When I was a freshman, I just happened to catch a concert by the college big band. To be honest, before that day I wasn’t even aware that the college had a big band. Anyway, I thought they sounded really cool and that I might be able to experience something exciting in the band. So, I started playing piano with them, and through that I got to know the music of Maria Schneider, Vince Mendoza, Jim McNeely and Mike Holober — all of whom have become big musical influences for me. From that point on, I became more and more interested in jazz composition.

After honing her skills and receiving her bachelor’s degree, Miho made the move to New York to attend the M.A. program at the Manhattan School of Music. Relocating and immersing herself in the city’s thriving scene resulted in a creative awakening for the composer:

It was definitely a great experience in terms of finding myself in a lot of ways. Not only as a composer, but also as a person from a classical music background, as a Japanese woman, and so on.

Before I studied abroad, I was struggling to find my own voice, something that truly said, “This is me.” “But after I started my MSM life, a lot of friends and teachers told me that my compositions were unique and interesting, and they encouraged me to keep going. Eventually, I got to the point where I decided that I wanted my music to be heard by a wider audience.

Watch a video teaser for Journey to Journey, featuring animation by Oerd van Cuijlenborg.