Jazz has always epitomized the nonchalant character of cool. No other genre is as spontaneous in nature or as influential to other varieties of music. The flair and snare of the jazz artist inspired bebop, soul, hip hop, funk and pop, and remains a sentiment of sexy for mysterious rendezvous on cosmopolitan streets, or dark harmonies behind the idealistic artist on his way to glory.
In contemporary times, it has often lacked the artistic identity it had in the past, yet there appears to be a resurgence as of late, maybe the result of nostalgia spawned by an uber modern age or with the emergence of a new muse, like Manami Morita. Poignantly, Manami wouldn’t even be in music if it wasn’t for jazz, yet now it’s a full-time commitment. The New York-based, Japanese pianist nearly gave up playing her instrument at a young age due to the rigidity of conforming to classical standards as the world was much more boundless. When she found jazz, nevertheless, she found life.
Expanding her reach to the limit, Manami moved to the States in 2005 after training for many years in contemporary jazz in Saitama, Japan. She enrolled in Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she finished her degree on a scholarship. Now a working artist in Manhattan, the 27 year-old’s resume is stacked, including performances with internationally-acclaimed musicians, and appearances at countless festivals such as Martha’s Vineyard Music Festival in 2008 with the Boston Pops, Gladys Knight and Kate Taylor; Salem Jazz Festival 08’ and 09’; Tokyo Jazz 10’, and Rochester International Jazz Festival 11’.
In a recent Q&A, Manami tells BreakThru Radio about a world shaped and dreamt through the lens of her sound.
BreakThru Radio: What has performing jazz music taught you about life?
Manami Morita: It made me realize how much freedom I have in my life. Especially jazz, it is based on the idea of being free from the musical notations. I used to think about what is right or wrong in any situation, including music. But after a few years of studying jazz, I started to think nothing like right or wrong exists really.
BTR: What sort of cultural transition did you experience moving to the U.S. from Japan?
MM: People here in the U.S. are much more open to various and unique individuals. I would say I feel so much less stress from social pressure. But every time I go on tour in Japan, I feel Japanese people appreciate live music more. They will take it more as a performing art. Here in the U.S., especially NYC, live music is everywhere and every night. Sometime I get a feeling of being just background of the city.
BTR: When did you realize you wanted music to be your career, and how did you move forward from that point?
MM: After I decided to go to Berklee College of Music. I went to college in Japan for two years just to study English culture and literature. I realized this was not for me, and I found out that my hero, Japanese jazz pianist, Makoto Ozone, went to Berklee. So I decided to follow the path.
BTR: What’s the best thing about Japan? About the U.S.?
MM: Best thing about Japan is that people are incredibly nice. Everything is clean, and on time. Also, the food is amazing! Best thing about the U.S. is I feel free. It is the country of freedom.
BTR: Who are some artists that have inspired your work?
MM: I can’t name particular people. Everything in my life inspires my music. My cats, my mom, my friends, wind, sun, rain, ocean, drinking with people, going to swim, etc… If you are doing only music all the time, I think that music will be really boring.
BTR: Describe a typical day for you.
MM: I work as an accompanist at music school for babies in the city five days a week, only in the morning. I finish that around 1pm; I come home and practice, relax, do whatever. If I have a gig at night, I will go to that. I also work at modern dance school a few nights a week. This is a fun one. It’s completely free, just play as dancers dance. It is really good for me to get inspired and be creative.
BTR: You worked with Esperanza Spaulding! That’s exciting. What was that experience like?
MM: I met her through one of our common friends. She is a funny lady with a real warm heart. I got invited to play one song with her as a guest because I wrote a song for her, and she really liked it. It was a long time ago, maybe like five years? She is really easy and fun to work with.
BTR: What are your hopes as a contemporary jazz musician?
MM: As I get older, I would like my sound to be better (not technically or theory wise). I think music reflects your life. I would like to see how mature my music could be when I am really old.
BTR: Who would play you in your biopic?
MM: This is a funny question….I would like to see me in a cartoon, maybe created by Seth MacFarlane??
BTR: If you could work with an artist living or dead, who would it be?
MM: I would love to meet Mr. Maurice Ravel, a French Composer.
BTR: What are the first and last records you bought?
MM: I do not remember exactly, but it’s either Dave Brubeck’s Time Out or some Japanese Pop music… Last one I bought was actually Esperanza’s Chamber Society Music.
BTR: What do you think is the biggest problem confronting the international community?
BTR: If you could change anything about your life, what would it be?
MM: I don’t think I will ever think that. I am happy with whatever I am and have right now.