Birthday: September 3, 1976
Blood type: AB
Stay an Angel song sample
You Gotta Hold Me Tight
Ultimate Pandas trailer
1 Kinobori Panda
(Panda climbs up a tree)
2 Oyasumi Panda
(Good night Panda)
3 Kimi ni Panda
(Panda for you)
4 Panda Dakko
5 Dokomademo Panda
6 Komatta Panda
7 Panda Yume
8 Panda Relax
9 Baby Panda
10 Slide Panda
11 Stay as an Angel
Jam in the Bush (2004)
1 Intro to Jam in the bush
2 Jam in the bush
5 Power of Nature
6 Right on the Equator
1 Never ever feel alone
2 You gotta hold me tight
3 You are not the only one
4 The Way5 How happy that I've met you
6 All your love
7 You gotta hold me tight (Remix)
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Juri Panda Jones Interview
Born in Tokyo and a graduate of Berklee College of Music, her fascinating life has included a sojourn to Ghana, Africa, where she produced her second album "Jam in the Bush." She is also the founder of Genuine Voices, a program that teaches music to at-risk youth in America's juvenile detention centers.
And yes the rumors are true... she really did play in her mom's rock band when she was 4 years old!
So put on those panda-shaped slippers you hide whenever company comes over and say hello to Juri Panda Jones. It'll be pandarific!
On January 30, 2009 Juri Panda Jones was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Juri Panda Jones with credits to Carlton SooHoo and Tonn Modeling.
First off, where did your love of pandas come from?
When I was 7 years old a baby panda was born at the zoo in Tokyo. There was a cassette tape that had panda songs in both Japanese and Chinese. My sister and I would sing the whole songs together.
My parents divorced when we were young and my sister and I had to live separately from each other. When we reunited, I remember one of the first things we did was to sing the panda songs we knew! It was almost like the moment that you see at the end of the famous movie "Color Purple." When the sisters got reunited, they sang the song they used to sing together.
So to me, the panda is symbolic of the bond between my sister and myself.
How would you describe the musical style of your album, Panda Bear Hug?
It's Children's Pop. Uplifting, cute and educational.
The album is part of The Ultimate Pandas Collection. Can you tell us about it and GLOBIO?
From their website: "Ultimate Pandas is a new kind of nature program featuring over 90 minutes of panda watching, panda music videos, and cutest panda moments. This DVD is the ultimate treat for panda fans of all ages.
Ultimate Pandas was shot by Gerry Ellis, an eminent wildlife photographer and founder of the children's education nonprofit, GLOBIO.org.
Besides an hour of panda watching, Ultimate Pandas also features five fun panda music videos by Juri Panda Jones with sing-along subtitles.
GLOBIO is a nonprofit organization that provides free, safe online resources to help children learn about their world and create a healthy future for all life on Earth."
You used an accent couch to help you with the English?
Yes. His name is Martin Anderson. We went over all the songs before recording to get rid of my Japanese accent. He was fantastic! He used the technique called Trager Massage to change my jaw muscle and worked from the core of body to fix my pronunciation. I'll treasure his coaching for the rest of my life. My producer was in D.C. (in fact I have not yet met him in person) so he found Martin as my accent coach for this album who lives in Boston.
Your previous album, Jam in the Bush, also had a unifying theme. Can you share the story of creating it?
I went to Ghana to study drums, dance and singing for 3 weeks. There I learned so many deep things about music, including complicated poly rhythm, using music and rhythm to pass down history, even about the killing of goats to make instruments (drums). Everything was very intense and an eye opening experience for a musician. I was often playing with portable keyboards since there was no electricity in some African villages where we sang with children. Jam in the bush!
I wanted to create this album to preserve my inspiration from this precious trip to Africa.
What motivated you to travel to Ghana?
I met African percussionist B.B. Mo-Franck in Japan and he became my mentor, and has been my brother throughout my music career. When I was in Japan, he introduced me to so many African artists such as Miriam Makeba, Fela Cuti, Salif Keita, Angelique Kidjo and Keziah Jones. He also taught me about the music genre tree of how African Music is the root of Rock, Blues, Jazz and Hip-hop. I had a strong urge and need to go to Africa to learn their music first hand in order to become a great musician.
B.B. also told me that if you can't dance how can you make other people dance through your music?
When I was at Berklee I saw the flyer for an African trip organized by one of the professors, so I went along with them!! The knowledge I gained and the conception and attitude toward music that I learned in Africa is just so essential to every performance I do now.
What was it like working with Kenwood Dennard and Lionle Louke?
It was amazing. In my album Jam in the Bush, there is one song called Right on the equator. I just improvised with Kenwood once and that was it. In this album I recorded almost everyone individually, except for acoustic drums and bass. I overdubbed Lionel's guitar so I got to watch him play. He was a student at Berklee at the time I made this album, just like me. We are still great friend and in fact he calls me his sister. Kenwood always treats me like I am a very special human being. They were so generous to play for my album and not only that, their friendship means so much to me.
Kenwood was my teacher and I was in his Jimi Hendrix Ensemble class etc. And as a Japanese student, it is not common to become close friends with teachers.
But with Lionel I have kept our friendship strong till today and he inspires me so much. He deserves all his success that he has now with Herbie Hancock and with his trio.
I was able to see Lionel Loueke Trio in Orvieto, Italy last month and we were able to spend such a great time together with his family, his other trio member Ferenc Nemeth and Massimo Biolcati. I treasure this friendship so much more than the fact that they played on my album!
You've found an inspiring way to use music to help people in need. Can you tell us about your organization Genuine Voices?
I started Genuine Voices Project when I was a senior at Berklee College of Music. My project was to start a music program in jail. But long story short, I was guided to work with at-risk children first and in the juvenile system. It was right after 911 in 2001 and I was compelled to do something good for the world.
I was reading some book in Japanese and read the story of the guy in LA who started a prison newspaper by teaching young people journalism, and two of them became professional scenario writers in Hollywood. I was very inspired by that story and wanted to do something similar to help troubled youths through music.
Here's Genuine Voices Mission: "Our mission is to teach music, musical composition, and computer-based music "sequencing" to youths in juvenile detention centers and other educational and institutional settings across the United States and Worldwide. We believe that by fostering their musical abilities and skills we can assist youths in their ability to make positive life decisions."
What have you learned from those experiences?
I have learned the complexity of the American social justice and juvenile system. No matter how hard you try to change an individual, no matter how hard you try to touch people's hearts through music or anything else, if there is no supporting system it is hard for them to recover.
For instance, I teach some teens in jail how to play songs on the keyboard. They get all fired up and want to continue, but after they get discharged and excited to take piano lessons outside, if their parents are in prison or have alcoholic or drug addiction problems, then there's no chance for this person to continue the musical lessons outside.
It is very sad but I have tried and seen many teens return to the system, and it is very discouraging when you feel your work is not being effective.
Through doing this program I met some PHD researchers from South Australian University to help identify the changes in youth culture through art and music. I was part of their fieldwork out of 5 countries in the world and it was very interesting to learn their sociological and anthropological analysis of these boys' behavior through taking music lessons in jail.
The project that I was involved in was Playing for Life. I was able to present my papers as an activist in Rome and in Boston for IASPM conferences.
I am just a straightforward musician. I had never imagined myself at a conference, presenting my paper with these intelligent people!!
Let's learn more about your background. Can you tell us about your hometown?
I was born in Tokyo but raised in a very rural town in the prefecture called Yamanashi. There were only 4,000 people in that small town and everyone knew everything about everyone. But when I was 13 I moved to Chiba, which is a city one hour away from Tokyo.
What type of kid and student were you?
I was very outgoing and I was always the center of activity. I was very good at sports, especially running the marathon. I was on the school running team for a while and later I joined the theater club.
I liked school but in the second of year of high school I started to hate everything about school, and I remember I got in trouble from lying about having gone to school when instead I was skipping, and I almost failed. But I was forced to participate in weekend camp to help disabled people by my boyfriend at that time, and it changed my whole perspective of appreciating my potential. After that, I pretty much stayed on top of everything till graduation.
How did you first get into music?
I started playing piano when I was 3. My mom had a little organ and she said the first time I put my hands on the keys I was already trying to play with both hands. She signed me up for piano lesson. Also, she was a rock cafe owner.
I remember hanging out with my mom listening to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Sly and Family Stones and Janis Joplin when I was little. I remember the loudness and the dimmed atmosphere of the adults hanging out when I was growing up.
Then she forced me to be a keyboard player for her rock band! So I was playing keyboard since I was four in a rock band and also taking classical lessons at the same time.
Is she still in a rock band?
Yes! She still has her band practice every week. I remember playing in her rock band and going to her concert. At first she was the drummer and singer. (Her favorite rock drummers are Carmine Appice and Steve Gadd.) Then she became just the singer in the band.
I remember her playing at the college festival with college student bands when I was in high school. She was doing a cover band of "YES". She is also a dress maker so she designs all the members' stage costumes. She is a wild woman for sure!
Did you realize you were in a special household or did your upbringing seem normal to you?
Not at all! I thought that was normal. When you are kid I don't think you have high awareness or comparison. I was very mature since I was 4 and aware what I liked or what I didn't like. I was practicing with my mother's band every Tuesday night and I thought it was fun. I don't think many people treated me as a little girl because I was very opinionated already. I thought it was normal to hang out with adults all the time instead of with a bunch of kids.
Was there a specific moment when you decided to make music such a central part of your life?
Yes. When I was 19 years old. I was an emissary for the Japanese Government to visit the U.S.A. for 2 weeks and after that I returned to the U.S. to be an exchange student. Back in Japan I was a model also. I had so much ambition and things that I wanted to do in my life.
But when I was 18 after returning to Japan my mother kicked me out and I was completely homeless and had no money. It was very unusual to be in that situation--an 18 year old Japanese girl who was sleeping in the park!
After being homeless for awhile I was working at a resort hotel where they let me stay and fed me while I was working. Then I returned to Tokyo to start to live by myself. I was just working and getting by. No music. No money to buy instruments. I totally forgot about my music.
Then I became very sick one day from food poisoning. While I was rolling around the floor by myself I thought I was gonna really die... since I was alone. That night I really realized, "Wow, if I die now I will regret that I didn't try my music career!!!!"
So ever since I am sticking with music as a center of my life!
At 21 you made the leap that several Japanese musicians have in moving to the US to attend Boston's Berklee College of Music. How did that come about?
After realizing my dream I started to research which Music School I might go to. I definitely wanted to go to America, since I had a great experience of visiting there, then I found out that Berklee was doing scholarship auditions in Tokyo. So I tried out and got a scholarship.
How much of a culture shock was moving to New England for you?
Not so much about New England. It was more about living by myself in America. When I was an exchange student and lived in WA, I was with my host family who took care of everything for me. I was more nervous and also excited to start Berklee and meet new friends.
Since moving to the US, how often have you returned to Japan?
Once or twice a year.
When did you decide to start work on your first album, "Pop"?
While I was still a student at Berklee. I saw a lot of friends at Berklee making their own albums and I was very, very inspired by their action. So I did it.
Was there an overriding theme like your other two albums?
Not at all. This is more a mellow singer songwriter style album. The other two, I would call African Fusion and Children's Pop.
Can you describe how you write music?
I tend to write my music when I am very emotional, especially when some dramatic events happen or people share their deepest story. I get very empathetic and get overwhelmed and words become useless to describe how I feel towards that event.
Then when I am taking a shower or walking or driving after those events, the melody and lyrics comes into my head and I start singing. That's when I try to stop everything and try to record and focus on finishing the song. Sometimes I record right on my cell phone so I don't forget it.
Recently, our dear friend passed away and I wrote a song for his wife. The song came after I had this indescribable sadness, and when I was taking a shower, I thought about them so much and the next thing I know, I was singing this song.
Another example is when I was working with a locked-up kid who shared his story that he witnessed his father being shot and killed when he was 5. I was so angry and sad for him, then I wrote a song for him, Promise the Life. You can hear this song on my MySpace page.
He didn't return to jail after I dedicated this song to him.
What other artists have most influenced your musical style or inspired you to become a professional musician?
I think I was inspired by all 70's rock musicians, since I grew up listening to them. Some people say my songs sound like Kate Bush. I love Janis Joplin and her spirit.
People who inspire me most are the friends who I went to school with who are doing so well in the music world right now. Starting with Lionel Loueke, Hiromi, Rie Tsuji (Beyonce's keyboardist), Ava Gaudet (who was Maureen for Rent), Joe Gorretti (drummer who played for Ne-yo).
Also while on my recent trip to Italy I met Ferenc Nemeth and Massimo Biolcati, who plays with Lionel Loueke and with so many Jazz giants! They all inspired me so much by talking with them and listening to them play.
Also people that I toured with, Kate Pierson (The B-52's), Graham Parker and Bill Janovitz. Kate is so kind, she always asks about me and wish me the best.
All my friends who I saw start out and become very successful is the most inspiring thing you can witness!
Can you give us a peak into the romantic life of Juri Panda Jones? Are you a believer in "Love at First Sight" or do you think love is something you have to work on and develop?
I am not a believer in "Love at First Sight". Love has to be worked on and developed.
What type of places do you like to go to on a date, and what do you like to do?
I love going to delicious restaurants. Since I cook a lot at home, I appreciate a really amazing restaurant. I don't like loud place for dates. I also like to go to the beach or do some sports type activity for dates, such as skiing or water sports.
In addition to all your other activities, you also do some modeling. Do you have a certain exercise or diet you do to stay in shape?
I only go to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. I only eat organic foods. Sometimes I do Yoga. But mostly I just try to stay as happy and positive as possible.
What other things do you do for fun or relaxation?
Getting Acupuncture or massage therapy for relaxation. Also cooking, gardening, jewelry making and knitting are things that I do for fun! In fact I sell my jewelry and teach how to make origami earrings also: etsy.com.
Oh, and also facebook and blogging are other fun things that I do these days: Juri's blog.
Are there any favorite foods from Japan you miss the most?
Ramen, Tendon and Ohagi.
Have you discovered any favorites in the US you'd like to have your friends and family in Japan try?
Cheese Cake Factory!
How would you describe the importance music has played in your life?
Without music, I think I am like empty-shell. This is my 30th anniversary of playing the piano. It is always there just like air for me, and I am so thankful that I have jobs that allow me to play or teach music all the time.
Being able to express my love, compassion and empathy to the people that I love through my composition and singing is the most satisfying gift that you can give and receive. I am so grateful I learned how to do that.
Also, without music I probably wouldn't have as much friends who I can share my deepest thoughts and emotions with.
As an artist you sometimes feel isolated and outcast from society. I feel all my best friends I met through music. Those are the friends that I really feel are my true supporters, inspirations and family.
Without music my life would have been much too boring and flat. I feel enrichment, beauty and preciousness of life everyday because of music.
It is not possible to live without it at this point.
Do you have anything else you want to bring up or comment on?
Working with troubled youth and teaching them music has taught me that the more self accomplished you feel, the less violent you become. I think that if every human being could identify what their real existence and purpose of life is, there will be far less war and fighting. I was lucky enough to discover what my purpose of life is. I also think it is important that once you find what your existence and purpose of your life is, you should expand that skill as an outlet of your emotions.
I believe everyone has something that they want to accomplish in their life, regardless of what it is. Identifying, shaping, accomplishing and living with it can contribute to a deeper peace to the world.
Do you have a final message to all your fans?
I am not sure if there is any fan of me... But if there is, thank you!
I hope you can feel my love of life & music through my voice & composition. I hope my music can uplift your day or can give you courage when you are having a hard time in life.
For more info checkout Juri Panda Jone's official site and MySpace page. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments