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Mamiko Watanabe Vital Stats
Mamiko Watanabe
Birthday: September 26th, 1980
Birthplace: Fukuoka, Japan
Main musical style: Jazz

Bouncing Night song sample


1 Keep Moving On
2 Bouncing Night
3 A Little Piece for Dance
4 Smile
5 The Game Is Ready
6 Origin
1 A Veil of Secrecy
2 Here's That Rainy Day
3 Even If
4 The Game Is Ready (Alternate Take)
5 Beautiful Love
6 Labyrinth
7 Jewel
8 Origin (Alternate Take)

One After Another (2006)
1 Shadow
2 Savanna
3 Beat Away
4 Take It Easy
5 Say Something
6 Labyrinth
7 Jour de Pluie a Paris
8 The Deep Sea
9 Paradise

Where to Buy
CD Baby

Tiger Okoshi's comment: "She used to come to my office hours during her Berklee years and show me her new compositions. All of her creations consistently showed her genuine, sincere and deep passion in what she believed. She is a creator and innovator in contemporary jazz scene, I believe.

I have not heard her songs lately but I'm sure that she is moving forward with her positive attitude as always." - Tiger Okoshi

Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link:
Interview Comments

Mamiko Watanabe Interview

Mamiko Watanabe - photo by Sarah Jane Grossman - click for full size Some people, it seems, are born with Jazz in their blood. Mamiko Watanabe started life like many girls growing up in Fukuoka, Japan. But at the age of 5 she began studying piano at the Yamaha Music School. Mamiko's obvious talent would eventually win her a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Now living in New York, Mamiko has released two Jazz albums, explored several other genres of music and performed around the world.

So if you're in the mood for some soulful expressions with an international flavor, come join the musical journey of Mamiko Watanabe.

On January 2, 2009 Mamiko Watanabe was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World. All photos courtesy of Mamiko Watanabe with credits to Sarah Jane Grossman and Alvaro Alcaide.

Let's start with a big question. What does Jazz mean to you?

To me, Jazz means improvisation and swing feel.

How different do you see Jazz compared to other forms of music?

Jazz is more free than other types of music because you can put your own interpretation on each note or song itself. I spent time to transcribe many Jazz masters' playing to understand their concept. I absorbed it and now try to find my own voice.

You recorded your first CD, One After Another, in 2005. Tell us about the musicians who worked on the album and how you met them.

Mamiko Watanabe - photo by Alvaro Alcaide - click for full size I was lucky enough to meet the excellent sax player Walter Smith and drummer Francisco Mela while I was a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. They've played for my senior recital in Berklee. Drummer Mela has been very important and an inspiration in developing my music. I met bassist Massimo Biolcati in NY. He also graduated from Berklee and has been playing for some of my shows in NY.

How would you describe the type of music you were creating?

If I have to categorize it, I think my music is "Jazz." It is hard to name it since I was influenced by other kinds of music. I've been playing different kinds of music in NY.

How do you approach writing music? Do you have a set process you go through?

I usually start composing from the groove. Bass line is important for me. Next important thing is melody unless it's a Ballad, then melody comes first. As I'm a piano player, I put in harmony at the same time. I write down any idea I come up with on the music sheet and a few days later I try to expand the idea.

Once you have an idea for a song, how hard or easy is it for you to shape the music into a completed work?

It will be very easy to complete the work. Sometimes I can finish writing a song in an hour.

What do you do to motivate or inspire yourself to write music?

I've been playing with people who came from the country where music originated. For example, I've worked with African group or Brazilian group a lot. I was very honored that they felt my potential and called me to work with them, even if I didn't grow up with these cultures. I learned that groove and spirit are the most important things to playing music. Those experiences inspire me and I get ideas from that to write music.

In 2007 you came out with a double CD entitled ORIGIN/JEWEL. Tell us about the album's concept.

The CD ORIGIN/JEWEL is two separate titles and recorded on two separate CDs. As I said before, I've been playing different kinds of music since I moved to NY, like playing gospel music at church every Sunday and playing Brazilian music with people from Bahia, Brazil at S.O.B's club once a month regularly. I've also played calypso music, African music, Reggae and Funk. I tried to put those experiences together in this CD.

The CD "ORIGIN" is the funk and Latin influences which I have been exposed to. The second CD "JEWEL" is the straight-ahead jazz piano trio format.

Photo courtesy of Mamiko Watanabe - click for full size What were the recording sessions like? Were they very different for each CD?

I worked with different bands in NY and met many musicians. I just called musicians whom I played with before and put the band together for the ORIGIN CD. I didn't even rehearse with the whole band for this project. I rehearsed with only rhythm section once before and just gave music sheets to horn players. Some musicians met other band members for the first time at the studio! It took only four hours to record because they were very strong musicians. I also recorded duet songs with an excellent conga player later. We mostly improvised at the studio.

For the JEWEL CD we rehearsed the day before the recording. I wrote some songs 1 week before the recording! I didn't have any idea how the song would sound like until the rehearsal. They helped me to relax at the studio!

Do you have a favorite song from the CD to perform live?

My favorite song is Keep moving on. This is a funky song!

How would you describe the feeling of playing Jazz?

When I'm into the music, I put my heart into each note. I feel happiness when the music really flows.

What other jazz musicians do you most admire?

Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.

You've played in many locations around the world. What are some of the places that stand out in your mind the most?

Switzerland was really beautiful. Food was really great in Italy.

Tell us about Cleopatra's Needle.

This is the place I often used to hang out in when I first moved to NY. There are jam session 7 nights a week. I made many connections from this place. Now I play with my trio or quartet a few times a year.

Mamiko Watanabe - photo by Sarah Jane Grossman - click for full size How often do you travel back to Japan?

I go back to Japan once in three years.

Do you have a favorite motto or slogan?

Try to get better everyday!

Let's learn a little more about your background. You were born in Fukuoka, Japan. What was the neighborhood you grew up in like?

Fukuoka prefecture is located in northern Kyushu, the westernmost of Japan's four main islands. I left Fukuoka almost 10 years ago so I'm sure it has changed a lot by now. There are many shopping malls in "Tenjin," the center of Fukuoka city. Even outside of Fukuoka city, it is very convenient for shopping or transportation. There is also nature in the suburbs. I could see mountains from my apartment.

Did your parents have a musical background?

None of my family was a musician. I'm an only child.

At 5 you started attending the Yamaha Music School. What was that like?

I attended the special program to compose original music. I was lucky enough to play original music at many concerts when I was going to Yamaha. I really appreciated that they gave me those opportunities.

What type of student were you in high school? Shy? Outgoing?

I was neither shy nor outgoing. I was just an ordinary student.

Who were your favorite artists at the time?

Michel Petrucciani and Oscar Peterson.

Outside of music, what other things did you enjoy?

I enjoyed reading book.

Mamiko Watanabe - photo by Alvaro Alcaide - click for full size Your life took a major turn in 1999 when you won a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. How big of a life changing event was that?

It was the biggest change of my life. Culture, language, food and friends...

What about the US surprised you the most?

Everything was big, which I'm used to now!

What was the most challenging thing about adapting to life in America's East Coast?

I have to stay strong if I feel the thing is not right.

Another Japanese musician we've interviewed, Tsubasa from Love Etc, happen to have won that same scholarship in 1998. Did you know her by any chance?

Yes, I often met her in practice room when I was a student at Berklee.

Mamiko Watanabe - photo by Sarah Jane Grossman - click for full size How different do you imagine your life might have been if you hadn't moved to the US?

It would be very different. I've been meeting and influenced by people from all over the world in daily life in NY. This is very precious for me now. I wouldn't have experienced the multicultural musical experience that I have received anywhere else!

What are your plans for 2009? Any chance of a new album soon?

I'd love to record a new album. I've been composing and playing new songs whenever I have a chance.

Do you have a final message to all your fans?

I'm in the process of finding my own voice through music. I always try to put something I learned from working with different groups into my music. Please follow my musical journey!

For more info checkout Mamiko Watanabe's MySpace page and her profile at CDBaby. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments