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Mari Tochi Vital Stats
Mari Tochi
Birthday: May 10th
Birthplace: Tokyo
Blood type: B

Arigato [aligato] song sample


Mari Tochi's Arigato back cover art - click for full size
Arigato [aligato] (5-10-2009)
1 Opelo Kai
2 Kotodama ~The Spirit of Words~
3 Long Long Way to Go
4 Soap of Memory
5 Brooklyn Could
6 awayuki ~like fragile snow~
7 Soran-Bushi & My Favorite Things
8 I wanna see you
9 Requiem & Azul no Azul do Azul
10 So Long, Bye Bye, Baby!
11 arigato [aligato]

Where to Buy
CD Baby

Arigato [aligato] lyrics

Aligato, thank you
For meeting me on this earth
Aligato, thank you
For being with me always

Spreading my wings from my soul,
Living right now in this moment,
Feeling your warmth with my heart,
Now, I can accept what I am
Aligato, aligato, aligato, aligato

Aligato, thank you
For lighting up my heart
Aligato, thank you
For giving me awareness

Beyond the field full of rainbows,
Beaming your smile
And love everywhere,
I know those connect with my soul
All is one, one is all
Aligato, aligato, aligato ...

© Music & Lyrics by Mari Tochi

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Mari Tochi Interview

Mari Tochi's Arigato cover art - click for full size "When my favorite uncle died suddenly, I decided to pursue my one and only passion." For Mari Tochi, that love was for music. After years of working at a Japanese publishing company Mari made a leap of faith to pursue her dream of a musical career. Exposure to Jazz while attending school in the US would give a new form to that love.

On May 10, 2009, Mari celebrated her birthday with the birth of her first musical creation, the CD "Arigato [aligato]," a fusion of Jazz and the many different elements of music that have played such an important part in her life.

On June 8, 2009 Mari Tochi was kind enough to give an interview to Andrew from J-Pop World.

Letís start with the 2009 release of your first album, "Arigato [aligato]" (available at CD Baby). Can you tell us the feeling you had when you finally finished recording the last song?

I felt I had given birth to my first "brain children" of this earth, with truly arigato (thankful) feelings to my musicians, producers, parents and everyone I have met in my life. As I would like people to pronounce with the beautiful correct Japanese sound, I spelled "aligato" phonetically after the Japanese characters for arigato, as a title, on purpose.

How long had you been working on the album's 11 songs?

For the composition, I had started thinking seriously and composing songs for this CD since 2007. For the production, after the recording till the completion, it took about 7 months.

How would you describe its musical style?

I would like to describe, "Cultural and Musical Synthesis with the Test of Mari Tochi!" It is a mixture of many musical styles such as Jazz, Blues, Classic, Gospel, Soul, R&B, Samba, Bossa Nova, Pop, Folk, Rap, Ambient, and World Music in English, Japanese, Portuguese and Hawaiian.

Requiem & Azul no Azul do Azul has a very smooth, sultry sound to it. Can you tell us the story behind its writing and recording?

This song has a very special story. I dedicated this medley to the deceased loved ones in my life over the course of 5 years. I tried to compose Requiem when my best friend from junior high school past away in 2003. However, it was impossible for me to complete it under such deep sadness and disappointment. Later, when my grandmother died at the age of 96 in 2005, I finally completed it. For Azul no Azul do Azul, I got the melody first a few years before the words came out. The English lyrics were written in Hawaii soon after the death of the esteemed senior of Berklee and my forever first-call drummer, Take Toriyama.

Your songs include a lot of unusual sound effects, such as chirping birds. Where did you get your inspiration for using such diverse sounds in your music?

After I committed to produce this CD, I was doing the duo gigs with a keyboardist or guitarist for a while. During that period with the simple, but ultimate accompany, I was always thinking about the best arrangement for my upcoming recording. Thanks to the opportunities, I also started playing with the small percussion and the toys.

Usually, I tend to get the inspiration while taking a walk, after listening to any kind of music and just before falling asleep at night. I always enjoyed thinking about new ideas and challenging new things. The sound of birds, the sound of the Cosmos, using the music box, the superimposition rap etc... At some point as I got too many ideas, I realized I needed someone's help to actualize all of these. It was my great fortune to meet an amazing producer, Nicolas Farmakelidis, who made my ideas and my inspiration come true, while I was looking for my musicians, also!
Mari Tochi
Can you tell us more about your musical writing technique or process? How do you go about writing a song?

I usually get the sound first. After awhile or a long time, I get lyrics. Mostly, I get these inspirations when I am about to sleep. I have to get up and record on a tape recorder before I forget.

For Opelo Kai, I was inspired by Hawaii. While just watching the ocean and sky there, I felt and heard the sounds of the universe. Sometimes I just wish I could write a certain type of music such as a ballad, bossa nova etc... Then after a while, I can get the inspiration. Where there is a will, there is a way, right?

Tell us about the people who worked on the album with you.

I was totally blessed to work and play with the hottest musicians in NYC. I have been playing with Mamiko Watanabe (piano, B-3 & Rhodes) (see our 2009 interview), Megumi Yonezawa (piano), Jostein Gulbrandsen (guitar), Hiroya Tsukamoto (guitar) and Ferenc Nemeth (drums) on and off. I knew what kind of sound I wanted for my brain children. I really had to find a vibraphonist, bassist and drummer with my soul and my ears.

I went to a lot of concerts to check out musicians in NYC and Boston. I chose Francisco Mela (drums), Ben Williams (bass), Moto Fukushima (bass) and Tim Collings (vibraphone) and Keita Ogawa (percussion). I was lucky to play with the right musicians for each song for my first album. They are not only amazing musicians, but also beautiful human beings.

How did first meet Mamiko Watanabe?

I met her at Berklee. However, we really became close after we moved to New York and met again at someone's concert. After the concert, we had a cup of tea and had a good time talking. Since then, we have become close friends and a good team as musicians. I knew she is the pianist who has blues and the funky groove also. So, I asked her to play the Hammond B-3 and Fender Rhodes. And she DID IT!

I then met Francisco Mela (drums) through her performances with him. Thanks to her, I was able to ask Mela to join my recording session easily!
How and where was the music for Aligato recorded? Can you describe what a typical recording session was like?

I did two day recording sessions at Kaleidoscope Sound in New Jersey and additional recording sessions at Neila Productions in Boston. As I played with 10 musicians total, I really had to coordinate the time. Even though I carefully adjusted the call time for each musician, some musicians had to wait for their turn because of the unexpected delay in a previous recording. However, they were so patient. During the session, I got musicians' great cooperation and suggestion. They picked up what kind of sound I really wanted. I was deeply moved by their warm hearts and musicianship.

What did you learn most from the experience?

As I said before, I regard this experience as giving birth to my first "brain children." I had a lot of throes during this process. Also, I learned a lot of things and REALLY grew up through this. Now, I can even realize the level of my soul became higher than before, thanks to this whole experience.

Let's learn more about your past. Can you describe your hometown and what it was like growing up there?

I was born in Tokyo and raised in Fukui prefecture (which has Obama city, where we got a thank you letter from President Obama for supporting his election from a foreign country, by the way). Fukui is located in the middle of the Japan Islands and facing the Japan Sea. We have the beautiful mountain, nature and great food. Fukui people are absolutely friendly, warm and have a great sense of humor! I was so lucky to grow up in my hometown, which still has fair, sharing and caring minds for others.

How did you first get into music?

I began playing the electronic organ at the age of five. The textbook had a lot of Jazz standard songs, American, Beatles pops and etc.

Did your family have a musical background?

Yes, my uncle was a good classical singer and my granduncle played drums. As my sister and brother belonged to Fukui Central Children's Choir, I naturally followed them when I was eight.

When you were 11 you won a singing contest in Fukui. Can you tell us about that experience?

Yes, I sang a Japanese children's song. I guess I won 1st prize because my friend, who was the best classical child singer, did not enter at that time!

Who were some of your favorite musicians when you were a kid?

Seiko Matsuda was my idol. I listened to Motoharu Sano, Beatles and Japanese and American hit songs etc... I liked any kind of music back then till I met Jazz when I was a university student. I also enjoyed watching TV shows with "Minyo" (Japanese traditional folk songs) and "Enka" (Japanese popular ballads).

For this CD, I combined a famous "Minyo" song and the American standard from The Sound of Music, my favorite musical from my childhood. Also, I wrote one R&B ballad, which I named the new genre "Enka" (or Dramatic) R&B!

How did you end up at Midland Lutheran College in Nebraska?

I wanted to be a journalist at that time. I went to study abroad at Midland Lutheran College for one year, because the college had a great professor, Mrs. P., in Journalism Department when I was a sophomore at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. She regarded her students like a real writer and reporter right from the start and gave us real assignments every week. I was really impressed by the more practical classes with a smaller number of students in Nebraska. In Japan I had gotten used to just listening to the lectures of the professors in a huge class side of 100 students.

Did you want music to be the focal point of your life at that time?

My major was Journalism. I took Writing for Media, Black and White Photograph etc... However, I was singing as a member of the college choir four days a week. For me, singing was a part of my life, though I could not imagine I would choose to be musician later at that time.

What about the US surprised you the most?

My Irish-German heritage first roommate had never seen an African-American person till she entered college. Even I have already met some in Japan. When I was in Japan, through the mass media, we got information that America has no prejudice and no racism at all, especially when you have elections. However, once we entered this country, the reality is as you know...

Another thing, I was surprised that the teachers praised the students a lot. In Japan, teachers tend to be extremely demanding and expect perfection. I was a little bit tired of it. So, it really felt good to hear the praises from my professors in Nebraska and I was encouraged by them. I guess that is why I won my first prize for the best personal column from Nebraska Press Association during my year abroad.

How difficult was the language barrier?

In order to perform on the same stage with American singers, I always have to practice hard on my English diction as much as I can. When I had just moved to New York from Boston, I performed at some church in Brooklyn. After the performance, one audience member came to talk to me. He was so surprised to hear my strong accent in my English conversation with him. As long as he was listening to me singing, he thought I was born and raised in America! Sorry, but I am not American! (laughing) However, I was so glad that mistake happened.

How did you fall in love with Jazz?

When I went to Nebraska to study abroad, one of my friends gave me a tape of Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable" at the airport. I listened again in Nebraska. Our director of the college choir taught Jazz at the college. One time, I was picked up as a solo singer to sing Unforgettable for our choir's concert. However, I missed it because I went back to Japan to join my sister's wedding. My first Jazz song which I sang in public was Sentimental Journey for the class "The History of American Theater."

After you returned to Japan how did you pursue your study of Jazz music?

Since I returned back to Japan, I tried to buy $10 omnibus Jazz CDs of singers and instrumentals as much as I could. When I first listened to "Hello, Dolly!" by Louis Armstrong, I wept because I was so moved by his voice and performance, which includes the true spirit of Love. Since then, Satchmo is my idol, and I wish I could be a female Satchmo!

I really wanted to continue to sing Jazz. Then, I met my first mentor, Loran Sato, who is a great educator and tenor saxophone player. I learned Jazz from him with a more rhythmic approach. Although I am a singer, I love listening to the instrumental Jazz to learn and imitate the phrasing, ad-lib and so on.

You later decided to apply for a scholarship to Boston's Berklee College of Music. Why did you want to return to the US?

After graduating from Japanese university, I became an editor for a publishing company in Yoyogi. I worked for 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and sometimes Saturday, for four years. Even though I was super busy, I continued to have singing lessons when I got time. Somehow, I went to Shinjuku's PIT INN, (which has hosted such jazz greats as John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Ron Carter and more) to write a story about a poetry reading by Japanese famous female poet and Shibuya Takeshi Jazz Orchestra.

After the impressive concert, I had heard that there would be a jam session every first Friday. I went back there to join the jam session on May 10th. That day was my birthday and that was a great excuse to get a day off officially from my tough publisher without telling him the real reason. Fortunately the house band liked my singing very much, and they picked me up as a member of "PIT PICKS UP" with other young musicians. And I made a debut with them at PIT INN!

Since then, I got other singing jobs while working for a publishing company. The passion for my editorial job was decreasing from the peak at that time with the unbalanced physical condition from overworking. On the other hands, I got more passion to sing. When my favorite uncle died suddenly, I decided to pursue my one and only passion.

After quitting the job, I performed as a singer and head arranger in Japan for four years. At that time, I got new Jazz Idols, who have been Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The more I was into Jazz, the more I got the passion to do arranging. I played with a lot of musicians who went to Berklee. Through them I have heard about the audition for the World Scholarship. I auditioned and I got it! I returned back to the U.S. to pursue music.

How was life like at Berklee?

Berklee was one of my favorite periods, which I could concentrate only on music. I occupied Berklee practice rooms till it closed everyday. I saw amazing performances while working as an usher on campus. I was so happy to write my arrangements that I heard in my mind. I never was too tired to do music! That is why I chose music as my lifework!!!

Your background also includes traditional Japanese dancing. How did you get into that?

When I performed "Noh" Opera at Danny Kaye Playhouse in New York, I got an opportunity to learn the traditional Japanese dancing from the master of traditional Japanese dance. I also had background of western dancing such as Tap dance, Jazz dance, Modern dance, Classic and Hip Hop etc...

With great help of another wonderful dance teacher, I practiced it as much as possible at my apartment, at her house, in the train and on the street. At the last minute, I asked the master to show me one of the most difficult techniques using the Japanese fan. Then I got it at the last moment and the dancing goddess smiled on me. According to my friend, who came to the performance, people were talking about me like, "Didn't you know that dancer is a jazz singer, according to the booklet?" (laughing)

What about Japanese dancing would you like people to know most about?

Each movement has a meaning, a spirit and a soul which are all in tune with the universe.

You now make your home in Brooklyn. Can you tell us about the neighborhood you live in and the places you play music at?

Since I am a country girl, I cannot live without greenery. I decided to live in my neighborhood because Prospect Park and Brooklyn Botanical Garden are only about ten minutes by walk. With the fresh air, I practice there and get a lot of inspiration for my music and lyrics, especially, during my walks to the park.

What about Japan do you miss most, and how often to you travel back and forth?

I miss their delicious food and their warm hearts that think of others first! I have not gone back to Japan since 2003. I am looking forward to going back to Japan to have a concert tour as soon as I get the places to perform!

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Will you be working on a second album?

I would like to perform and have a concert tour here in America, Japan and Europe to share warm feelings and spirit. As I just gave birth to my first brain children, I would like to care for them for a while till I get another inspiration for the second one.

Let's end with a simple but big question. How important has music been to your life?


Do you have anything else you want to bring up or comment on?

Everything happened for a reason. To everyone I have met and I will meet and every experiences, I would love to send big aligato (thankfulness) from the bottom of my heart through my new-born CD, "aligato."

Do you have a final message to all your fans?

To my dear fans, thank you so much for waiting for this moment for a long time. Please enjoy "the present sound of Mari" and I'll see you soon at my performances!

For more info checkout Mari Tochi's official site. Leave your comments about this interview and read what others had to say at the following link: Interview Comments