Interview with Atzko Kohashi: I just want to play naturally and honestly from the heart: Video

Jazz interview with jazz pianist and composer Atzko Kohashi. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Atzko Kohashi: – I grew up in Kanagawa, Japan. As a child, I was always fascinated by music instruments. Harmonica, castanet, recorder… I liked anything I can make music with and played for fun.  

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the piano? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the piano?

AK: – I started to play the piano at the age of five. I first took classical piano lessons with a private teacher.  I never went to Conservatory nor music school. I played the piano just as a hobby. It was my university days (studying law) when I encountered jazz music and discovered the joy of jazz. Somehow this African-American music fits me well and it caught my interest rather than law. Since then I have been attracted by jazz and keep playing till now.

Luckily I got a chance to live in New York (from 1994 to 2001), where I could frequently go to various jazz clubs in NYC and listen to fantastic sessions in the home of Jazz. I was lucky to meet piano jazz master Steve Kuhn and from time to time I took lessons from Steve Kuhn. I learned a lot from him, not just about the technique and music theory but more about the musicianship; how to face the music we play and how to communicate with the band members. “Be equal partners in the band to create the music together. Respect each other and listen carefully to other members. No ego,” he said. His advice helped me a lot and I still keep his words in my mind.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

AK: – Listening! I learned a lot from listening. I think learning process for musical skill is similar to language. Firstly just listen and then start to speak just like babies learn from their parents. I still listen quite a lot day and night. Ear training is very important for both music and language. Both are powerful means for communication, right?

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

AK: – Playing the piano is, to me, a part of my everyday life. I don’t have any routine but I always live with music no matter where I am. I actually think the word ‘routine’ doesn’t fit in jazz music. Even playing the same scale sounds differently every time.  It shouldn’t be routine.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

AK: – I think it’s done subconsciously. I just let my feelings flow naturally. Though it depends on what song I play and who I play with, it depends on the situation of the instrument and the room ambiance too.

Oh, yes … I like the triad chords very much: It’s simple yet significant and beautiful!

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

AK: – I don’t understand what you mean…There is nothing to prevent, I guess.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

AK: – I just want to play naturally and honestly from the heart and try to be myself. That’s all.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

AK: – Jazz is a performing art, so of course audiences are involved. I believe ‘sharing’ is the key for our music- jazz.

JBN.S: – Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

AK: – Every moment is very special and precious to me!  We never can play the same again, never take it back, so “Live in the moment” is the real joy of jazz.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

AK: – When it comes to music, I think it’s not a question of new or old. We still enjoy listening to classical music from hundreds years ago and appreciate them. Looking back to the jazz history, already in the 60’s jazz was no longer so popular among the young people. But, we still keep playing jazz and people still listen to jazz.

I think jazz is just like wild flowers; seeds are carried long distances by the wind and they grow in everywhere if they are strong enough. Don’t worry. Jazz never dies!

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

AK: – I’m Japanese, so we use the word ‘spirit’ differently from western people. We have the Japanese word 没我, which means selflessness, a state transcending self. When you devote yourselves to something, you can experience such feeling. I wish I would be able to reach that stage.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?  

AK: – I think nothing is meaningless- every moment is meaningful. We can’t change it. Let’s go with the flow!

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

AK: – I listen to everyone from Count Basie to Carla Bley.

JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

AK: – The music, to me, is joy, happiness, passion and love, so I want to share it with the listeners. I would be happy if the listeners can enjoy my music and feel something through it.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

AK: – I live in this moment, and I’m happy now. No time machine for me!

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now do you have a question for me? may I have a question from yourself…

AK: – Oh, well…. Are you a jazz critic or jazz fan?

JBN.S: – Thanks for answers, Yes, of course, my website every day readers more 62. 000 …

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

AK: – Here is a well-known quote by Zeami (1363-1443), a Japanese Noh actor, playwright, poet and aesthetician; “Never forget Shoshin.Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind” which refers to the initial feelings or impression at the first step. Zeami suggests that one must approach life with a beginner’s mind, with an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. He says “Never lose your initial enthusiasm. Keep your mind open just like a beginner, and renew yourself.” I will keep his words in my mind and play with fresh spirit every time.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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