JAZU: Jazz from Japan. Interview. Hikari Ichihara

Foto: Toru Kometani

Interview to Hikari Ichihara

Review to Precioso

Hikari Ichihara is one of the leading trumpet players of the new Japanese jazz scene. Her remarkable musical skills allow her to perform from small group to larger ensemble, always leaving a personal and highly expressive mark on her projects. On the occasion of her latest release Precioso, she told us about herself, her music and country.

Jazz Convention: Let’s start from the beginning. Your father is also a musician, so it can be said that music has always been present in your life since your childhood. What’s your first memories about it?

Hikari Ichihara: Yes, my father is a drummer. Though now he plays jazz, he used to play pop music as a studio session musician. So, I grow up being surrounded by pop music and great session musicians. One of my first memory about it is going to Hawaii to see my father’s concert. I remember that I was dancing.

JC: How came the choice of trumpet?

HI: When I was 10 years old, I went to a concert and see a trumpeter for the first time in my life. Trumpet really fascinated me and at the same time, so did the trumpeter. I mean, he was so handsome! Then I started learning trumpet as soon as I got into junior high school.

JC: You started as a classical trumpet player and then switched to jazz. What pushed you to change music and what did you find in jazz that classical music didn’t have?

HI: At that time I just didn’t know jazz, that’s why I chose classical music, I guess. When I was 15 years old, I met Mr. Eric Miyashiro who is an amazing trumpeter and used to play on Maynard Ferguson’s band. I thought: “This is the Music that I’ve been looking for”. Then I decided to become a musician. Anyway, I think the most important thing about playing an instrument is learning the fundamentals. That’s why I didn’t study how to play jazz until I got into music college.

JC: Who were your musical idols during your jazz apprenticeship?

HI: Clifford Brown and Tomonao Hara, my first jazz trumpet teacher.

JC: What’s the most important teaching you learned from Mr. Hara?

HI: He always told me “Keep practicing”, and that’s what I did!!

JC: In 2005 you recorded your debut album with the Japanese major label Pony Canyon, Ichiban no Shiawase, a collection of original pop-jazz compositions. Can you tell us about the path that led you to this artistic accomplishment?

HI: I received a prize for excellence of soloist in Yamano Big band contest and a person of this record label saw my performance. After it he asked me if I was interested in working with them. I’ve been a big fan of AOR (Adult Rock Oriented) since I was kid, so I thought this was my chance to do all that I’ve always wanted to do on my first album.

JC: In 2006 and 2007 you traveled in New York to record your 2nd and 3rd album Sara Smile and Stardust. In these albums your sound is very different from your debut album and these works can be definitely called ?pure jazz? albums. You played skillfully rearranged jazz standards and originals with the collaboration of some important American jazz musicians such as Adam Birnbaum, Lewis Nash, Victor Lewis, George Mraz and Wayne Escoffery. How did you finally feel being in America and playing jazz with such wonderful American musicians like those? What did these artistic and life experiences leave to you?

HI: To tell the truth, initially I didn’t want to record my second album in New York, because I was still interested in AOR and pop music. Anyway, somehow I felt I had to go there and record ?Sara Smile?. Once in New York, I had many great experiences and great time with these such a wonderful musicians. After that, I came to be more interested in real jazz.

JC: Joy, published in 2008, is  your first album produced all by yourself for which you also wrote all the arrangements of the horn section that accompany you. Is this album a tribute to the experiences made during your musical beginnings, when you played in big bands?

HI: Joy was absolutely my turning point. At the time I was working on this recording, I had many personal and musical problems, but applying myself to the complete the album helped me to solve many things.

JC: Move on, released in 2010, is your first record as a leader of a quintet with which you also released Unity in 2011. These albums, focused mainly on hard bop style, display a tight sound, an excellent songwriting and a wonderful interplay among the members. It seems you finally reached the cohesion and Unity you were looking for in a band. What can you tell us about this partnership among musicians and what did they give you in terms of musicality and human experience?

HI: We, my band members and I, always talked about music and tried to seek and play new sounds. Before our recording, we had a lot of gigs and tours. From them I learned what being part of a band means, and how to be a good leader. I even feel like they are my family. I’d really like to thank all of them for this.

JC: The sources from which you draw inspiration to create your music are many: TV shows as in Joy’s Springfield, inspired by cartoon characters Simpsons, and Outer Limits from the homonymous tv show; books as in Move on’s Yamikuro inspired by Haruki Murakami’s novels and Unity’s Doruji inspired by Isaka Kotaro’s books. Can you tell us how your compositions grow from this fictional ideas and what’s your usual starting point when you write music?

HI: Writing a song means meditation to me. Reading a book and watching TV shows are also meditation. So, when I want to calm down, I write a song. That’s why most of my original songs are not fast tempo.

JC: Thought it’s been written before the 11 march tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear problems, you dedicated Unitys Doom to all those people who lost their lives in that terrible day. How much Japan has changed from that day and what is the country doing to prevent this from happening again. What could be the role of a musician in this kind of situation?

HI: The earthquake and tsunami-hit area hasn’t been reconstructed yet and many people who fall victim of this disaster still lives in temporary housings. I wonder what our government is doing. Now I’m afraid that another earthquake can come and I guess many Japanese people feel the same. But the earthquake and tsunami are natural disaster and we couldn’t prevent them so far. With regard to nuclear problem, it’s a difficult thing to think and talk about. There are the pros and the cons and I couldn’t say more. I only hope that people who fall victim of on march the11th can come back to normal days and be happy as soon as possible. As a musician, all I can do is playing music with all my soul.

JC: In 2012 you decided to take a breath from the 5et activity and recorded your latest album Precioso a duo recording with pianist Koichi Sato. How did it come the idea?

HI: Me and Sato have played together since about 4 years ago. He is not only a wonderful pianist but also my best friend. I’ve wanted to record my album with him and I did it! Precioso is my precious work.

JC: Which are your favorite trumpet-piano recordings in jazz history?

HI: Paolo Fresu & Uri Caine recordings. Though they don’t belong yet to jazz history…

JC: What’s the situation in Japan today for jazz and jazz musicians? What about young people who wants to study and perform jazz? Are there any Japanese government’s endowment, funds or aids to promote recorded and performed jazz in the country?

HI: There are so many great musicians and school of jazz in Japan, but there are no Japanese government’s help.

JC: In February you had a few gigs in Italy. What can you tell us about this very first time in our country?

HI: I had two gigs in Roma and Andria. It was my first time to have my own gig abroad. Before I played, I was so nervous but Italian audience was gentle, kind and listened to our music earnestly. I had a really great good time and great experiences. I owe it to Mr..Nico Conversano, Donatello D’Attoma, Francesco Angiuli and everyone who came to my concerts. I’ll be back soon!!

JC: What kind of projects are in your next future?

HI: At this point, I’m not thinking about my next feature. All I want to do now is my best!