Yoko on the music she listened to growing up
I always loved music. My mother was already playing music for me when I was in the womb. She would play Bach, Debussy and Tchaikovsky. She played all kinds of music around the house in my early years. She would play Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, sing along with Sammy Davis Jr. — she could sing every word even though she had no idea what she was saying! I remember the first times I heard live music I literally felt this chill down my spine. I didn’t know what it was at the time but it still happens to this day when I hear some music that really speaks to me.
Growing up in Japan, I heard a lot of Japanese popular music (we call it J-POP). It’s like pop music in the US in that it follows a formula but there are even fewer variations. One of my American friends once asked me what some J-POP lyrics were about. I said they were about love. Every J-POP song is about love. Isn’t it the same in America?
Maybe everyone thinks their generation was more valid but I really think the popular music in Japan was better when I grew up than it is now. There surely was more melody. My parents listened to a lot of Enka which is traditional Japanese popular music. Think of it like the country music of Japan.
I don’t think any of the music I’ve mentioned so far had much influence on the music I play now. That came instead from my older sister. She was way ahead of me already, listening to music from America. She not only listened to the popular American music of her generation but also a lot of music from the 60’s and 70’s. I remember she would make cassette tapes for me. She turned me onto The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell … the list goes on.
I’ve actually covered songs I first heard on those tapes. Of course I’ve transformed them into a jazz piano trio setting.
Through my study of classical piano, I listened to a lot of Chopin and Beethoven. I think that had some influence on my playing, but more so in my original compositions. When I began studying with Minoru Ozone he put me on a strict listening diet of Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Oscar Peterson, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and Bill Evans. Shortly after, I discovered Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. That was still just the tip of the iceberg. The music of these masters has been, and continues to be, a source of great inspiration. If I can generate the incredible feeling that any of them emanate when they play music — even if only for a moment — then my purpose in this life has been well served.