Yoko talks about some of the standout places she’s played
When I think back over the places I’ve played, I feel very fortunate to have performed in so many amazing venues. Of course I’m still buzzing from our Blue Note debut earlier this year.
Once a concert promoter in Japan who really believed in me flew me to Japan to play a solo piano concert in a Buddhist temple. It was such a beautiful setting. It was a historical temple and you weren’t allowed to bring anything inside. The audience had to sit on the floor. I remember I played a solo jazz piano arrangement of the traditional Japanese song “Sakura.” The power went out but I kept playing in the dark. It was such a special spiritual connection between the audience and myself, something that can’t happen in a club, concert hall or festival.
My highlight to this day as a performing jazz musician was in September 2011. I had the great honor of performing in New York City at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Generations in Jazz Festival”. It was also a special live recording of Marian McPartland’s NPR radio show Piano Jazz.
I arrived in the afternoon at Dizzy’s with my trio. We were the first ones there. The only people besides us were Todd Barkan (the curator at Dizzy’s and legendary Keystone Corner in San Francisco) and Marian’s producer. Todd told us to go ahead and play. It felt a little like an audition. We played a blues. Todd looked over and smiled but kept up his conversation with Marian’s producer. It seemed like it was fine to keep going, since we were still the only people there. So we played my original song “Mr. B. G.,” which is a tribute to Benny Green. This time Todd clapped but still continued with his conversation. I wondered if we would still be playing in the festival that night.
We decided to keep going and played “I’m in the Mood for Love.” I play it kind of up-tempo with a key change and a Bill Evans flair. The Italian pianist Dado Moroni was now also sitting in the audience. I was feeling warmed up and more relaxed so I started going for it a little more. I looked over and saw Todd Barkan standing behind me with Carlos Henriquez, the bassist for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Okay, they were definitely listening now. As soon as we ended the song, Todd ran up to me and said, “You’re going to play both sets tonight and you’re going to play that song!” The rest of the night just seems like a dream when I try to remember it.
Marian McPartland performed. So did Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Baron, Larry Willis and Bill Charlap, to name just a few. It was a festival full of legendary pianists … and me! It was so much fun just hanging out in the green room with those legendary musicians, but as soon as the music started everyone listened intently to whoever was out on stage. Were they going to listen to me like that? The room was completely sold out and we got an incredible response from the audience. It felt great playing to an audience like that in New York City, but nothing could have prepared me for the feeling I got when I walked back through the door into the green room and saw Mulgrew, Kenny and Larry. The whole room, filled with so much piano talent, was giving me a standing ovation! Bill Charlap shouted out, “You played your ass off!”