Yoko talks about playing solo piano

Yoko talks about playing solo piano

Photo by Caroline Alden

Photo by Caroline Alden

Playing solo jazz piano is completely different from playing with a trio. It’s much more of a challenge. If I stop playing, there’s no sound … only silence. The solo pianists I admire purposely use the silence as a voice. I strive to do the same but sometimes I feel naked on the stage.

You could just play the same as you do just minus the rhythm section, but that’s not really solo piano. There’s a lot of responsibility. I have to play the melody, chords, and bass line all while creating the rhythm and driving the beat — all by myself. I can’t rely on the bass or drums to have my back.

I’ve listened a lot to pianists like Lennie Tristano and Dave McKenna. I studied how they played bass lines and how they played both chords and melody at the same time with only the right hand. I remember Bill Evans on Marian McPartland’s radio show saying his favorite style was solo piano because it was where he could be the most creative.

You’re almost forced to be more creative, but in some ways it happens easier because you’re the one in control. You don’t have to worry about giving a cue to the rhythm section, or worry if the bass player can play the key change, or if the drummer will play the change in tempo. It’s liberating to be able to do anything you want at any time without having to answer to anyone.

I play several solo piano gigs each month and people always ask me if I’ve recorded a solo piano CD yet. Not yet, but it may be in my future!

11 Responses

  1. John T. says:

    You should record a solo piano CD tribute to Bill Evans like an “Autumn in New York” type of album only call it “Autumn in New England.”

    Having seen you play solo piano and with the trio, I have to say that I love the trio, you guys are great together!

  2. Yoko Miwa says:

    “Autumn in New England” …I like it! I know what you mean John, I love the trio too 🙂

  3. Scott says:

    I realize it can be exciting to play with a trio and feed off the interaction, but hearing you solo is so fascinating. You seem to play much more in the lower register and so use the whole piano to good effect. And it seems like a fuller expression of your conception. I have heard the Bill Evans show with Marian McP, too. Each time I listen to it, I get a better understanding of what he was aiming for. He was such a master at shifting accents and momentum–“swimming against the tide”–I think, as MM put it, as well as his harmonies. I’ll be at the front of the line when you put a solo recording together.

  4. Yoko Miwa says:

    Thank you for the kind words Scott! It’s interesting you feel my solo playing is a fuller expression of my conception, I actually put a lot of time and work into the conception of my piano trio playing but solo piano…not at all, I don’t work on it – I just play! I’m glad you picked up on the use of the whole range of the piano since that is what I’m going for, I try to think of using all the possible sounds on the piano like different instruments in an orchestra. Full use of the 88 keys keeps it much more interesting than staying primarily in the middle of the keyboard which a lot of pianists tend to do. I’ll be sure to let you know if/when there’s a solo CD.

  5. John T. says:

    I’m interested in the show you have with Grace Kelly coming up. Have you two played together before, and any chance that you could record a CD ( or album, as those of us old enough to remember call it) either of the show, or together in the studio?

  6. Yoko Miwa says:

    We are not playing together, my trio is opening up for her group. We have played together before though. She is currently going in more of a pop music direction now.

  7. John T. says:

    The Boston Globe listed you as playing together in Thursday’s paper which is why I thought that. Thanks for the clarification. They billed you as “together.”

  8. Yoko Miwa says:

    thanks for letting me know, I had no idea.

  9. […] In the last edition of the blog, Yoko talked about playing solo piano. In this edition, she talks about playing with her […]

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