“Creating music on the moment was what drew me to jazz.” ~Yuko Mabuchi
Yuko Mabuchi started playing classical piano at age four, in her hometown of Fukui, Japan. As a teenager, she was fascinated by American R&B, hip-hop and blues. After hearing the music of some of the jazz greats, she fell in love with jazz and after high school began her study jazz piano. She was soon performing locally as a soloist, and as a member of a local jazz trio.
In 2010, Mabuchi arrived in Los Angeles to further her studies and had the opportunity to perform at some of LAs top venues. Returning to Japan in 2013, she performed with her trio until returning to the US in 2016, continuing to develop her very unique performance style.
The Yuko Mabuchi Trio has performed at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, opening for Branford Marsalis, Blues Alley in Washington DC as a guest of the National Cherry Blossom Japanese Jazz series, the Richmond Jazz Festival (VA), Detroit Institute of the Arts, SFJazz, the San Jose Winter Fest’ and the Walt Disney Hall (LA), as featured pianist with ICYOLA, to name a few.
Mabuchi has released five CDs, including Waves (Vista Records, 2011) and My Life (Vista Records, 2014). Her project The Yuko Mabuchi Trio (Yarlung Records, 2017) was recorded live at USCs Cammilleri Hall, and topped the audiophile charts. Her fourth project, Tribute To Miles, (Yarlung Records, 2019) was awarded Jazz Album of the Year by Native DSD, has been released on CD and vinyl. As a result of this project, Yuko also received a 2019 Commendation from the City of Los Angeles, recognizing her work as a jazz advocate, including her work with the Watts-Willowbrook Conservatory where she volunteers as accompanist for the Watts-Willowbrook Youth Symphony and Watts-Willowbrook Strings.
Mabuchi’s new album, YUKO, was recorded love at Vibrato Jazz Club in Los Angeles and was recently released on Vista Records.
Interview with Yuko Mabuchi
Jason Emerson: What are your artistic beginnings? How and why did you choose the piano as your instrument?
Yuko Mabuchi: Choosing the piano was easy. My mother was a classical piano teacher. However, my mother had me to take lessons from another teacher and she would monitor my lessons. Japanese youngster are exposed to music and dance very early and so I was singing and dancing and exposed to rhythms very early. I didn’t try creating music until I had been studying jazz, which I began after High School.
Jason Emerson: You fell in love with jazz in high school. What is it that you love about jazz that drew you to it, both as a listener and as a player?
Yuko Mabuchi: My father always played pop and Latin music. He had a large collection many types of music. Even when I was studying classical I was constantly exposed to pop music, Latin dance music and jazz. I found jazz to be exciting, with the swing rhythms and bluesy sounds and improvisation. As a listener I wanted to know how musicians improvise, which is so different from classical. As a player I like how musicians communicate in the ensemble and depend on each other for the final product. Improvisation was exciting. Creating music on the moment was what drew me to jazz.
Jason Emerson: Your foundation is in classical music. Do you feel it is important for piano players to have that classical understanding before they branch out into other styles of music? Why or why not?
Yuko Mabuchi: It is important to learn classical in order to learn proper technique, theory, and reading. I’m not saying you have to study classical to be a great jazz pianist. But for me it was a great help. I learned technique that makes many of the things I try to play, possible to play. All those early recitals and classical competitions I did as a child, prepared me for what I do today.
Jason Emerson: What does life as a musician/artist mean to you?
Yuko Mabuchi: The musician’s life has made me a very responsible person. It’s not just playing music. It’s all the things that go into building a career. Much of this you have to do yourself. It’s not just practicing. Its organizing rehearsals, writing charts, getting gigs, promoting yourself and these things that have nothing to do with playing.
Jason Emerson: You have a flourishing career, and it looks like you’re having a blast doing it. What is your perspective and/or philosophy on your success?
Yuko Mabuchi: The first thing I would say is the preparation to be a musician. The second is preparation of your music. The third, and maybe the most important, is meeting the right people. If you meet people who truly like what you do, and have the expertise to help you in the business, you have a good chance to get started.
Jason Emerson: Your new album, Yuko, on which you perform classic jazz, traditional pieces and originals. It was recorded live at Vibrato Jazz Club in Los Angeles, and features your trio bandmates Del Atkins on bass and Bobby Breton on drums. Please tell us about this album and what you hope listeners will take away from it.
Yuko Mabuchi: The trio has been together for several years and we perform a variety of songs. This CD has many of our favorite arrangements and tunes that audiences seem to get into. We present a mix of genres that hopefully has something for everyone. We hope that the selection of tunes will connect with aficionados as well as “non-jazz” listeners. We titled it YUKO to help people remember my name. Too many people call me Yoko!
Jason Emerson: What is your process when you create original compositions?
Yuko Mabuchi: I usually think of a theme or image I’d like to project through the music. Then I think of the groove or rhythm for the tune. Ideas pop up all the time and I write these ideas immediately so I don’t forget. Then I make chord progressions to go along with the melodies in my head. I usually make a basic track in the iReal Pro Apple program. I can practice using that program and come up with even more ideas. I never write a final chart until the group has played it and worked the kinks out.
Jason Emerson: What is the No. 1 thing on your mind as you take the stage/turn on the social media feed?
Yuko Mabuchi: I try to be prepared for every performance. I work very hard to be as good a performer as I can be. Before my concerts I think that my main focus is to not make many mistakes. If I do make mistakes I hope that I can recover from them and they are not noticeable to the audience. In jazz you can sometimes do that!
Jason Emerson: What is the main motivation in your mind as you practice?
Yuko Mabuchi: There is so much that I would like to play that I am not yet able to play. When I hear all the great musicians I’m inspired to grow. I know I can only do that through practice! I try to practice consistently, but I practice harder and longer when I have serious gigs booked.
Jason Emerson: How would you characterize the importance and art of listening?
Yuko Mabuchi: When you listen to great music you get motivated. I listen to all genres and I am inspired by all genres. However, my mentor discourages me from listening to any one artist too much. He says that you run the risk of imitating what you hear and like and your creativity has to come from within, not from what you hear!
Jason Emerson: What would you say to a young child interested in learning the piano and taking up music in general
Yuko Mabuchi: I would tell any young child to make a promise to continue, no matter what. It’s important for a youngster to understand that learning to play an instrument is not all fun and games. It is work and it is practice. The more you practice the more you will enjoy playing your instrument.
Learn more about Yuko Mabuchi on her website: www.yukomabuchi.com
Video concert performances are available on www.youtube.com/yukomabuchi
YUKO — The new album by The Yuko Mabuchi Trio
The new double CD by The Yuko Mabuchi Trio features 16 songs that are a mix of classic jazz, traditional pieces, and originals. The album was recorded live at the Vibrato Jazz Club in Los Angeles. The project features Mabuchi with bandmates Del Atkins on bass and Bobby Breton on drums.
“Yuko Mabuchi is a wisp of a woman, petite and delicate, until she sits down at the piano. Then, before our very eyes, she transforms into a might giant! Once her slender fingers touched the piano keys, we were all captivated by her enormous energy and spirited performance.”
—Dee Dee McNeil, LA Jazz Scene
Digital downloads for the new double CD entitled “YUKO” are available at yukomabuchi.hearnow.com/yuko and on all online stores.