1. Where are you from and how did you first start playing the koto?
I was born and raised in Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture. My mother was a koto teacher so I started early, but I didn’t get serious about the instrument until I was in my late teens.
2. How did you first enter the Japanese jazz scene?
The first time I truly improvised was probably when I played John Zorn’s game piece “Lacrosse” with Zeena Parkins, Carol Emanuel and my koto teacher, Kazue Sawai, in New York. There were also improvised sections in composer Hiroshi Yoshimura’s pieces for koto that I was playing a bit later. Shakuhachi player Akikazu Nakamura, contrabassist Tetsu Saitō and especially pianist Masahiko Satō encouraged me to improvise. Before long I was performing with many of Japan’s leading improvisers, some of whom might be called jazz musicians. When I began playing my own music with my own bands, I chose to work with jazz musicians without hesitation because most of them are musically adept, naturally curious, and open to challenges.
3. What is your impression of the current jazz/improv scene in Japan?
The jazz/improv scene here is thriving musically, but not economically.
4. What are your current projects?
Michiyo Yagi Trio (usually with bassist/cellist Takashi Sugawa and drummers Nori Tanaka or Tamaya Honda), the duo Dōjō with Tamaya Honda, solo performances, the Michiyo Yagi Double Trio (with Takashi, Nori, Tamaya and Todd Nicholson) very occasionally, and the trio with Peter Brötzmann and Tamaya.
5. Favorite 3 albums
Cibo Matto / Stereo Type A
Egberto Gismonti / Meeting Point
Medeski Martin and Wood / Let’s Go Everywhere
Michiyo Yagi will be performing this Saturday June 20th at Lady Jane in Shimo-Kitazawa.