Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Interview With Miho Hazama, Jazz Composer

Miho Hazama is a New York-based jazz composer, originally from Tokyo, Japan.  She began playing piano and electronic organ at age 5 and started studying classical composition at age 13. In 2009, Ms. Hazama graduated from Kunitachi College of Music with a bachelor's degree in Classical Composition. With private instruction in jazz composition from Jim McNeely and piano from Phil Markowitz, Ms. Hazama completed her master's degree at the Manhattan School of Music in Jazz Composition in 2012.  A winner of the 2011 ASCAP Foundation Young Jazz Composer Award, Ms. Hazama participated in the Metropole Orkest Arranger’s Workshop in the Netherlands where her arrangements were conducted by Vince Mendoza and performed by the Metropole Orkest.

Since 2007, Ms. Hazama has worked with Yosuke Yamashita, Vince Mendoza, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Shiro Sagisu as well as TV-Asahi "Untitled Concert," the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, New Japan Philharmonic, Siena Wind Orchestra, Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, Yamaha Symphonic Band and the Metropole Orkest. Her arrangements have been performed not only in the US but also in Japan, Poland, England, France and the Netherlands.  Miho Hazama was selected one of three winners of the 24th annual Idemitsu Music Awards. This award is given to promising young talents mainly in the field of classical music.

Miho is the third composer presented in this blogging series featuring current participants within the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop.

Do you write music daily? What is your routine? Do you write in the morning, afternoon or at night? When are your most productive hours of composing? Can you write in small units of time or do you need to set aside larger blocks of multiple hours? How many hours per week do you devote to composing and arranging music?

I think I write music mostly daily. It’s impossible to make a routine when I compose because composing depends on my inspiration, but my most productive time usually starts after 3pm. I am a night owl and I never deal with my music-brain in the morning…

I can work on arrangements in a large block of time, but I’d say I take a lot of short breaks when I compose so that I can refresh my eyes and ears to re-judge forms and elements of the composition.

Since I don’t have a routine, I don’t know how many hours I devote for writing…But definitely a lot!

Describe your compositional process. From where do your initial ideas come?  What happens next? What’s “step two?” (and three...)


I usually start getting small ideas in my mind first, then play piano to expand the ideas. I might also record them on my phone. Also, I sometimes set more logical concepts before I start composing. Once I organize these ideas/concepts, then I can see which ones might be applicable for certain pieces I’m working on. After that, I mostly stay in front of Sibelius and MIDI keyboard.

Do you compose at the piano or away from it?

I really need an acoustic piano before I start writing on Sibelius—otherwise I can’t really do anything.

Do you use MIDI playback on Finale/Sibelius? How else do you utilize technology in the act of composing?

I do use MIDI playback a lot, it’s especially helpful to consider form of the music.

What do you wish Finale/Sibelius would improve about their music notation programs?

I am happy with Sibelius 6! I wish the chord symbol function would get a little bit better though.

Is transcription/analysis and score study something you do regularly? If so, can you site examples? Do you find nuggets of ideas this way?

I used to study classical music scores a lot because of electric-organ competitions that I had participated since I was 8 (to 18). And I think that is the most part of my knowledge as an orchestrator. My favorite pieces are Respighi’s Pines of Rome, Bernstein’s Symphony No.1 and Ravel’s The Gracioso's Aubade.

I love transcribing and I think that’s how I got most of my jazz language as well! I used to transcribe a lot of Michael Brecker and Herbie Hancock stuff, but I don’t really do that anymore since it sometimes affects my compositions. I check out scores only when I have orchestration questions now days. I’d say I don’t get ideas by studying scores but listening to music.

How important is musical innovation to you?

It doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve been trying to find my identity as a composer, and in a way, I might be innovative. But that’s not my focus as a composer…I just want to create that I like, and I am hoping that people would like my compositions as well!

What concepts have you explored in your recent work?

Rhythm modulation, Twelve-tones and circle of chord progression, etc.

On average, how long does it take you to write a piece?

If I have to include a sketch term, it would be much longer and it really depends on a composition. But after the sketch, I usually write a composition in 15-20 hours in total.

Typically, how many big band charts do you write per year? How does this compare with music you write for other instrumentations?

Actually this is my first year to work on many pieces for big band! Writing for horn ensemble is a mystery to me and this is why I applied for BMI jazz composers workshop.

Let’s say last year I wrote 2 pieces for my band (13-piece chamber orchestra), and 5 commissioned compositions for various instrumentations, 7 arrangements for wind symphony orchestras, over 30 arrangements for symphony orchestras and a few arrangements for other instrumentations.

Do you still practice and perform on an instrument professionally? How do you balance writing and playing?

It’s shame but I don’t practice piano daily anymore. I found a difficulty to practice repetitive stuff especially when I’m in a composition process, although I love playing piano so I would love to go back playing at some point.

When you think about it, writing big band music makes no sense. It takes hours to write and prepare the music. It’s exorbitantly expensive to assemble a band for performances, let alone recording. The audience for it is miniscule. Very few performance venues have the space or money for a big band. Big band CDs sell poorly. So…. Why are you interested in writing big band music? Why do you do it?

(My band is not a big band but a 13-piece band, which is very similar. So I consider this question as a large ensemble leader.)

………Because this is how I can show my music aesthetic as an artist!!

I don’t regard my compositions as a business. (Of course it would be great if it could be a business as well in the future though!)



Do you have a job outside of being a composer? How do you support your composing and band leading “habit”?

Yes, I arrange/orchestrate/copy music. I am very happy as long as I work for any music-writing!

Define success from your vantage point.

Keep composing something cool and interesting.

What are your career goals?

I have a couple of things that I would love to achieve as a composer/arranger, although I’d prefer not declare them. As I said, I’m happy as long as I’m involved in any music-writing!

Why did you enroll in the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop?

Since I’m from classical music background, writing for big band (or any horn ensemble) is very challenging to me. I wanted to study with two of my favorite composers, and wanted to have orchestration experiments in the reading sessions.

Do you have a degree in composition? What training have you had in composition? What have you done to supplement your training?

I have a Bachelor’s degree in classical composition from Kunitachi College of Music (Tokyo), and a Master’s degree in jazz composition from Manhattan School of Music (NYC).

What do you enjoy doing outside of music? What non-musical things/topics capture your interest/imagination?

In my regular life, chatting with friends helps me to get out of being music-aholic since the composition process is quiet and lonely…I try to go out at least once a day to refresh myself.

For my imagination, I love traveling! I’d say my hobby is skiing, shopping and traveling.

Music has the power to….

move people.

I compose music with the goal of....

creating something cool/interesting and hopefully speaking something to people.



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