Time Out talks to Richard Johnson and Takeshi Ohbayashi, regular performers for Jazz at Lincoln Center at the St. Regis Doha
What got you into jazz music?
RJ: I started playing jazz at home without really knowing I was playing jazz! My father is a gospel pianist and organist in the church so it was a pretty natural transition for me to go from gospel music into jazz. Being creative and improvising with feeling was a big part of my musical experience, so when I found out about jazz in high school via my band teacher I thought… ‘I can do that.’
TO: I randomly attended a jazz piano workshop when I was 18 and became really attracted to the rhythm and improvisational part of jazz. I studied for six months by myself but wasn’t sure if I had what was needed to be a jazz-pianist. But right after I saw a performance of an American jazz band I decided to go and study at Berklee College of Music. The energy of jazz made me forgot where I was and drew me in to the world of music.
What, for you, are the main components of jazz?
RJ: It must be swinging, there must be an improvisational aspect and the blues of some sort must be incorporated too.
TO: It’s definitely about the rhythm. Jazz is formed from many different kinds of cultural backgrounds and it has always been modern yet still has feelings of memories from a long time ago. Part of the reason I love jazz is because jazz connects the past and the future. Also having many sections that can be improvised pushes music and musicians’ boundaries; this allows musicians to come up with their own approach and their own conviction.
What are the five most important things to remember when performing jazz?
RJ: 1) Have fun but be accurate. 2) Make sure you smile as much as possible. Don’t forget you’re on stage because you might do something you regret. 3) Thank the band, audience and sound man. 4) Don’t play too long. 5) Play something people might know or like.
TO: 1) Have no expectations and make no judgments. 2) Awareness of beginning to the end. 3) Have an ability to share a moment with the audience and the other musicians on stage. 4) Always believe in possibilities and taking a chance without fear. 5) Breathe.
What’s your favourite piece of jazz music, and why?
RJ: Whatever song I am playing at that time is my favourite song. I think if I don’t play the song I am playing, then I might not get an opportunity to play it again and I want to play the piano as often as possible. I do love a good old school country bluesy blues though!
TO: Can’t come up with one! I like all the jazz songs, but I know that my ideal last meal of my life would be Japanese deep fried sweet soy-sauce marinated eggplant. Does that count?
What can we expect from one of your performances?
RJ: If you come to see me play, expect a swinging great time! I want you to dance, clap your hands and shout out loud if you hear something you like.
TO: A similar effect you feel when you drink water: refreshment.
What do you enjoy about playing in Qatar?
RJ: One of the main reasons I love Qatar is because it is so accepting of different styles of music. You can basically create and combine several styles and the audience always likes to know what the music is called and how to get more of it.
TO: Sharing music with audiences and staff of the club, many of whom are also away from their home. Sharing music with Qataris who are mostly new to jazz is also really rewarding.
What’s your favourite experience playing here in Qatar?
RJ: A young couple came to see/hear some music I was playing and they stayed through the whole night’s set. By the end of the night the gentleman decided to propose to his girlfriend while still in the club. Afterwards, he told me they were inspired by each other, the music and the atmosphere.
TO: I collaborated with Japanese QPO members and played an arrangement of Japanese songs for a Japanese Night at JALC Doha. What more could you ask for?
Takeshi Ohbayashi and the resident band will be performing until March 14; Richard Johnson will be replacing him from March 16.
About the pianists
Takeshi Ohbayashi A native of Hiroshima, Japan, Takeshi Ohbayashi began playing piano at the age of two. Now he is an award-winning and internationally renowned pianist with degrees from Berklee College of Music and Tokyo College of Music and was selected to be a member of the opening class of the honourable Berklee Global Jazz Institute. His newest album, “Feelin’ Lucky,” was nominated for “Best Jazz Album of the Year” in 2013. A rich, colourful and soulful pianist, Takeshi Ohbayashi brings listeners an exhilarating concert experience time after time.
Born in Pittsburgh, Richard was first introduced to the piano at the age of five by his father, a gospel pianist. After graduating from the Berklee School of Music in just two years, Richard entered the Boston Conservatory, where he earned a Masters degree in Jazz Pedagogy. He then went on to receive a Performance Diploma at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, under the direction of Ron Carter. That same year, Richard was invited to become a member of Wynton Marsalis’ Septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, which he did from 2000-2003.