Satoko Fujii. Photo by Brian Murray.

Jazz pianist Satoko Fujii will soon play with her quartet Kira Kira, as part of an Earshot Jazz presentation. Earshot presents an annual jazz festival, along with year-round jazz performance events.

Fujii’s career in piano has been a multi-decade process of discovery. Initially, classical piano training had limited her creativity. “When I was around 17 years old, I noticed I couldn’t improvise,” Fujii said. “If I didn’t have written music in front of me, I couldn’t play anything.”

This left her feeling dissatisfied. “I was very shocked because I felt like I was a well-trained dog that can do anything if it is told, but cannot do anything without any command,” Fujii said. “I knew jazz music has a lot of improvisation, and that made me interested in jazz.”

But the transition to playing jazz wasn’t easy. “When I started listening to jazz, it sounded too harsh for my classical ears,” she said. “But I was moved with something I didn’t understand that has big energy behind the sound.”

Fujii came to see that this energy was tied to taking risks. “I spent more than 10 years to find out classical music is not my voice, and another 10 years to find out mainstream jazz is not my voice,” she said. “But I love both. They actually inspire me to find my voice inside me.”

These explorations arise from a variety of sources. “I am an auditory person,” Fujii said. “I am inspired with any kind of sound, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, birds singing, dogs, cats, and of course music. They come to me inside and somehow they make my music ferment.”

But her sources are not entirely external. “My grandmother lost her hearing when she was over 80 years old,” Fujii said. “When she lost her hearing, she told me that she started listening to very beautiful music in her ears that she never had heard before.”

This sparked Fujii’s curiosity. “My grandmother couldn’t describe it and she has already passed away, so there is no way to find out what that music was like,” she said. “But I would like to make music like she heard, something never listened to before.”

Fujii seeks to express all these sounds that have developed within her. “I keep playing music because I want to do so,” she said. “But I always need to face myself asking what I want to do.”

The answer lately has been many things. “I had big year in 2018,” she said. “I turned 60 years old, and for this anniversary, I released one CD each month, 12 CDs in a year.”

Concurrently, Fujii has been playing live with her quartet Kira Kira, which includes Kappa Maki on trumpet, Al Martin on piano, and Greg Campbell on drums. “We started doing this quartet in 2016 in Australia, and in 2017 in Japan, and in 2018 Australia and New Zealand,” she said.

This year will be slightly different. “In 2019, we tour North America,” Fujii said, “having four concerts in four cities with four different drummers.”

The Seattle performance on May 7th features a reunion of the previous quartet’s lineup. “This is an exciting project because it is always new and fresh,” Fujii said. “We will make special music with Greg in Seattle!”

Satoko Fujii performs on May 7 for Earshot Jazz at the Royal Room, 5000 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle.

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