Dan Bilawsky (All About Jazz) called her “the queen of chamber jazz,” a Tokyo native, violinist/composer Meg Okura made a difficult switch to jazz after graduating from Juilliard as a classical violinist. Having worked with Michael Brecker, Lee Konitz, Tom Harrell, Steve Swallow, Dianne Reeves, and Sam Newsome, she founded her Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble in 2006. This mixed ensemble of 5-8 musicians has appeared in over seventy concerts including NYC Winter JazzFest, the KL International Jazz Festival (Malaysia), Lincoln Center, Levitt Pavilion in California, sold-out concerts in Japan. Hailed by the New York Times as “vibrant” and “sophisticated,” the ensemble “successfully blends the musical cultures of East and West for a new and exciting direction in modern jazz expression” (Inside New York Magazine). The group has released three albums to date, the award winning self-titled debut album Meg Okura’s Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble (2006), Naima (2010), and Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto (2013).
My vision for the PACJE is to weave together the languages of modern jazz, classical and indigenous music of Asia by incorporating Japanese and Chinese scales, traditional melodies and idioms played on traditional instruments such as erhu, shinobue, or taiko, performed by the great Satoshi Takeishi. Our tribute album “Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto” features Helen Sung, one of the greatest jazz musicians of Asian descent.
The new album Ima, Ima is a collection of original works reflecting my personal journey of conversion to Judaism from an Evangelical Christian, born and raised in Japan. The music will explore the usage of “ma”, a Japanese word for space (silence), and Middle Eastern and Japanese modes including the Iwato and Miyakobushi scales. Instrumentation: violin, flutes, bassoon, piano, bass, drums, percussion, shinobue, and erhu.
The title “Ima, Ima” is a play on words. In Hebrew, Ima means “mom” and in Japanese, it means “now”. Being a recent convert and a first-time mother, “Ima, Ima” portrays my present life’s state. I now have a strong desire to pass on values of Jewish and Japanese cultural traditions to my child. This is also known as “l’dor vador,” a Hebrew prayer, which means “from generation to generation.” Although I had been touring with Jewish bands for over ten years, it wasn’t until I became a mother, that I felt compelled to go through this complicated conversion process.
This grant will fund recording of the works I have written during my pregnancy, “Himalayan Odyssey” and “Birth of Shakyamuni”, commissioned in 2010 by Ruben Museum. I would like to start recording those two pieces representing my Asian side, while I continue to work on the new work “Ima, Ima”, a multi-movement suite to complete the rest of the album.
This album will impact my audiences as I publicly “come out” as a Jew and share my true story for the first time. Music is the language I speak fluently, and the best way I know to address this sensitive topic. I hope to raise questions about race, culture and religion, while creating music that gives me great artistic satisfactions.