Since her arrival in the United States in 1996, Japanese improviser Yoko Miwa has earned a reputation for being one of the more lyrical, melodic and accessible pianists in the acoustic post-bop realm. Miwa (who is also a talented composer) has impressive chops, but she does not beat listeners over the head with them or go out of her way to dazzle people with her technique. Nor is she someone who plays a lot of notes for the sake of playing a lot of notes; Miwa's approach is more economical, and she tends to choose her notes carefully and wisely. In that sense, Miwa has something in common with Miles Davis -- a distinctive but ever-evolving trumpeter who was known for his use of economy during solos whether he was playing fusion, cool jazz, post-bop, bebop or crossover jazz-pop. But stylistically, Miwa isn't as far-reaching as Davis. Her forte is straight-ahead post-bop, and the pianists who have done the most to influence her lyrical improvisations include Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Ahmad Jamal and Herbie Hancock (specifically, Hancock's early, acoustic-oriented post-bop recordings for Blue Note in the '60s -- not the electric fusion and jazz-funk he recorded with his Headhunters band in the '70s).
Miwa was born on May 22, 1970 in Kobe, Japan, where she began studying classical piano at the age of four. Miwa also studied voice when she was growing up in Japan, although she is primarily an instrumentalist. After graduating from high school, Miwa attended the Osaka College of Music in Osaka, Japan in the late '80s -- and that was where she studied with jazz organist/pianist Minoru Ozone, who is the father of the well-known pianist Makoto Ozone. Miwa was still playing classical piano at that point, but she became more and more jazz-minded in the early '90s -- and when she entered Japan's Koyo Conservatory of Music in 1995, Miwa decided to become a full-time jazz musician and gave up on the idea of playing classical music professionally. The following year, a 25-year-old Miwa was awarded a scholarship to Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music, where she studied jazz theory and performance. After graduating from Berklee in 1999, she joined the college's faculty. In the early 2000s, Miwa began accompanying singer Kevin Mahogany (who she met at Berklee), and it was also around that time that she became the pianist in the Ryles Jazz Orchestra (which featured her extensively on the Live at Ryles CD). Miwa's first album as a leader, In the Mist of Time, was released in Japan on the Tokuma label in 2001; her second album, Fadeless Flower, was recorded in Boston the following year and came out in Japan on Polystar Records in 2003. ~ Alex Henderson