Musician of the Year (2014) Yoko Miwa (piano)

yoko ryles

Yoko started playing piano at four, with a deep bedrock classical foundation. Jazz is her second language, but she swings with deep blue soul. She approaches the keyboard conceptually, with solos structured holographically that unfold with impeccable logic. Her focus is as great as the great jazz musicians, and she will have to be seen as in a league with an artist like Thelonious Monk in the long run. The difference is Monk was a jazz artist first, with an uncanny grasp of the structure of the idiom, whereas Yoko’s grasp is of the sheer logic of the keyboard. Monk was a technician second, playing flat fingered and choppy melodic lines, but glistening with smoky rhythm. Yoko came to jazz late, after seeing a movie with a friend and hearing “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” As Monk’s technique was basic, Yoko’s jazz vocabulary is basic, based on primary theory and built on such things familiar to jazz students as chord blocking, walking bass lines, and octaves. But just like Monk, her whole transcends its parts. She extracts a world of perfection from a within a context of limitations, which is the soul of improvisation. Not as visible as some of the New York musicians, she comes through with greater integrity, putting herself second before the great tradition.