Sharon Minemoto

interviewed by Josephine Ochej

August 21, 2002

The Sharon Minemoto Quintet releases their debut CD, with a performance Wednesday, August 21, 2002 at the Cellar. Side A is Vancouver pianist Minemoto’s first release as a leader, and it may be the best release on the Cellar Live label yet (of course I think that about every new one that comes out ­ they’re all great listens!). Comprised of all original tunes rooted firmly in the straight-ahead jazz tradition (read: major verve, kick and swing), this disc is a terrific recording documenting a first-class group well on its way. The Sharon Minemoto Quintet includes: Ross Taggart, sax; Brad Turner, trumpet; Darren Radtke, bass, Bernie Arai, drums.

This is your first release as a leader - congratulations! Describe your feelings on the eve of this milestone in your career/life?

Thanks. I am looking forward to playing the CD release party. I just got home from a solo piano gig, which was pretty noisy, so playing for a listening crowd will be great. Naturally, I am pleased to have the CD out, but since we recorded the CD back in March, my thoughts are focused on coming up with some fresh material for the band. I feel quite satisfied that this CD project is now complete, but rather than feeling like the work is all done now, and I can relax, I feel like I'm at the beginning of a new path.

How did the project of recording “Side A” come about?

Thanks to Cory Weeds taking over the Cellar, the band was able to play a number of gigs together, rather than just once a year during the jazz festival. I felt like we were really starting to sound like a unit, and thought it would be a good time to record.

Why did you decide to do a live record for your first release, as opposed to the traditional studio route?

Initially, I was planning to do a studio recording, but just when I was about to start booking some studio time, Cory approached me about doing the album live at the Cellar. I was very flattered that Cory was interested in recording us. I went back and forth on the idea of a live album at first, but I knew if I didn't like what went on to tape, I wasn't obligated to make it into a CD.

What have the benefits been of doing a live record?

Brad Turner, Ross Taggart, Sharon Minemoto, Bernie Arai, Darren Radtke

I like the energy that the band can feel from the audience. It's easier to remove the focus of getting the perfect take, not wasting people's time, etc. and just play the way that you play if the situation is similar to one you've been in before. One could say that the downside to a recording a live album would be having the choice of only two takes for each tune, but often in studio recordings, if the band has already rehearsed, the best takes are the first few.

Describe the contribution to this record by each member of your Quintet?

Let's start with Brad. I can't say enough about this guy. He was the first person to ever encourage me to have my own band, he plays beautifully in the band, he has recorded the quintet's demos from the very beginning, and now, he has become the recording engineer for the CD as well. Ross consistently plays with a lot of heart. It shines through on the CD, and as a writer, it's a great feeling to know that someone is putting everything they have into your composition. Darren and Bernie always seem to know what I'm looking in terms of groove, even if I don't write down anything specific. It's amazing to say "Let's just try reading the tune and we'll see what happens" and then have them play exactly what I heard in my head, or something that I like even better that I hadn't considered.

You recorded over two nights at The Cellar last Spring. Was it difficult to choose tunes from the two nights you recorded, and whittle it down to the eight that appear on Side A?

Choosing tunes didn't end up being all that difficult. I chose six of the tunes that appear on the CD after two or three listenings. There were a couple of tunes that I didn't want on the CD even before we recorded, but I wanted to play them just as kind of a warm up.

All of the tunes on the record are your originals. Describe your writing style ­ what works for you?

I don't think that I have a particular style. I like the sound of slash chords (a chord over a bass note that is not the root of the chord), but I don't intentionally write them in. Listening to different types of music whether it be jazz, classical or pop seems to help with the writing.

Are you happy with “Side A” or, in hindsight is there anything you wish you’d done additionally or differently?

A live recording is like an audio documentary. I am happy with the CD and it's an honest take of how we played that night. There are great moments on the CD, and there are a couple of things that I wish I executed a bit better, but it's raw and has that live energy to it that I don't know I could've pulled off in the studio. Personally, I'd rather hear intensity with a few rough edges over something that is note-perfect with no emotional attachment to the music.

Who has been the greatest influence on your music and in your life as a musician, and why?

I can't say that there is just one person who has been the greatest influence on me, but two of my earliest favorites were Stan Getz and Ella Fitzgerald. They both had beautiful sound and were so melodic. Some of my most negative musical experiences with people have ironically become very positive influences on my life. I have learned a lot of lessons in life on what not to do when others don't behave well.

What’s next for Sharon Minemoto and/or the Sharon Minemoto Quintet?

I'd like to look into doing a tour with the band in the near future. I'll keep writing and see where we go from there. I'd also like to try putting together a piano trio at some point.

Sharon Minemoto web site

More jazzie . . .

Photos of Sharon Minemoto and band at the Cellar, March 24, 2002, by Brian Nation.