Interview with the Headline Acts of the Niseko Jazz Festival

  • By Clarence

Nestled amidst the majestic mountains of Hokkaido, Japan, the team at Setsu Niseko is gearing up to host a two-day festival of smooth melodies and toe-tapping rhythms – the Niseko Jazz Festival. Curated by the local music legend Shigeru Shiraki a Niseko mainstay who since the early 90’s has been the mastermind behind the popular Kutchan Jazz Festival, the Niseko Jazz Festival promises to be an unforgettable weekend.

We delve deeper into the heart of the festival with exclusive interviews featuring Shigeru Shiraki, along with the festival's much-anticipated headline acts; Jazz pianist Satoru Shionoya and singer-songwriter Junko Yagami.

Shigeru Shiraki

Shigeru Shiraki Quartet

What inspired you to bring the magic of jazz to Setsu Niseko?

From 1990 to 2010, as the executive committee chairman of the KUTCHAN JAZZ FESTIVAL, I created a successful jazz festival that grew year on year, fulfilling my dreams of creating a large and established music event in the beautiful Niseko mountains. Unfortunately, the economic situation deteriorated, and after 20 years the curtain came down on the event. Mr. Simon Cheong, the owner of Setsu Niseko approached me to hold a music event at Setsu Niseko during the green season, and I decided to hold a jazz festival because I thought that my experience would be of further use to the area. The passion that I have in my heart began to burn brightly again. Persistence is power! I hope that the Niseko Jazz Festival will grow for many years to come, and that it will become an event that is loved and recognized by the community.

How will this festival differ from your experience with the Kutchan Jazz Festival?

Since this event is sponsored by Setsu Niseko, admission to the event is restricted with access primarily for hotel guests. However, we do have a limited number of tickets reserved for the public to attend the event as well, which will be released through the website by public ballot. Our vision is to see the event grow to a large venue where anyone can enter. The Kutchan Jazz Festival has been an international exchange with the Monterey Jazz Festival in the United States for 13 years since 1992. (The Monterey Jazz Festival High School Big Band of 20 members performed at the festival while doing homestays, and visited elementary and junior high schools to hold a musical exchange.) Since there are many foreign-owned condominium hotels in Niseko, we hope that children from various countries will participate in the Niseko Jazz Festival and that they will be able to transcend language barriers and engage in international exchange through music.

Mt. Yotei Jazz School

Niseko Jazz Festival showcases a diverse range of musical talents. Curating a festival can be a delicate balance, can you share with us the process for selecting artists for a festival?

When choosing artists, I choose them based on the line-up, musical style and the feeling so the audience, it is important not to be biased.

What excites you the most about this festival, and what can attendees expect from the overall festival experience?

I hope that word will spread about the Niseko Jazz Festival so it becomes widely known. We have a great line up who will perform well-known songs for everyone to enjoy. In addition, I want the performers to enjoy themselves in Niseko, they are very experienced so they will be able to relax and enjoy the experience.

Satoru Shionoya

Satoru Shionoya

At the Niseko Jazz Festival, you will be performing a duo with Junko Yagami on vocals. Could you tell us more about the highlights of this special performance?

As everyone knows, Ms. Junko Yagami is like a musical goddess, so working together is always very special and such a joy. One of the highlights of working together as a duo is the simple formation, you can feel the atmosphere, the sense of presence, and the breathing of the two people as one.

Do you often perform in a duo? If so, what do you pay special attention to when performing in a duo?

Yes, I have played in duos with various vocalists. They tend to play violins, guitars, or other instruments in duo. I always enjoy the free and intense communication between myself and the other person. I don't have anything in particular that I pay attention to, but I always try to be honest with myself about music. Although this is the same for any formation. I can't help but look forward to how much I can play freely with Ms. Yagami this time.

Junko Yagami

Your career has spanned several decades, and you pioneered the genre of "city pop" in your early years. How has your musical style changed in recent years? What have been the influences behind this change?

Since I resumed my music career in 2011, I have been composing and singing my own music without being aware of genres.

I think what influenced that change was the live performances with all kinds of bands from a full orchestra, to a band with a horn section and strings, or piano and guitar only. This time it will be just the piano and me. When I met Mr. Satoru Shionoya, I learned how wonderful it is to sing only with the piano as an accompaniment. His piano is so magical. When I sing to his piano, I start to take breaths more rhythmically and musically.

At the Niseko Jazz Festival, we hope you will enjoy listening to us.

Is this your first time visiting Niseko?

Yes, for the first time. I'm very happy to have the opportunity to perform in Niseko!

Junko Yagami

We are looking forward to your wonderful performance at the festival. If you have some free time, are there any places in the Niseko area you would like to see? Have you seen footage of Niseko's ski resorts on TV or elsewhere? Niseko is a beautiful place not only in winter but also during the green season, so please enjoy your time here.

Thank you! Of course, I had seen it on TV. I want to see the caldera lake and enjoy the hot springs after that.

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