Hanging Out With Makoto Ozone
Updated: Jul 4
Years ago when I was a teenager, I had this strange way of "discovering" new music. It wasn't just through reading the latest articles in music magazines or listening to the radio. I would go into the record store (Yes, this was when the world was filled with physical music record stores) and just buy a totally new album, just based on how intrigued I was by the album cover. At that time, I was getting into jazz a little, there I was, standing at the Jazz section of the record store, picking up an audio tape (Yes, I'm old) without knowing anything about the artist. On the cover was the name of the artist, "Makoto Ozone" and the picture of a couple of hands. I bought it and as soon as I listened to the music within, I was transported into a lovely world of jazz harmonies that kept on drawing me in.
For the next year, I would actually try to learn his songs by ear. Little did I realize at the time, that in my quest to be able to produce the amazing harmonies emanating from his virtuosity, I actually developed my aural skills and also my ability to fake being able to play jazz piano reasonably well. I listened to that tape until it got warped, because of all the tiny rewinds of the tape so that I could learn the piano passages he would so deftly and masterfully play.
About 4 years later when I was in college in the US, I found out that Makoto was coming over to my college for a concert along with another Jazz giant, Gary Burton. How could I resist? The day came and I went along with a buddy of mine to watch them play. Of course we were blown away. After the concert, like a bunch of jazz-nerd piano-playing fans, my buddy and I waited in the hall to catch a glimpse of Makoto. As luck would have it, the Head of Music of my college kind of knew me from the fact that I always hung around the music college even though I wasn't a music student. He saw me and he beckoned me to come over to where he was onstage, as people were breaking down the equipment. We walked up to him and it was as if he already knew what we were after, and without batting an eyelid, he walked us over and introduced Makoto to us! While I was picking up my jaw from the stage floor, I tried to enunciate just how much I had been a fan, and what an influence he had had on my music journey. I knew this was something he probably heard from fans regularly, but I still needed to say it. In fact, I even told him that I actually learned a whole song of his just by listening to his tape all those years ago. He asked me which one, and asked me to play it at the piano! Talk about pressure! I did summon enough courage in all my digits to play, just enough for him to remember the song....and he said "Aaah yes!"! Then he took over and played the same song in a way that I never could!
Just after his concert with Gary Burton at my college, circa a long, long time ago!
Just after that, as my buddy an I were thinking of leaving because we didn't want to take up too much of his time, he suddenly asked us, "Hey, wanna go for a beer?" Again, I had to pick my jaw up from the floor, as did my buddy, and I could hear myself saying almost immediately, "Sure, why the hell not?" So yes, we got to hang out with one of my piano heroes, and talk about regular stuff. At that time, he said he practiced playing the piano for about 4 hours per day usually, but more when he was getting ready for specific concerts. That's when I realized that, to be someone who is truly world class, talent alone isn't enough. I mean, this dude was crazy talented, and yet, he saw to it that he worked on his musical chops everyday with so much intensity. To this day, I still can't believe I got to hang out with the actual artist that boggled my musical mind all those years ago.
Makoto is still as active and brilliant as he's ever been, and even during the Covid quarantine, he actually started a YouTube channel called "Borderless Music" and he published a series of concerts from his living room. I stumbled onto this amazing series while on YouTube and got to watch him playing all his originals and also many many covers of jazz standards. Yes, I also got to watch him play the songs I used to listen to again and again just to learn how to play them. The difference is, he still plays them immeasurably better than I do.
Excerpt of one of his songs that I learned by listening to it again and again on tape.
I've learnt how to fake it well!
I messaged him a couple years ago and told him about our hangout all those years ago, but he doesn't remember it. It's understandable though, since he's met so many fans throughout his career. Still, my buddy and I had the time of our lives, getting to meet such a jazz luminary, and on top of that, having a beer with him. That memory is one that I will always drink to.