News Column

Makoto Ozone opens final season for Marblehead Summer Jazz

July 17, 2014

By Will Broaddus, The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.

July 17--A lot can change in 30 years.

Just ask pianist Makoto Ozone, who played in the first Marblehead Summer Jazz series in 1985 and will open the final one tomorrow night.

He will be followed in the series by Karrin Allyson on Friday, July 25; Greg Hopkins Nonet on Saturday, Aug. 9; and Rebecca Parris and Friends on Saturday, Aug. 23.

Since Ozone's original performance in Marblehead, his repertoire has grown beyond jazz to include classical music.

"This was not in my life plan, to play with an orchestra," he said.

Ozone's detour into classical was the result of a misunderstanding 10 years ago, when he accepted an offer from a symphony orchestra in Sapporo, Japan.

"I knew the conductor, and I knew he wanted to do 'Rhapsody in Blue,'" Ozone said. "I didn't ask about the program. Four or five months later, I called up, only to discover they wanted me to play Mozart, not Gershwin."

The conductor told him to pick something out, so he spent 10 days listening to all 27 Mozart concertos before choosing No. 9.

"This conductor loved it. He said, 'Your interpretation of Mozart is so new,'" Ozone said. "I said, 'I bet it is; I never played it before.'"

Since that concert, Ozone has expanded his classical repertoire to include works by Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

"It started pretty slow; now I am playing almost one-third classical," he said. "I don't know what's happening."

The first major transition in Ozone's music took place when he was 12, when he switched from playing a Hammond organ to piano, after seeing Oscar Peterson perform in Japan.

"It was like I got hit by a bolt of lightning," he said. "He became my idol."

That hero worship reached its peak with Ozone's 1998 album "For Oscar," which included a contribution from Peterson.

"When I made the album, I got to meet Oscar," Ozone said. "He named one of the tracks -- 'Test of Time' -- he named that tune for me."

But the album also helped him put Peterson's influence in perspective.

"You have to grow out of just taking after your hero," Ozone said. "The album was putting a period on that era, so I could move on and become more Makoto Ozone."

Since he graduated from Berklee College of Music in the early 1980s, that process has included playing and recording with vibraphonist Gary Burton. Ozone has also made recordings with Ellis and Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea and Paquito D'Rivera, as well as forming his own trio and No Name Horses, a big band he founded in Japan.

"It's hard to decide what your style is, because you really don't know," he said. "One of the hardest things is to describe yourself. But a lot of people around me, including fans and my wife, seem to recognize the sound I have. "

Friday night, Ozone's sound will emanate from a new concert grand Yamaha piano, which is being shipped to Marblehead just for this show.

"I just want the audience to hear the best sound," he said. "This is the first time I'm going to use it. I prefer new pianos. They do wear out -- not like a violin -- the action wears out, and there's less control you have. I'm very excited."

While classical music requires Ozone to learn and practice every note, playing jazz makes a different kind of demand.

"I try to be so true to myself when I play," he said. "I try not to prepare too much when I'm improvising. It's more Makoto Ozone there than 30 years ago."

Ozone looks forward to playing solo in Marblehead, which lets him range through his whole catalog and respond to the moment.

"I don't play standards as much as I used to when I was a student," he said. "I've been composing my own music, new songs -- I just released another album with Gary Burton. I may even play some classical music.

"I'll get up and see how I feel, and if someone calls for a song, I may play it. I have freedom, and I can create the concert together along with the audience. That's the luxury of playing solo with an audience."

Playing in an intimate setting like the Unitarian Universalist Church helps Ozone to be at his best.

"I always have so much fun playing in that place, because of the connection I get with the audience in that room," he said. "When Gene said this is the 30-year anniversary, I said, 'Oh, I can't miss that one.'"


What: Makoto Ozone at Marblehead Summer Jazz

When: Friday, July 18, 8 p.m.

Where: Unitarian Universalist Church, 28 Mugford St., Marblehead

Tickets & info: Tickets $28 in advance, $33 at the door. Preferred seating is $38 in advance, $43 at the door. Tickets are available at The Arnould Gallery, 111 Washington St., Marblehead, and Spirit of '76 Bookstore, 107 Pleasant St., Marblehead, or at


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Source: Salem News (MA)

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