Jazz guitarist Miles Okazaki is used to large crowds in venues that span the globe. However, on April 3, Okazaki downsized, playing for a small audience of junior-high and high-school students and their parents at Inglemoor High’s theater.
Skyview Junior High’s band director, Shawn McGinn, an old friend of the musician, invited Okazaki to perform. Promoted by the junior-high band boosters, Okazaki flew out from his New York City home to spend the day with Skyview students and play with them during their jazz concert later that evening.
“Listening to these young musicians reminds me of being in junior high and playing jazz for the first time,” Okazaki said. “It’s great to see these young people really going for it.”
After jazz combos from both Bothell High and Skyview played, Okazaki took the stage. The theater went silent as he closed his eyes and began to play. Normally restless adolescents watched wide-eyed as Okazaki performed three songs.
Skyview student Zach Moore, a guitar player, as well, was impressed by the professional musician.
“He was a good inspiration,” said the 15-year-old. “This was a pretty cool experience.”
Okazaki has interacted with younger musicians before, but never junior-high-age students.
“They asked really interesting questions,” he said. “Things I would have been curious about at that age.”
Okazaki spent one-on-one time with a few students, teaching improvisation and talking about having a career as a professional musician.
“I think it’s important for students to see it’s possible to play music for a career. They see pop stars, ‘American Idol,’ but they don’t see that thing that’s more common, the working musicians who aren’t glamorous, but just good with their instruments,” he said.
Okazaki started playing the guitar at age 6 and began playing jazz as a teen. As a high-school student in Port Angeles, he won many statewide and regional awards. He befriended band director McGinn and the two led jazz groups together within the high-school band
“He’s a very amazing musician,” McGinn said. “We are very lucky to have him here.”
Okazaki said his rise to success was gradual.
“I just kept playing,” he said. “There was no big break.”
The evening at Inglemoor High wrapped up with Okazaki playing with Skyview’s jazz band onstage. Several hands went up throughout the songs as students volunteered to play solos. The set finished up with “Jungle Boogie,” offering no less than eight soloists including Okazaki, standing up and improvising. Among the soloists were freshmen Nate Davis and Matthew Hill on trumpets, freshman Chris O’Neal on the tenor saxophone and seventh-grader, Riley Bayless, playing the saxophone.
“I like jazz because of the ability to improvise,” said Okazaki. “The whole part of playing music is to be individual about it. There’s freedom from what’s written on a page.”
Erika Cederlind is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.