Mina Yu: ‘ I want to feel the air between notes’

Mina Yu is a force to be reckoned with. A pianist with a unique voice, she approaches standards (as well as pop/hip-hop) tunes with a genuine curiosity, dismantling them as she goes, only to reassemble them and recreate something new – and beautiful. Yet, despite having already carved an impressive musical path for herself, writing original music and working with great artists both in Australia and the US, she doesn’t seem to come to the spotlight very often. This needs to change.


What are you going to present at the Jazz Lab on Friday?

We will be playing my favourite songs from the last few years. The songs are from a lot of different places. Some of them are influenced by Paris, Brazil, Tokyo and the USA. I tried to recreate the sound of the tunes with my own approach, which turned out to be minimalistic and groove based. This enables the band to feel the blank space more, and I find it quite aesthetic and it creates a good feeling. I hope the audience goes to the same place as me.

In your social media posts you mentioned being influenced by Vince Guaraldi for this gig; what does that mean?

I am influenced by many different things. Oscar Neyland (our bass player) actually described the sound as ‘Vince-Guaraldi-style’ after we finished the rehearsal. I used to be obsessed with Vince Guaraldi. There are also some hip hop grooves in the show, as I play with ZEDSIX, which is a jazz – hip hop band. There is some influence from Nujabes, as I also used to be fond of his music. There is a piece by Sakamoto, as my student loves him. My influences seem to be a collection of songs that I love or the people that surround me are getting into.

This gig is part of the All In Melbourne series of concerts. What is your take on this specific initiative?

I support them as there are not many women jazz musicians, especially instrumentalists. I hope this organisation can promote women musicians and give an opportunity for young musicians to grow and shine.

As a woman in jazz, how has your experience been so far?

There are definitely some challenges. Sometimes people just assume that I am not a “serious” musician by my look. I usually play outrageous stuff and vibe them out.

How would you describe your journey in music?

It’s been wonderful and it’s been quite hard. Most of the gigs have been a highlight. It is really fun to play gigs with awesome humans

Which is your greatest aspiration?

Balance. Peace of mind. I must be getting old.

How did you develop your sound?

I just liked some music. I listened, played the music that I liked a lot. I sounded like these artists a little. There were a lot of music that I liked. All together, it became my sound.

How has your sound evolved since Papa’s Records?

I was in Boston and New York then. People were so into modern jazz around me. Modern jazz with odd meters with unconventional chords changes were new to me and I really got into that kind of playing. This is reflected in the album Papa’s Records. These days, I want to play less and feel the air more between notes and almost let the music play itself. This is reflected in my compositions. When I play a piano solo, I still play with a lot of modern jazz technique because you know, there is time that I need to vibe people a little.

How did you get into jazz?

When I was very young, I played as a pianist in a church in Korea and began to improvise on chords. After that, my mom started to learn jazz and I learnt with my mom.

What does jazz mean to you?

Jazz means life. I do it everyday.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

There have been lots of support, including you for this trio gig. I am truly grateful and happy for the support and am feeling the love. So I will go with ‘Don’t worry Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin.

Mina Yu performs with her trio at the Jazz Lab on Friday 28 June, presented by All In Melbourne