Student Profile: Yuki Ito
For Yuki Ito, it was love at first sight. She'd been playing piano since the age of 4, but when she discovered the upright bass, a new world opened up. "When I was 12 years old, I met the bass," recalls Ito, who was in her junior high school band at the time. "I found it and just chose it. Everybody says it's too big and nobody wants to play it. But it's right for me. It has a beautiful sound."
Not only was Ito drawn to the instrument's beauty but to its utility. "It doesn't play melody but it has to be in the band," she notes.
Around the same time, Ito, a native of Hokkaido, Japan, discovered jazz. Her mother found a jazz big band outside of her school, and Ito joined when she was 13, adding the genre to her repertoire of classical music.
Ito continued to pursue music, going on to attend Senzuko Gakuen College of Music in Japan. But there she had the opportunity to study only performance and longed for the chance to compose her own music. It turns out that one of her teachers at the college was a former Berklee faculty member and told her about the Boston contemporary music college.
Intrigued, Ito transferred to Berklee. While there's no doubt coming here was the right choice, relocating nearly 7,000 miles away from home has had its challenges. "When I came here, I couldn't speak much English," Ito says. "I had never been to a school in the U.S."
But despite the language barrier, Ito has found common ground with other musicians. "There are many cultures here," says the jazz composition major. "Basically, we're all thinking the same about music even though there are different cultures. It's been a good experience for me."
She also sees truth in the universality of music, with a few caveats. "Somebody said that music doesn't have a culture or language difference. I agree 80 percent. But I feel sometimes that to talk about serious things like music, you have to have a really strong language skill. To talk clearly about it and explain it. But to play [music] doesn't have a language."
Here at Berklee, Ito has been making a name for herself and the Yuki Ito Quartet, earning a track on the latest Jazz Revelation Records CD, and playing in gigs around town, including the Berklee summer concert series.
She's also learned that becoming a better jazz musician and composer entails looking beyond jazz. Indeed, jazz composition professor Scott Free exposed her to myriad types of music in Jazz Composition III. "The sources and ideas are everywhere, not only in jazz music, but in classical, rock, pop, and heavy metal."
As a result, Ito has expanded her musical horizons. "When I came here, I was only listening to bigger-style jazz. My ear was so small," she says. "Here, so many people play a lot of styles of music and my ear becomes big."
What's in store for Ito's future? She plans to move to New York after graduation, getting to know a slice of the U.S. outside Boston. "I want to know outside the college," she says. "If I have a chance, I would like to have my own big band." For someone who is used to dreaming big, traveling thousands of miles to pursue a music education, that seems well within reach.
Yuki's Top Five Big Band Composers
- Lars Jansson
- Maria Schneider
- Sammy Nestico
- Jim McNeely
- Thad Jones