Chihiro Nagamatsu is a pianist, composer, arranger and producer who weaves together elements of jazz improvisation, classical symphonies and hooky pop melodies. Born and raised in Japan, she’s been living in Toronto for the past seven years.
Nagamatsu has recently released her new album 15 Years of Majestic Notes, a collection of pieces that celebrate the evolution of her compositional talents over the course of her life thus far.
For the New Music Spotlight, she joined us to talk about the regional and stylistic influences that guide her work and to tell us about some of her favourite songs from the new record.
You moved from Japan to Toronto in 2013 and decided to pursue a full-time career in music. What was it about the Toronto music scene that inspired you?
First of all, the variety of people here. They were so nice and encouraging to me. When I went to live music venues in Toronto, they were playing various types of music. Jazz and blues, that’s what I was exposed to in the first few years.
Do you find there’s a difference in the way people compose in Japan versus in Toronto?
I think so. People in Japan are more disciplined — they follow the rules and try not to do something crazy. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not as exciting. Here, the people show their love of music to the audience. I can just feel it.
It sounds like composing music for Toronto players is a little more loose, maybe using a bit more improvisation. What role does improvisation play for you when you’re writing a song?
Improvisation is how I developed my music when I was growing up. When I had an emotion, I was always expressing it with improvisation on the piano. And still now, when I write new songs, I try to improvise the music on the piano, and then I find my favourite notes and favourite sounds, and I combine them all to make a nice song.
This album you’ve just released, it celebrates your long history of composing — including one of the first compositions you ever wrote. How do you think your composing has changed since that very first time?
It has totally changed. I used to write whatever comes out. But now, I know where I’m going.
One of the new songs is called Shooting Stars. Could you tell us a bit about that song?
This was also written while I was improvising at home. They’re smooth notes, “shooting stars”-like notes, as I say. It’s a fun song to play. I hope it’ll please your ears and that it’s fun for you to listen to, too.
Aside from Shooting Stars, do you have any other favourite songs from the album?
Every Single Day is another favourite song. It’s a jazz ballad. I wanted to incorporate the mysterious and gorgeous sounds that I love, and write something I’ll never get tired of playing. That’s why I named it Every Single Day. It’s my favourite song. No matter how many times I play it, I get into it and feel the beautiful emotions.
This interview has been edited and condensed.