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Miki Yamanaka: Stairway to the Stars – Episode 55

About Miki Yamanaka

The sound of big bands brewed a love for jazz that carried Miki Yamanaka from her home in Japan all the way to New York City.

Miki Yamanaka was no stranger to jazz during her formative years — apparently, you can’t even go into a noodle shop in Japan without hearing John Coltrane. Her own parents were avid jazz fans, enrolling Miki in an after-school music program with a jazz band. That musical passion was further cemented during a five-day visit to New York where Miki Yamanaka watched Cedar Walton play at Dizzy’s Club. When the night was over, there was only one thought left in Miki’s mind: I have to live here. The level of jazz that she had only imagined was possible was played everywhere in New York. Miki packed up her bags again, saying she would stay in New York for just a year — now it’s been nine years and she has no intention of leaving anytime soon.

October 2021 saw the release of Miki’s third album as a leader, Stairway to the Stars, recorded in the midst of a pandemic from her own apartment. When it became obvious that her original plan of a live recording would be impossible, she had the recording equipment brought to her home for a DIY studio. It was the first time playing with guests for months and the excitement is palpable. She includes stellar arrangements of tunes like “Cheryl” and “My Melancholy Baby,” and originals, “Wonder” and “Oatmeal” (inspired by her oatmeal-loving husband and sister-in-law).

Listen to the full interview to learn more about Miki Yamanaka’s music and experience as a musician in New York. She opens about moving to New York, becoming fluent in both English and music, the tough love she received at jam sessions and now dishes out as the host, which aspects of Japanese culture she misses and which ones she truly does not — and, of course — the music from her new album Stairway to the Stars.


Learn more about Miki Yamanaka on her website, You can find Stairway to the Stars anywhere you stream music. It’s also available for purchase from Amazon Music.

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