Jazz Musician Keigo Hirakawa
In this special Summer Break episode of Inspired By, host Rodney Veal speaks with Keigo Hirakawa, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Dayton, about how he blends his life in education with his passion for jazz music.
[00:00:29] Rodney Veal: We’re very excited today to have a conversation with Keigo Hirakawa, a Jazz musician, artist, extraordinary musician extraordinaire, but he has so many different facets to him and it’s just a fascinating story. So I just felt like we got to have him on our podcast. So here you go. Welcome to Rodney Veal’s Inspired By.
[00:00:53] Keigo Hirakawa: Thank you so much. I’m excited to talk to you.
[00:00:56] Rodney Veal: Oh, this is going to be super cool. Now, a full caveat to the audience. I mean, we’ve known [00:01:00] each other for a while. We’ve interacted, intersected and connected and for years. And so-
[00:01:05] Keigo Hirakawa: Unavoidable. Yeah.
[00:01:08] Rodney Veal: Well, I mean, it’s unavoidable when you’re making great music and, and you’re connected to folks with, even in your own family, we’ll get to that too.
[00:01:17] But but it’s, it’s one of those interesting things. It’s like to explain to people what I love about you. is the fact that you are a full time professor at UD? Mm hmm. Okay, you’ve got to tell people what you do at UD, because that just kind of set this up.
[00:01:32] Keigo Hirakawa: Okay, so I’m, I’m a professor at the University of Dayton and I, I’m in the electrical and computer engineering department.
[00:01:40] So, and I’m technically the undergraduate program coordinator here too.
[00:01:44] Rodney Veal: So he does this people so that we understand this and Kago does this but then he has this like this alter ego he’s like this jazz like superhero who’s like I’ve been listening to your music and I’m like oh man how are you [00:02:00] so this whole notion of like The fact that you’re working in computer intellectual electrical engineering and you’re advising But then you also have a family and plus you’re doing this incredible jazz music.
[00:02:11] So How did you get to this place where you’re combining these two things as a as a life?
[00:02:18] Keigo Hirakawa: Yeah It’s it’s you know, it doesn’t make sense and it it doesn’t even make sense to me at times But somehow, you know, i’m here doing what I do. And I think The music has always been a big part of me. And it’s, it’s actually the first thing I I wanted to do, you know, like I decided when I was in kindergarten that I wanted to be a musician.
[00:02:38] I wanted to be a conductor. But then somehow it kind of morphed into, well, I like science and, you know, maybe I’ll do some, some scientist or technical stuff at some point. And, so, so when I went to college, I majored in electrical and computer engineering. And the reason was that, you know by that time I’ve started liking jazz.
[00:02:58] But I was a late [00:03:00] bloomer as far as, you know, what a typical jazz musician goes through, like. People have been doing this for years before you’ve arrived at college and so on and so forth. So, you know, even though I really started liking this stuff I was, I knew that I wasn’t good enough to be like, you know, pursuing this as a full time career, so I thought, okay, you know, I’m going to do this and do engineering, but I’m going to keep working at it because I really am passionate about music.
[00:03:23] And I met some really wonderful people that helped me out along the way. And, you know, sooner or later. Was spending more time playing music than doing studying. So but, but you know, that, yeah, there, there’s a lot of catching up to do. And I was passionate about it and it was fortunate that, you know, I wasn’t at a university that was close enough to New York city that I could go see the shows.
[00:03:43] I could go hang out or take lessons with, you know, some of the musicians that I really grew up listening to. And so it was very fortunate in that circumstance, but it also meant that, you know, I, I wasn’t really choosing one passion over another. I really liked engineering, but I also very [00:04:00] much liked music.
[00:04:01] But being the late bloomer by end of college, like I’m not still not there. You know, like I know what I want to become as a musician. It still wasn’t, you know, like I still haven’t caught up enough to be, you know good enough to play with the people I want to play with and whatnot. So I thought, oh, you know, I guess I should.
[00:04:20] This is my calling. This is, this means that I should keep going on in engineering and not music. So I ended up in and you know, pursuing engineering you know trying to get a doctorate degree. So I started my master’s program and I started my PhD after that. But during that time I kept practicing, I kept working as a musician you know, like working as much as I could.
[00:04:42] And eventually, you know, I, it got to a point where. I just couldn’t let go. So I… Ended up not finishing my PhD. I left. And so, well, I, I left in a, in a sort of a, a manner that that left the door open. So I told my PhD and my , [00:05:00]
[00:05:00] Rodney Veal: you left room, you left room for the door, right?
[00:05:01] Keigo Hirakawa: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:05:02] If, if any of my students are listening, they should probably, should, you know, cover their ears. But I, I, I told my PhD
[00:05:11] Yeah, I mean, so I, I, I, I guess it was very unconventional, but I told my PhD advisor that I needed to leave to pursue this, you know, music degree. I got into New England Conservatory’s master’s program because I couldn’t help but start applying to these places. So. I told my advisor, I’m going to come back in two years, don’t worry.
[00:05:29] And he was like, you know, he was understanding or trying to be understanding. And then, so I left. But as I was leaving, so literally, you know, within a week of me leaving this university, I had this, you know, amazing productivity in the engineering stuff that I was doing. So I ended up, you know, like getting a lot of really good results, the things that I was really trying to do as an engineer as a sort of a doctorate candidate.
[00:05:54] And then so, you know, as, you know, literally the day before I left I, I went to talk to my, my, [00:06:00] my PhD advisor and said, Hey, This is this is what I got done and, you know, I think this is a great idea and he’s telling me that, hey, this is, this is really, really good, you know, you should keep going with this.
[00:06:10] And I’m going to say that this is your ticket out of Cornell. So if you wanted to graduate, do what you just showed me and complete that work. So, you know, I told, I told my advisor, you know, goodbye, and I left for Boston but, you know, I kept writing I, I kept pursuing that on the side, and I, I kept doing writing my dissertation based on that work, and so when I was at the music school, which has, you know, which is a two year program during my first year, I finished all my experiments and I, I I wrote all my dissertation material and I flew back and then I defended my PhD Even though I was technically not a, you know, a student that’s in absentia taking a break, but I was supposed to be taking a break, but I still finished it.
[00:06:53] And then during the second year, I started working with a professor at Harvard. So I started doing, I started [00:07:00] collaborating with a professor there while I was still a second year master’s student. So, I never, my intention was to take a break from engineering. I never left engineering, you know, my intention was to do, you know, like put aside music for engineering and I never, I never managed to do that.
[00:07:18] So somehow like it, it’s just, yeah. It just, it just, it just never forced me to choose. Right. I, I, I forced myself not to choose, I guess. You know and so my resume doesn’t make any sense because you would see that, that my, you know, two, two, two of my schoolings overlap in, in, in they do, you know, it’s like going to two schools at the same time.
[00:07:39] Rodney Veal: Oh, that is insane. I remember, cause I remember we talked about that because it was like that, that, that overlap, but I was like, I love the fact that you said unconventional. I mean, yeah. And you said, okay, so hopefully your students will cover their ears. But is it, but, but, but would you say that that unconventional pursuit of both at the same time [00:08:00] enhanced each other in a way?
[00:08:01] Keigo Hirakawa: It, it, you know, it, it’s, it, it’s a matter of, you know, like it’s, I don’t know if it enhances each other because, you know, both, both disciplines. Take a lot of time, you know, like I know, you know, Rodney that you’ve you’ve done, you know You’ve tried to perfect your art and dance and and you know art, you know The visual arts and it takes time like it takes all your brain power to do that And you know what I do in engineering is almost like that too because you know It’s a research with no clear answers and so but you’re supposed to come up with that answer And so you spend your time, you know, while you’re brushing your teeth thinking about it So both of those disciplines aren’t that Type of things where you, you know, you work, you know, eight to five and you put set it aside.
[00:08:46] It doesn’t work like that It’s it’s just you know, something that that you just have to completely be immersed in so to have those two things that are Both take a lot of time, but yet I still want to do [00:09:00] them. That is often created a lot of challenge.
[00:09:05] Rodney Veal: Okay, I mean, I can, I can see, I mean, I can see the challenge, I mean, I can imagine, I mean, because it’s that whole notion of, you’re absolutely right, about, it takes all your brain energy just to dance.
[00:09:16] I don’t think people understand, I’m mentally exhausted. And I’m, and the weird part is, I’m, it’s, it’s really weird for me because I’m, I’ve stepped back into performing. So yesterday I had a rehearsal. It took all my power to drive the car back home. I danced for only 30 minutes and I was like, okay, this is a lot.
[00:09:37] This is a lot. I need to, I need to take a nap. And so I, exactly, exactly. So I mean, but that’s, so that’s, but that’s, I mean, going back, it’s like, you know, let’s see. You were, we, cause you were at Cornell for your master’s degree in engineering, correct? So you were, so you were really were close to New York.
[00:09:56] So I, I’m kind of [00:10:00] curious, cause this goes back to what you started with. You said you wanted to be a conductor when you were a kid. Were you thinking about being a conductor of classical music?
[00:10:05] Keigo Hirakawa: Yes. Yeah. That’s what I wanted to do.
[00:10:07] Rodney Veal: Oh, you were, so you were like all in. I mean, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
[00:10:12] So, so did, I mean, so was that, well, how has that met from a perspective of like your family and friends? Like when you said I’m going to be a conductor,
[00:10:22] Keigo Hirakawa: I think you know you know, obviously every parent has concerns for, for what, you know, their kids you know, pursue in, in their career, but I, I had a very supportive family that, that you know.
[00:10:35] saw what I was interested in, but at the same time, you know, I was both interested in science and, and, and, and music at the same time throughout my childhood too. So even though I gravitated towards music very, very early on, they also saw that, that, you know, this, this science and math and engineering thing was also going to probably take a role in my, my my, my life as well.
[00:10:58] I don’t think they, they knew what [00:11:00] they, what, what I was going to come out to be like. I don’t think I knew, you know I was just doing what I, what I wanted to do rather than thinking, thinking like this is my plan. I, I just have to, had to do it. I, I think, you know, if you ask any artists, right. You know why they would pursue that they, you know, it’s usually not because of, you know it’s, it’s usually, it usually doesn’t make sense in terms of, you know, the, the finances and whatnot.
[00:11:24] Right. You do it because it doesn’t make sense in terms of how much hours you’d put in just to get that, that little bit more improvement, you know, like you can meet, you know, the, the basic minimum requirement in a different way, but you still. But in that, you know, many, many more hours above and beyond that.
[00:11:42] So I think every artist go into it thinking like, I just have to do it. I can’t live without thinking about doing this as part of my life, you know, and making that part of my life. And I say the same thing about people who pursue dual careers. People [00:12:00] don’t have to pursue, you know, dual careers and it’s oftentimes doesn’t make any sense to do that, but you do it because you just can’t help it.
[00:12:08] So that’s where I am, you know, like I can’t help being and trying to do music and I can’t help trying to do this other thing that, that, that I’m really passionate about. So it’s, it’s, you know, like it makes no sense to do music. As a career in terms of finances or whatnot, but I still doing it. And it’s, it makes no sense to do it to two careers at the same time.
[00:12:30] But I, I just have to.
[00:12:31] Rodney Veal: It’s just, I love that. I love it. Cause, cause you know, talking to you, you go, it’s like every artist I’ve talked to on the podcast, they’ve all said the same thing. We feel like I, I, I just have to, there was no, there was no negotiation about it, right? And so I, it’s really interesting to me because I feel like, you know, that, that through line, but each person is so different.
[00:12:57] Each story is so different. I love the fact that your story [00:13:00] is rooted in these two different worlds. And so. But you still maintain a foot in both. I mean, and I know from a professor’s standpoint, because I’m still teaching, that’s a full, that’s a lot. It is, it is, it’s a lot in comparison on top of what you do as an art, as a musician and an artist.
[00:13:19] So, I mean, There are, is, is one eventually going to, I mean, not to, you know, chase it or anything. Do you think one will overtake the other? I mean, just throw it out there.
[00:13:30] Keigo Hirakawa: You know, like I can see myself. Well, let’s put it this way. If, if there was a regret in what I do. There are compromises because of two career choices that you have to make.
[00:13:42] You know, if, if I had my choice in being where I wanted to, you know, a lot of jazz musicians, at least for some period of their time will have considered, you know living in New York and, and giving that a try. It doesn’t necessarily end up that way for everybody, but like, you know, it’s just, it’s, [00:14:00] it’s at least something that, that, that, that question is always posed.
[00:14:03] To people, and then they make a conscious decision as to whether they think that’s a part of their career plan or not. The with it being that that New York is, you know, is 1 1 of, you know, these places that that where you can test your waters and test your footing and see what happens. And you get, you know, because there’s a large concentration of people that are trying to do the same thing.
[00:14:23] You meet, you know, a lot of interesting people. Maybe you meet the sort of the. Bandmates that you want to play with, even if it’s for a temporary period of time that you shared in one place together. And I really wanted to do it. But, you know, just because I wanted to do it doesn’t mean that I could because if I wanted to be a professor, you know, like you got to, you know, for every job application that’s out there, there’s, you know, like over a hundred people that, that, that apply, right?
[00:14:45] So I, you know, like, it’s not like I can just. Simply walk into the university and say, would you consider me? It doesn’t work that way. So there are compromises I made in one side of the career to make room for the other, [00:15:00] right? But in saying that, you know, like I’ve enjoyed being here, but as a musician myself, you know, I have to make sure that my progress isn’t sacrificed because I made certain life choices.
[00:15:15] So whenever I, you know, put bigger milestones like putting an album together or putting big projects together, I have a full intention of presenting myself as somebody who’s trying to uphold my standards to To, to say, if I pursued music a hundred percent, you know I would like to be at this level by this time, or, you know, at some point in my career and I’m trying to meet those, those goals.
[00:15:38] And I’m putting my, you know, like a metric against those milestones that I, whether I can hit those and whether I can be satisfied with that. Right. So whether I, I pursued as a full time or not, like, I don’t want to lower my standards. I guess that’s an easier way to say it. Right.
[00:15:53] Rodney Veal: Yeah. Right. No, no, I, I.
[00:15:55] Well, I totally get that. I mean, it’s, it’s a notion of even, you know, [00:16:00] even though that they’re, you know, like they’re, I knew the pinnacle of like, as a performer, as a dancer, what my pinnacle was, I knew what my personal ceiling was, I felt like I attained it, but it still doesn’t stop me from trying to go, what does that ceiling look like as I’m older?
[00:16:18] Does the ceiling change as you get older and as you’ve had life experience? I mean, I mean, or is it just, or is it fixed? I mean, I guess that would be my question out of curiosity.
[00:16:28] Keigo Hirakawa: I think that’s a question that, that, that, that every artist has to, to, to investigate, right? And explore. I haven’t, I feel like I haven’t found that ceiling yet.
[00:16:39] Or rather that I figured out because there’s just so many different ways to pursue this art.
[00:16:45] I’m trying to always say to myself that I don’t have to be everything that every other artist do, but I have to figure out what my strengths are and how much I can exploit that. And I feel like I haven’t exhausted that yet. [00:17:00] So I don’t know whether you call that a ceiling or not, but I feel like there is part of my music playing that I can still…
[00:17:07] leverage on to, to take me to the next step. So I haven’t exhausted my options yet there. So that keeps me going. Maybe I will hit that ceiling at one point, but I haven’t, I haven’t, I haven’t bumped it yet, but I’m also flying blind.
[00:17:23] Rodney Veal: Right. Because you’d really have a, you didn’t plan for this. And so, I mean, which is, which is what leads me to this question about I mean, you could have, do you think you could have pursued a classical music realm?
[00:17:35] Keigo Hirakawa: No, no,
[00:17:37] Rodney Veal: that’s okay.
[00:17:38] So it really was jazz was, I mean, what, what attracted you to jazz? I mean, there are a lot of people and I’m not saying I love jazz. I mean, I love what you do, but I love, I mean, I’m grooving. I’m like, Oh, you know but there’s some people who have a hard time getting into jazz. And so I’m like, what, what spoke to you about jazz as a, as a, as a vehicle for [00:18:00] creativity?
[00:18:01] Keigo Hirakawa: So, you know, there’s, there’s a terminology that, that people in, in, in the jazz world use, and that’s being, that’s, that’s called being bitten by the bug. And that, that’s the moment that where, where things click for you and be like, Oh, this is, this is something that I want to pursue. And it is, it is really like that where there’s like a switch that turns on.
[00:18:22] For me, that happened during high school. And I was, late high school between junior and senior year. I was playing saxophone at the time. Not, I was, piano was my main instrument, but, you know I was playing saxophone at the time, mostly for fun. And then I guess if you play saxophone, like the natural thing to do is to go, you know, play high school jazz band and you know, whatnot, and they were okay.
[00:18:44] They were fun for me, but they weren’t like grabbing my attention to the point that I wanted to pursue the career. But I, you know, just as for this funness, you know, I ended up eventually at a. a jazz camp one summer and everybody else [00:19:00] is just amazing. And, you know, because they’ve really studied this stuff.
[00:19:04] And I guess I’ve never just been around somebody who, people that have really, you know, been trying to do this for real. And, and when I met these people and they were improvising, you know, very fluidly through tunes that I’ve. Never heard before. But they were obvious things, you know, these are sort of like the things that, that everybody should have known by the time they got to this, these music camps, but I didn’t I was just kind of like you know faking my way through.
[00:19:28] But like, but I saw what, what these people could do and I was just. Like it was just amazing. And and you know, some people were hipping me to to miles davis, at that And you know until then I had heard of him not have you know spent that much time So this is what I mean. Like I was really a late bloomer by you know, by the By the time I came back from this jazz camp you know, between junior and senior year in my, my high school, I was like, this is it, this is what I want to do, you know and from then, you know, every little job that I, I, I did, you know, I, I kept [00:20:00] counting my paychecks based You know, by, by how many CDs I can buy, you know wrong that I mowed, you know, what it was translated to three CDs that I could buy, whatever, you know?
[00:20:08] Rodney Veal: Right. Right. All right. I know that. I know that feeling. So you just like, you just, you like, you just, kind of self taught yourself after you get that initial book. Like you just kind of,
[00:20:18] Keigo Hirakawa: well, It’s just, yeah, it’s just emerged like, like, like, you know, that’s where like the, the, the immersion started. Right.
[00:20:25] And you just can’t get rid of it yet. Can’t get, have enough of it. You
[00:20:30] Rodney Veal: can’t get enough of it. You just shake it. So did you find yourself just going down rabbit holes of, of different jazz artists that just kind of places? Was there one in particular? Other than Miles is that initial like, aha bug, but is there one that just really stands out to you? Like you’re just like, you know what? This is the guy. This is the person. Something about them.
[00:20:50] Keigo Hirakawa: Early on, I never really listened to that many piano players, even after I started getting into it, I was really actually fascinated by, you know, a lot of horn players, so saxophones and, and, [00:21:00] and trumpets for example and so I was listening to a lot of these, these musicians that Some bands would not have any pianists, and that was fine with me.
[00:21:08] Those were some of my favorite kinds of platforms. So the people that I really gravitated towards were like, you know, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Brentford Marsalis was another one that I really obsessed over. You know Michael Brecker, these are all, you know, saxophonists and trumpeters and all these people that, and that’s, that’s what I listened to a lot you know, along the way.
[00:21:35] But you know, I was also helped by the fact that, that I had, you know, amazing, you know, teachers that I consider myself really, really lucky because I got to really study with people that I really don’t deserve to have studied at, at the stage that I was at necessarily, but, you know, they, they, they helped me along the way.
[00:21:52] And that, that, you know, also there, but their expectations are also very high too, out of a kid that’s just barely, you know, holding it together. [00:22:00]
[00:22:01] Rodney Veal: Well, they had to see something. Well, and that’s, is they had to hear something. They had to feel something and they had to feel something. You made them feel something.
[00:22:08] Cause that’s, I mean, I know with that, we never, I never underestimated an instructor who goes. I see something.
[00:22:15] Keigo Hirakawa: I might’ve made up for it by passion. I don’t know. I,
[00:22:18] Rodney Veal: I, I, I, I, I, I faked it till I made it as a bad. I mean, there are things that I was like, I, I, I totally, I could sympathize with that. That’s a very empathetic thing.
[00:22:32] So we’re going to take a quick break, but then we’re going to come back and I’m going to start talking to you about making jazz albums. Cause I have a question about that. So everybody just stay tuned.
[00:23:30] Rodney Veal: All right. So Kiko, this is my question as we come back from the break is you talked about, you mentioned about making albums. And so one of the things I wanted to ask you, because there’s something very, as someone who takes in music. A lot like from all different genres. Is it because I feel like popular music because of studio production, how much of that [00:24:00] is the kind of push to the side in order to keep an authentic sound to make a jazz album?
[00:24:06] Do you know what I’m saying? Like, I mean, there’s a, there’s a special sound on a quality jazz album that you can’t, and if you over enhance it, It’s not going to sound right when it’s performed live. So is that a conscious decision, like to minimize production?
[00:24:21] Keigo Hirakawa: I think, I think you have to go in it understanding what that, that those choices that you have on the tables are, and then you have to make a conscious decision as to where you want to calibrate yourself to, you know, the, the fully acoustic and fully, you know, spontaneous ness on one end, right.
[00:24:38] And then fully orchestrated and pre planned and, you know you know, follow the roadmap and whatnot on the other hand. And I, I think it’s, it’s everybody’s right to choose where you are in that spectrum. But, and people are, but people are very, very aware of it. And obviously, you know, you could go to the very, you know scripted route or, you know, like, you know, like this is an exact, you know, map that you follow [00:25:00] and they sort of the, the, you exploit everything that’s that, you know, all the, the, the new gear and whatnot that, that allows you to, to, to edit everything in and punch everything in, or you can go like, let’s see what happens.
[00:25:11] And there’s many, many different ways of thinking about that. And, and, you know, like you’ll, you’ll see some of the greatest artists, you know, that would, you know say, you know, I, I. There’s this one take that I just want to redo again you know, whatever, you know, you’ll see, you’ll see, you know, that, that, that, there’s nothing wrong with doing that.
[00:25:29] However, it is a very, you know, Magical thing that happens in jazz when, you know people are reacting to each other, right? It’s not even though it’s presented to, to people as if, you know, you have one soloist and another soloist and another soloist, and you take our turns and whatnot, but it. really the best musicians, you know, are always, you know, bringing, bringing their A game at every point in their, their music, where, you know, if somebody else is soloing, you’re trying to make them sound better and you’re just constantly reacting.
[00:25:59] And, [00:26:00] you know, those, those, those reactions might cause the soloist to change, you know you know, to be inspired at the moment and try something different, right? So there is a lot of unknown there and how much, you want to exploit that is, is the sort of the measure of risk that you might choose to take in that studio, right?
[00:26:19] And then as you do that, you know, if, if you, if you choose to, to, to be really, you know, let your spontaneity take over, then it’s, there’s no guarantee that, you know, that take, that, that one take that you take is going to be good enough. You might have to redo it, you know, and that, so there’s always a risk that you might end up, you know, with, with multiple takes that, that.
[00:26:37] More than, you know, you would’ve liked, maybe you run out of money for, you know, before the studio session’s over. Right.
[00:26:42] Rodney Veal: Oh, wow. Yeah. That’s a, that’s a consideration too. I mean, yeah, that is, I’ve never thought about that. I mean,
[00:26:47] Keigo Hirakawa: yeah, your time. Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, you could play it safe, you could play it, you know, but then like, you could also let the magic drive it and see what happens.
[00:26:55] So for me, you know, [00:27:00] And, you know, when I, what I want to do is to be spontaneous. So, you know, I, I take those risks and happily and then say, you know, I want to see what happens, you know, even if I end up with a lot fewer tracks than I had originally hoped to get, you know, I’m happy with, you know, a few tracks that ended up really, you know, saying that, that where everybody, you know, just let it go and said, you know, I want to see what, what, what could, what is possible, right.
[00:27:30] So that’s the route that I choose. But then it doesn’t have to be.
[00:27:34] Rodney Veal: So it’s, it’s, it’s one of the things I was, cause I was always curious about that because it was like, I always felt like I, I mean, I, cause I listen to, you know, quite a bit of pop music because, you know, cause I teach jazz, so therefore I have to kind of listen to it.
[00:27:48] And I, and I was, I’m very sensitive to that production of sound. And so. So when I’m introducing something like a classical work, or like a ballet work, or a classical work, or I’m doing an [00:28:00] interpretation of jazz, there’s just a different organic sound, and I just feel like it’s much, it’s less about the moving the knobs.
[00:28:11] and, and more about what you just described as spontaneity. Yeah. And so is it important for you to, because you’ve worked with the the same group of musicians pretty much. I mean, I’ve noticed like in like you’ve worked with Eddie Brookshire mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. , I mean, I mean, is it, is that important that, that the relationships between jazz musician.
[00:28:34] It’s less of a, it’s more than just, Hey, let’s pick up the instruments and play. That’s important to that spontaneity, right?
[00:28:42] Keigo Hirakawa: It can, it can work both ways. Like if, if, if you work with some of the musicians that for a long time then you know that you can get a certain performance out of that musician, if you led yourself in a certain direction, so for many of my bands, you know or the, I [00:29:00] might write compositions.
[00:29:01] Specifically tailored to those musicians because I, I know that that’s the best that they get, you know, like that’s when they would bring out their best, right? Because they like that sound or because they’re, you know, that, that, that, that’s the strength that those musicians offer. So a lot of times that, that, it, it, it works like that.
[00:29:17] So, you know, you just mentioned Eddie Brookshire, Eddie Brookshire and, and Fenton Sparks, which are the two rhythm sections I started out with in, in, in Dayton, you know, they had this certain sound that, that, that, That, that, that combination really worked. And so like I would write compositions, you know, like with that in mind but then I will work with some of the other musicians and I have, you know, I, some of that comes back as my inspiration and I write compositions where I know that those musicians will sound good.
[00:29:44] You know, but then you, you do that and then you also work with some other, other musicians and bring that music that, that you you, you have composed for another situation and then they will surprise you because, you know, they also have a very different interpretation also, right of that music.
[00:29:58] And that’s when they didn’t music [00:30:00] takes on a second life. So,
[00:30:03] Rodney Veal: okay. So, so I was thinking about that because it’s like in this, this sort of like, cause you talked about composing. I’m like, I’ll see you. So you really, in essence, do you. It’s in making your album and you, you talk to, cause this is not the first album you’ve made because you’ve made
[00:30:24] Keigo Hirakawa: I’ve been on seven but three as a leader or co leader and the, the, the most recent one that I recorded will be coming out in, in June,
[00:30:33] Rodney Veal: we’re coming in June.
[00:30:34] So, wow. You, so it’s like, how, I mean, that’s, that’s. That’s what’s blowing my mind is like, so the, the composition, cause we talked about it because I still have a piece of work for you, by the way.
[00:30:48] It’s hanging on my door. It’s hanging on the door of my dining room. It’s like literally up there. Wait, yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:30:55] Keigo Hirakawa: That, that’s my eighth one. That’s, that’s gonna be my eighth album. Eighth.
[00:30:59] Rodney Veal: Oh. So for [00:31:00] full caveat CACO asked me to, to create a piece of art that would be the inspiration for the album cover.
[00:31:05] So that’s kinda fun. That was new for me
[00:31:08] Keigo Hirakawa: about that collaboration.
[00:31:09] Rodney Veal: Yeah, see and that’s what I love about this conversation because like and having this conversation because about making music because I never really knew how much goes into I know which goes into just producing a dance Which is ephemeral so like you produce a dance and then people see it and then unless you video or tape it It’s never to be seen again But you have a recording that lasts well probably lasts Past all of us.
[00:31:31] Well actually it will last past all of us. Yeah. Right, right. Is that a consideration when you’re making an album? I mean, are you just worried about just making the album? It’s like, I’m just, I got this idea, but you’re not thinking about posterity, you’re not looking for,
[00:31:43] Keigo Hirakawa: yeah, I’m not thinking about posterity, but I am thinking about what how, how I’m presenting myself.
[00:31:49] And, and, you know, like, I think that it’s really a metric that I’m putting for myself rather than for other people to judge me. I mean, you know, like music is such that, that, you know, some people love what you do and [00:32:00] some people would be like, Oh, this is not for me. And I take no offense in that. I mean, I think it’s true of any art, right?
[00:32:05] Because you’re really trying to pursue something and it’s not like you’re trying to just appeal to the masses. Some styles of artistry is that way too, but you wouldn’t go into jazz thinking that way.
[00:32:19] Rodney Veal: Well, you definitely wouldn’t go into ballet thinking that way either.
[00:32:24] Keigo Hirakawa: So with that said, you know, so, so, so, you know, like, so, so I, I want to appeal to people that, for people that appreciate it, you know, I want to appeal to the fact that I, I, you know, I, I, That there is something special there and but the metric that I put on myself, you know, like I kind of mentioned before is like, I want to make sure that, that, that, that, that these big milestones, like a recording or big projects reflect where I should have been, would have been if I pursued music a hundred percent of the time.
[00:32:50] So, you know, that, that’s the metric that I put to make sure that when people hear my work, it doesn’t sound like who does some it doesn’t sound like a pianist that does this on the side. It [00:33:00] has to sound like somebody who is. You know, like, oh yeah, like I, you wouldn’t have known that I, I, I do engineering as, as a for a living.
[00:33:07] That’s important to me.
[00:33:09] Rodney Veal: Oh, that’s, that’s wild. That is so wild. Cause I, I would never have thought, I mean, I would never have thought to process it that way. I mean, you know what I’m saying? Like I would, I’m like, huh, it’s giving me like, and I’m thinking about it. I’m like, well, how would I, I mean, I, because I, you know, you know, cause you and I’ve talked and I mean, I have a political science degree and I, I, to this day, I just go, yeah.
[00:33:31] Why did I pursue that? But then I realized that it’s, you know, it’s because I’m doing. These things in the community that require negotiations and diplomacy and things like that. I’m like, Oh, that did pay off. I see. I mean, but, but do you think that the structure of engineering allows you to, like, be able to just do something like this?
[00:33:54] Like, I, I, I’m very Amorphous, which are very like, [00:34:00] but it’s still, it’s not, I want to say street narrow because your music expands and explodes out. So you’re creative in that regard. I’m like, I’m impressed. I’m like, how does he do that? Like, how does he do that? So, I mean, do you, what do you think you attribute it to other than the drive?
[00:34:21] I mean, there’s gotta be something to it.
[00:34:23] Keigo Hirakawa: Drive. I mean, I, I think, you know, like the. I’m going to answer this in a slightly different angle that, that, you know, engineering, at least certain aspects of engineering can be very, very, very creative. You know, like you still have to follow the rules that that’s given to you because, you know, if you’re designing bridges, you don’t want it to fall or whatever, but like within the constraint of what you’re given, there is so many degrees of freedom.
[00:34:47] And so some people are. You know, create solutions that’s very different than somebody else who are, who’s trying to solve the same problem, but just those approaches to the solutions are very different. And, you know, like [00:35:00] there are times when I look at other people’s, you know, what other people have done and like, Oh, that’s a good idea.
[00:35:04] I didn’t think about that, but that works, you know? So there, there are, there’s a lot of room for creativity there. And there’s a lot of room for creativity, obviously in music or, you know, other, you know, people who make that a profession, but the, the, the engineering side is, is definitely very creative.
[00:35:19] And I, I feel like that that side of engineering and the creative, creative side of engineering, the creative side of music, not the technical side, but the creative side, they inform each other quite a bit. So I, I find myself, you know when I have a very creative spurts in, in engineering. That’s also when I’m like, you know, I have so many, you know, like new ideas in, in, in, in, you know music that, that, that’s flowing through my head and vice versa.
[00:35:45] So, and, and there are times when, when, when, when both sides are, you know, equally, you know you know, neglected and down on the bottom.
[00:35:56] Rodney Veal: Did you, do you have a fight to like, Oh, okay, wait a minute. No, wait, I should, [00:36:00] I should, I should write this down, but no, I should actually do that?
[00:36:06] Keigo Hirakawa: I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s more like, okay, I could, I could, you know, like, I know I have a big, you know meeting in the morning at, at work, but I still have this idea in my head.
[00:36:15] So I’m just going to stay up till 3am, you know, you know, finish this composition or whatever, you know. Transcribed Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, yeah, you just can’t say, you know, one, one is more important than the other. So,
[00:36:27] Rodney Veal: okay. So this is going to freak people out as well. You are a family man too. So on top of this, being a dad to three kids, come on, dude, three in the morning, like, wow, how, and I just.
[00:36:43] Keigo Hirakawa: I have a very understanding family
[00:36:47] Rodney Veal: and also very talented family. I might add, I mean, I mean, like your wife is as accomplished as you are. And your kids are, I see, I fall, I [00:37:00] stuck the family on this.
[00:37:01] Keigo Hirakawa: They’re amazing.
[00:37:03] Rodney Veal: They’re playing instruments and doing all these cool things. Oh my God. That’s the coolest household on the planet.
[00:37:11] How cool is this? So did you ever, was that, was that important for the, for you and your, for you and Wendy to let your kids pursued music as well, because music is a real big part of both of your lives.
[00:37:22] Keigo Hirakawa: Yeah, right. It is. It is. Yeah. So, so, so my wife is a violinist and she teaches violin. And, and she teaches one of my, my younger kids Violin as well, which I think that that’s amazing on its own because usually parents can’t be a teacher music teacher for their kids but You know, it’s to us, you know It doesn’t necessarily it obviously would make us happy if they they were also enjoyed music But you know, it didn’t necessarily Have to be that, that they, you know ended up being, you know, as passionate about music as, as we are.
[00:37:57] But we did think like, you know, I guess maybe just being an Asian [00:38:00] parent, right, that, that, you know, like I think music and it can foster, you know, some. You know values in like work ethic, you know, if you work and spend a lot of time doing something that, that, that, that can, you know show, you know, the fruits of that effort in, in some rewarding way.
[00:38:16] So like, there are ways that, that, that music can be, you know become part of your, you know, self, like, like, you know, help improve your, your, your, your, yourself. And I, I think we gravitated to that aspect of music. Now, it turned out that the kids liked music and so, so you know, that’s an added benefit, but it wasn’t necessarily you know, like an expectation that we had it was like, it doesn’t make us proud.
[00:38:40] Yeah. I mean,
[00:38:42] Rodney Veal: we scored, you know, I mean, I, I, I can only imagine it. Cause I, I grew up in a household where I was the only artistic, creative one. Mm-hmm. . And they’re still, to this day, they just go, we don’t know what you do. But yeah, you seem to be, you seem to be thriving. That was the statement. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:38:59] you [00:39:00] seem to thriving.
[00:39:00] Keigo Hirakawa: But I, you know, I did lose out on the, on the i the idea that, that, you know, like I, I, I thought maybe if I, you know, had played mu jazz music, you know, throughout the you know, in, in the house all the time that they, maybe they’ll, they’ll pick up. You know, wanting to do some jazz early on, nah, it didn’t work out that way.
[00:39:18] They just really
[00:39:18] Rodney Veal: just like, Oh, no, dad. Yeah. So,
[00:39:24] Keigo Hirakawa: so I mean, you know, my wife definitely won out on that battle. I think they definitely gravitate towards classical music. And that’s great. You know, I love it.
[00:39:31] Rodney Veal: That’s totally funny. That is so funny. I can only imagine. Oh my God. That’s, that’s really super cool. So. All right, so we’re gonna come back to the album because your seventh album because we talked about your eighth album.
[00:39:44] Hopefully art.
[00:39:45] Keigo Hirakawa: Yeah Our collaboration.
[00:39:47] Rodney Veal: We’re working on that one folks, art collaboration for the seventh album. I mean, I mean Seven so what’s this like thematically to describe the album to to the to the audience? So they kind of and Yes, you can [00:40:00] pick up the album wherever you buy music. So yeah, I’ll just pull a caveat here.
[00:40:05] Keigo Hirakawa: Yeah. Thanks for the plug.
[00:40:07] Rodney Veal: Exactly. I mean, well, of course, I mean, but just thematically, because that’s one of the things I I’m always impressed by jazz albums. They can have those big sweeping themes. So like, yeah, what’s, what’s the, what’s the inspiration for this one?
[00:40:21] Keigo Hirakawa: So the, the, the, the, this, this album that’s, you know, coming out in June A little bit of a different take that I decided to pursue.
[00:40:34] So, you know, usually I work, you know, with my, my trio in a trio format, you know, which, which yielded, you know, the pre our previous album. And, and, you know, that that’s been a steady band. And. This newest album is our, our set of musicians that I put together for this album in, in a, in a format that’s never, that we haven’t really tried yet.
[00:40:54] So so, so collaborating in that is a guitarist brand. Brandon Scott Coleman, [00:41:00] who’s a, a based outta ci. And he and I played in different bands together and I’ve been in his band for some periods as well. And, and, you know, like his music is very, you know, inspiring to me. And that’s one of the reasons why I, you know, I wrote some compositions that were inspired by Brandon.
[00:41:15] And that’s one of the reasons why I had him you know, join me for this album. And then there’s a, a, a saxophonist in, in Detroit named Raphael Statham, who is… Just, you know, like one of my favorite saxophonists around, and when I first, you know, played with him, it’s like, oh, I just want to keep doing this and he, he introduced me to the other two musicians Alex White, who’s on the drums, he’s a phenomenal drummer, and then also Raphael works with you know one of the big, the, the, the, the jazz greats you know Robert Hurst who I grew up listening to because he was playing in Wynton Marsalis band and Branford Marsalis band.
[00:41:50] You know, he’s, he’s been on, you know, seven different Grammy albums, you know, all these things, but regardless, you know, like, like he was one of, one of my, my, my, [00:42:00] my you know basis that I grew up listening to and happens to be, you know somebody that, that Raphael plays with a lot. So, you know, like I put this band together in, in, in the, really the theme or the idea was I wanted to have very distinct musicians, the musicians who have you know whose performance styles, styles, you can just identify immediately if you knew who Brandon, Brandon was, you can pick that out because he, he has a very different approach to, to guitar.
[00:42:27] If, if you heard Bob Hurst, you know, like that was an unmistakable way that he, he approaches, you know, this sense of saying, or, you know you know, so, so these, these are really distinct personalities that I put together and I wanted to see what happens. So I, you know, I took some of the music that I typically play in this trio format and I threw it in a completely different way.
[00:42:46] And and, and then I put the, you know, interesting musician in the same room and thought. What could happen and a lot happened, you know it, it, like this, this sort of this musical experiment that I put together really yielded [00:43:00] amazing results. You know, like, it’s hard to say amazing to talk about myself because it’s actually not me that made this album.
[00:43:08] It’s like, you know, like I brought in the composition, you know, and then there’s always a way that I’ve been playing it but I threw it to these musicians and they, you know You know, they started owning it as much as I did, you know, it’s, it’s not like, you know, they just performed it and then is, you know, press record, but they, they were like, Oh, you know, it would sound better if you did it that way.
[00:43:26] Or, you know, why don’t we, I see a potential if we did, you know, if he, if he went into Latin groove here or whatever. So they threw out their ideas. And by the end of, you know, this, this, this recording session, It was like a joint effort and collaboration and whatnot, you know, that came out of all five of us.
[00:43:42] And I’m so grateful that I brought these five people that, that, you know, really wanted to play these stuff, you know, because they just love doing what they do. Right. So their individuality showed, I think that the, my, I can’t take credit for these compositions anymore in the sense that they, they, they don’t, they won’t have sounded [00:44:00] the same with, you know, playing with any other musicians.
[00:44:03] And, you know, so, so, so a lot of experiments, experimentation with music resulted in this music that I’m really proud to present. So,
[00:44:13] Rodney Veal: wow, that’s a real, sounds like a real departure of this experimentation. Yeah. That’s, it’s kind of cool. I mean, I mean, do you, I mean, like, like, do you think like, did they take experimentation came out of, is it, would you experiment, I guess I’ll put it this way.
[00:44:27] Would you have experimented this way earlier? in your career?
[00:44:30] Keigo Hirakawa: No. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. So that and, and that, and, and that’s the milestone that I, I, I, I feel like I could, I, I could say that I did hit that, that I, you know, like there is a sense of, you know openness and trust that I have to have with other musicians and, you know and, and also the caliber musicians also.
[00:44:50] You know, I made, made me, you know, make sure that I put on the A game, you know, both in terms of performance in terms of composition, in terms of just, [00:45:00] you know, managing this whole process. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a thing of its own. But it’s definitely a milestone that where I could say, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do this this way before.
[00:45:12] I also, you know, like, I, I, I think, you know, it’s, it’s because I, I’ve Kept working towards this craft that I got to meet the people that I wanted to play with. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, I could say that, that, you know, it was, you know, a matter of a couple of days in the studio, or I could say there was a process that was long, you know, like developed over long periods where I led me to this, you know, this recording.
[00:45:34] Rodney Veal: Oh, wow. Wow. That’s so cool. So, so. Cause you said, you talked about the 8th album that’s coming out after this. Do you think that the experimental album is going to influence the 8th? Or is it just… Do you know what I’m saying? Like, you know, sometimes when you do an experiment, all of a sudden it’s like, I never thought about it this way.
[00:45:54] Keigo Hirakawa: You know, it definitely puts everything in context. But at the same time, like, you know, when you have different musicians, then… [00:46:00] The, the experiment happens at that moment, you know, when you have that, those musicians there. Right. So the composition of musicians definitely make a difference. And also, you know, the, the eighth album, you know, is actually recorded before the seventh album in a way. So it’s kind of going back in time, but it kind of puts that, that different take. And I did, there are like two pieces two, two music two compositions that, that that is played in the, the, the, the new album that’s coming out in June and the, the eighth one that that’s yet to be released or so, you know, like it’ll be interesting to see that contrast too.
[00:46:35] Rodney Veal: Oh, wow. Okay. So there’s some, there’s some things to kind of, kind of, kind of, kind of connect to. So what would you tell someone who’s Considering his career pathway with music, what do you say to their parents? Because this is like, I mean, because it’s, you know, like you said, it’s like, what would you say to them?
[00:46:58] I mean, it was like, what would be the, your [00:47:00] advice? One nugget of advice that you kind of gleaned from your experience over time.
[00:47:04] Keigo Hirakawa: Wow, that’s a difficult question.
[00:47:06] Rodney Veal: Oh my god, I asked a difficult question.
[00:47:07] Keigo Hirakawa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cheers. Yeah, you’ve done your job. I mean, it, well, so, so it is definitely not something to be taken lightly, right?
[00:47:16] But at the same time people have gotta, you know, you gotta look back on your life and, you know, say that, that you tried something or that, that you don’t regret doing something. And if that regret might be that you didn’t give it something a try, you know. I, I think, you know, is that a conscious choice or is that something that just, you know, happened upon you?
[00:47:37] So I do think that, that, that every person, you know, regardless of what parents might say, might, will have to be, you know, Owning the process of those career choices, you know for sure. Right. I mean, and that, that, that’s not just the parent issue, right? Like it’s, it’s also true with spouses and whatnot.
[00:47:56] You know, when you have kids, you make different choices. Those [00:48:00] are there. You know You know, I had, I had one student, I, I, I can tell you, so, at University of Dayton you know, like, we, we not, we, we don’t just teach, but we also have, you know, we are academic advisors to some of the students, and, you know, we guide them along in their program, and make sure that they, you know, they, they hit all the, the, the, the courses that they need to hit, at the, the timing that they need to, and all that stuff.
[00:48:20] And we give some career advices if they have, you know, questions about what choices you can make in courses and stuff. But I had one student come in and tell me, I, I decided to stick around for another year. I’m like, Oh, how come? And he says, well, you know, I decided to do a minor in psychology and it’s your fault.
[00:48:39] And I’m like, Oh, it’s my fault. Okay. And he’s like, I know that how much, you know, like you, you, you, I, you know, he’s, we talked about the music stuff and how I left engineering to do music and stuff. And he’s, he told me. I realized at that moment that I could do engineering and do this other thing that I’m passionate [00:49:00] about before I graduate.
[00:49:01] You taught me that. So I decided that I’m going to stick around for one more year and then do this. For myself, so, yeah, I mean, that, that felt good. Yeah, that felt really good. Yeah. So, so, you know, I, I think, and that’s an, that’s a, you know, if I can, if I can be that, that, that type of person that can at least appeal to one person and say that, Hey, this is possible.
[00:49:29] I don’t have to be everything for everybody, but like, there are people that probably, you know, look at what, what I have done and then at least, you know, that, that, that can help. Inform what their decisions might be. And in that, in that student’s case, you know, like he was still in the driver’s seat, you know, I’m sure he had conversations with his parents and decided that this is still possible.
[00:49:48] And you know, so, so good for him. And I, you know those, those are the kind of, you know, choices that, that people can make when they put in the, they have, you know, all that stuff has to be married with, you know, the amount of effort that they’re willing [00:50:00] to put in. They’re not just doing it because you can, but you’re doing it because you, you need to and you want to.
[00:50:05] Then I think, you know, these real conversations can happen. You know, but at the same time I could say, you know, like both my wife and I are engineers and musicians. And, you know, like, so we had our, you know, like life experiences matching in some, some certain, some ways. But you know, like I, I was a lot more crazy about.
[00:50:24] Practicing, you know, like as many hours as I can squeeze in and you know, I still do all the things I do and so I, as far as like this family context and the decisions that I make, you know, I, I call my life a preexisting condition. So by the time I met my wife, I was already this way. She, you know, so she has to just.
[00:50:43] Except that, you know, that that’s who she marries.
[00:50:47] Rodney Veal: This guy with a pre existing condition of being an awesome musician. That’s not a bad pre existing condition I might add. You know, just let him. It comes with the bone baggage. Yeah. Okay. God, [00:51:00] this has been fantastic because I, that’s a, that’s a, I just, why I love having these conversations with you.
[00:51:05] I, I smile easily . We, we have these really great conversations and I’m super excited that I keep walking past the piece of art that I Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. For you. Yes. Yes. So, so it’s coming. It is there. So this has been fantastic. Thank you.
[00:51:21] Keigo Hirakawa: Thank you. Thank you. It’s I’m also glad to be talking to somebody who who who has thought hard hard about his own career.
[00:51:29] You know, it’s not like I can just talk to anybody and be like This is, you know, I have to explain these along the way of explaining my own life choices. It’s more like, yeah, you know, like we’ve both walked through these, you know, tough choices through life.
[00:51:44] Rodney Veal: Yeah, and still walking through them. Still walking through them.
[00:51:49] Yeah, and that’s, and that’s what it is. It’s about the choices. And it is about the hard work. That’s why, that’s why we have such great conversations. Because it is, it truly, to me, it’s about the hard work. It’s always about the work. Put in the [00:52:00] work.
[00:52:00] Keigo Hirakawa: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. It doesn’t
[00:52:03] come easy.
[00:52:05] Rodney Veal: Cool. All right, Mike.