Interview with Aya Ishida #2

by William Ng

Aya Ishida is a New York-based vocalist and composer specializing in Jazz.

Originating from Saitama, Japan, Aya moved to NYC at the age of 22, to pursue a degree in Jazz Vocal Performance. She developed her sound and style by studying under the guidance of her mentor Caroline Leonhart. Graduated from CCNY in 2017. Her interest in music developed early on when she was small and she was taking vocal lessons throughout her middle school years. In high school, she started listening to Japanese Pop music in the 90s, which she described as cheesy and corny. Her interest in Jazz developed during her study of American literature at a university in Japan. It was a class on afro-American history, she was first introduced to the song “Strange fruit”. “ Strange Fruit was a very dark and powerful song with a deep history on African American roots ”, said Aya.

WilliamWho was the biggest inspiration/influence on your career?

Aya: “I have had many influences and inspirations throughout my career, it started with Billie Holiday, Carmen Mcrae, Sarah Vaughan, they were my idols. My most influential mentor is Caroline Leonhart during my studies at City College. Recently, in the process of finding my style, I had developed an interest in electronic music, which has a crossover of Jazz, Electronic, and R&B . My inspiration for this new style is Thana Alexa, a Croatian Jazz Vocalist, (usage of effect looper pedal) I am currently using RC 505 to reproduce her jazz-influenced signature style”.

WilliamWhat was it like working with Grammy award-winning saxophonist Wayne Escoffery?

Aya: “It was a great experience, it was my first album, I was inexperienced with leading a band and recording. Wayne was very helpful throughout the whole process. He had helped me record, taught me to arrange, helped with the selection of musicians and in the process of mixing.”

WilliamAs your career progressed, were there ever any instances where you had to sacrifice in order to achieve the level of success you’ve attained?

Aya: “There were certainly a few sacrifices made, such as working a changing schedule and balancing personal life and work life. Despite feeling accomplished, I had to sacrifice my personal time for my work time. Moving away from family in Japan was one huge sacrifice I had made in order to pursue my career”.

WilliamHave you ever struggled or hit a roadblock in your musical career? 

Aya: “ Yes, The pandemic was the biggest hurdle yet. I was living in NYC for 4 – 5 years and I went back to Japan for a year because I miss my family. I started to miss New York after a year and came back to the states in October 2019 via an artist visa. When Covid started, I had a difficult time pursuing my career and it was especially difficult when it comes to quarantine. I had lost gigs and performances, including a performance in Hong Kong that I was looking forward to. It became a lot harder to hold lessons, in particular, virtual lessons, where teaching music virtually was quite challenging”.

WilliamIn the debut album, Day by Day, the song “Where I Come From” was vocalized in your native tongue, what was your creative thought, and was this done to pay homage to your roots? Was this a memorandum to your future self?

Aya: “This song pays homage to my memory of growing up in Saitama, Kawagoe, Japan. Walking home from school in a suburb. The alley was super long and dark so I would sing really loud on the way home as a form of the brave front. The dark alley resembles how tough it can get living in New York City. Singing was my way of escape and putting on a brave front against all obstacles and despite all challenges, my perseverance overcame it. Singing wasn’t just a career, it was my lifestyle. The creative thought was putting the melody into vocal, the scat singing fits betters into the vocal after the lyrics”.