Interview with Aya Ishida

by Martha Larios

Aya is a Japanese jazz vocalist and composer based in New York City. Her album Day by Day debuted in 2018 and produced by Grammy award-winning saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. After her album’s release Aya performed throughout Asia, completing tours in Japan, Paris, and Taiwan.

Aya developed her sound and style by studying with Steve Wilson and Carolyn Leonhart and is a 2017 graduate of City College under the Kaye Scholarship with Degree Honors Magna Cum Laude. Her vocal style is a light soothing sound that makes just about anything instantly captivating and is well recorded in her easily accessible album.

ML: What was your most memorable performance?

AI: My album release show at the Cornelia Street Cafe in the West Village. I was excited and very nervous at the same time, since it was my first time having an album release show. We had a great time performing to a full house and were fortunate to have a supportive audience.

ML: What are some of your early inspirations? What about them drew you in?

AI: Carmen Macrae and Sarah Vaughan. Their beautiful voices and unique phrasings drew me in. I found it funny and amazing that Sarah Vaughan sometimes even forgot the lyrics she was singing live but kept going and came up with new lyrics on the spot lol. Her showmanship and music interpretation are very inspiring.

ML: Is there a quote or motto you live by? If so, how has it inspired you?

AI: I have one in Japanese: 天真爛漫 (Tenshinranman). It’s a bit hard to translate, but it means being natural, simple, and yourself. I’m always trying to be myself, especially when I sing and compose songs.

ML: I read on your bio you’ve toured Japan, Taiwan, and Paris. What was that like? How did those audiences compare to the ones you’ve performed for in America?

AI: All audiences in all places were very nice and appreciated the music. I had more opportunities to talk to audiences after the shows in Taiwan and I really enjoyed my conversations with them. I did feel that there was a stronger connection to the audience at shows in Taiwan too. I also think there is a notable difference between the audiences in Japan and America. Japanese people tend to be more quiet during the shows and Americans tend to be more vocal. Though they are different, I like them both!

ML: Congratulations on being selected as a spring 2022 fellow at letsbespoken, I’ve noticed you were also a fall 2021 fellow as well, can you tell me a little bit about how you’ve helped other musicians grow in the music industry?

AI: Thank you! As a fellow, I’m actually receiving the mentorship. My mentor Gina Izzo, who is an amazing flutist, has been very helpful and we’ve been talking about my next album project. We had a few group sessions with other fellows. It was so nice to connect with other female musicians within the jazz and classical music industries. We’ve had a few group sessions, and one of them was learning how to write an artist statement. We had a specialist review our statements and it was very helpful. Also, it was a great opportunity to know what other fellows are doing with their music. In a different group session, we introduced each other, explained what kind of projects each of us was working on, and exchanged our thoughts. It was a very inspiring and encouraging session.