All that jazz: 10-year-old pianist has magical fingers

January 25, 2012

By EIICHI MURANO / Staff Writer

At first glance, Gen Okuda seems like any ordinary 10-year-old boy--scraped knees from climbing trees and full of laughter when he pulls a prank on his parents.

But Gen is anything but ordinary when he sits down at the piano. A jazz pianist, Gen's fingers fly across the keyboard as if it were second nature. Last year, he held three solo jazz piano concerts to large crowds, and in December he made his debut album, simply titled "Gen Okuda."

Okuda teamed up with a bass player and drummer to record some jazz standards and also some fast tempo originals.

His parents, who love music, named their boy after the strings of a guitar, or "gen." At age 4, he started listening to Chopin and the Beatles, while learning to play the piano on his own. Learning that Mozart began composing at age 5, Okuda, also started writing music at the same age.

Okuda’s love for jazz came when he was 6 after he first heard recordings of legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans. It did not take long for him to fall deep into the world of jazz.

“Music phrases constantly come around and go around in my head,” Okuda says. “It’s like combining pieces of a puzzle. It's fun.”

Okuda has already composed more than 50 jazz pieces, and people are listening.

“Okuda releases the sounds he has acquired, dissembled and re-assembled in highly intuitive fashions,” says Takafumi Mimori, editor in chief of leading jazz monthly magazine Jazz Japan.

But Okuda is also a normal 10-year-old boy. He likes to play all kinds of pranks at home in Moroyama, Saitama Prefecture, such as hiding raw eggs inside a kotatsu, a traditional Japanese table-style heater. One time he hid the house key by burying it in the garden, but the joke was on him as he was later unable to find it.

He also enjoys reading newspapers and admires television journalist Akira Ikegami.

"(And) I love climbing trees," Gen says. "I want to go up as high as possible. I want to get on the top of the world (in piano skills, too).”

By EIICHI MURANO / Staff Writer
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