A talented and appealing jazz singer, Yuka Mito is heard at her most creative and swinging throughout her latest release, Love In The City. Joined by her longtime trio of pianist-arranger Allen Farnham, bassist Dean Johnson, and drummer Tim Horner, with guest appearances by altoist Vincent Herring, and guitarist Andres Lapridav on “How Insensitive,” Yuka is featured on swinging standards, ballads, a bossa nova, and two of her originals.
Love In The City is the latest accomplishment in Yuka Mito’s career. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, she took piano lessons from the time she was six but came to singing and jazz later than one would expect. “I did not start singing until I was 23. I sang with amateur bands performing Japanese and American pop songs and cover tunes in clubs. When I first came to New York in my late twenties, I attended the Brooklyn Queens Conservatory Of Music.”
Given the choice to major in classical music or jazz, she chose the latter. “I thought that jazz was closer to that of pop music. I knew that jazz would help me to go further and deeper as a musician. I did not grow up with jazz so I found it very different from what I had heard. Within a short time I knew that it would be the musical journey of my life.” Yuka majored in Jazz Vocal for a year and a half, studying under jazz pianist Enos Payne. “That was fundamental to my jazz education.” Yuka also studied under Dori Levine, Juanita Fleming, Willie Ruiz, Monday Michiru, Stephanie Nakasian, Luciana Souza and Stacey Geer. She was exposed to Broadway musicals, R&B and Gospel in NYC, and influenced by Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion while her favorite jazz singers soon became Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Dinah Washington, and Jane Monheit.
She spent time back in Tokyo where she performed as a lead singer at jazz clubs. Yuka had opportunities to return to New York and she decided to make it her home. She has continuously been singing jazz in a variety of clubs and meeting top musicians. She made her recording debut with Cole Porter – Latin Grooves, a CD that unfortunately has not yet been released. “I am hoping that it will finally come out in the near future. I think people will enjoy hearing it.”
In 2011 her second CD, Time After Time, was released. For that project, Yuka was joined by pianist Allen Farnham, bassist Dean Johnson, and drummer Tim Horner, the same trio that is on the recent Love In The City. “I met each of the musicians at Jazz at Kitano and have performed with them many times since. Allen is the main arranger for my albums and shows; his style matches very well with mine. Dean and Tim work together very well, their sound is right, and they can play bebop and all the other music that I perform.” Highlights of the album, which has arrangements by Farnham and Chiemi Nakai, include “Cheek To Cheek,” “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Caravan,” and the Japanese pop song “Nada Sou Sou.”
Yuka Mito worked regularly at Jazz at Kitano for nine years until COVID temporarily ended live engagements. She has also performed at other jazz establishments in New York (particularly Club Bonafide and Tomi Jazz) and in Japan (including Jazz Spot J, Rakuya, and Tokyo Club). Her singing has gradually grown in power and depth, she has become an expert scat-singer, and she has a wide repertoire that includes classics from the Great American Songbook, her originals, an occasional bossa nova, and (in keeping her roots intact) Japanese pop songs.
Yuka’s continuing growth is obvious on Love In The City. The program ranges from an exciting scat-filled version of “I Got Rhythm” and a contemporary reworking of “Afro Blue / Afro Centric” to a sensitive duet version of “My Funny Valentine” with Allen Farnham, an Anita O’Day-inspired “Four Brothers,” and a swinging medley of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” and “Take The ‘A’ Train” Yuka also contributes an affectionate tribute to New York City (“Love In The City”) and a quietly emotional “Memory Of Father.”
Now with the gradual end of the COVID pandemic, Yuka Mito looks forward enthusiastically to the future. “I love performing, particularly in great clubs for any listeners who love good music. My goal is to continue performing as a jazz singer as often and as long as I can.”