Posted on: April 29, 2020 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

By Natalie Zalewski, JRN 111 Student

Music has always had the powerful ability to tell stories. Whether it be a gut-wrenching ballad, a heartfelt song about family, or an uplifting anthem about self-confidence, the artist uses lyrics and melodies to convey a message. For Moraine Valley music professor Mai Sugimoto, music has helped tell the story of her life.

When she isn’t in the classroom teaching her students about music and its history, Sugimoto is creating and performing her own music.

Mai Sugimoto teaches music at Moraine Valley.

She first developed a connection to music when she was very young. “I have been playing music since I was six,” she said. “I think I always wanted to become a performer of music of some sort.”

Sugimoto paused for a moment and looked up towards the ceiling, thinking back to where her love for music may have stemmed from.

“My father actually listened to a lot of jazz,” she said. “He’s a big music lover, so I think he would be maybe the biggest influence in my life in pursuing music.”

Sugimoto took after her father and became primarily influenced by jazz, gravitating toward playing the saxophone.

Fast forward to present day: She performs with her group, the Mai Sugimoto Quartet, and released her debut album, Born/Raised in 2018. The title teases the inspiration behind the album.

“You can kind of interpret it in different ways,” she said.  “I was born and raised in Japan until I was 10, and then I came to the States. The music is sort of a reflection of my life’s journey, in a way, but it’s also my musical journey, of my career.”

While she continues to work on her music outside of Moraine, she doesn’t shy away from performing in the classroom as well. Sugimoto, who teaches Introduction to American Music, often incorporates piano and occasionally saxophone in her lessons to sonically demonstrate a specific style of playing from any era. This unique addition to lectures impresses her students.

“She’s skilled,” said Saja Younis, one of Sugimoto’s students. “ I like her ability to just be able to sit down and play something on the spot.”

“It’s awesome,” added Julian Pritchett, another student of Sugimoto’s. “She has flavor too! I love how she plays.”

Aside from music’s ability to tell a story, it also has the ability to bring people together. However, as COVID-19 has rapidly affected the world, that sense of unity has been put on hold, leaving many musicians, including Sugimoto, in a difficult position.

 “Before the lockdown mode, I was actually planning on getting together with a handful of musicians to put together a live streaming concert at one of our homes, but we made a conscious decision to postpone, of course,” Sugimoto said. “ This outbreak has caused all of the events to be cancelled in the near future and is putting a lot of artists out of work.”

Even as these tough times are physically keeping people apart, Sugimoto explains how musicians are still managing to come together.

“I am starting to see a lot of live streaming performances from the homes of musicians, and that seems to be where we are headed at the moment,” she stated.

Prior to COVID-19’s effect on the world, Sugimoto had plans to release her second album this summer. As opposed to Born/ Raised, which was a studio recording, her upcoming album was anticipated to be a collection of live recordings put together from a couple of her live shows: one show recorded back on February 22, and one that was planned to be recorded on April 18. Sugimoto is now thinking of an alternative to complete that second recording.

 “I will probably plan some form of live stream event in the future to share my music, and the second installment of the live recording of my trio could happen that way on April 18th.”

Rewinding to more cheerful times, Sugimoto reminisces on performing with her group at the Chicago Jazz Festival in August of last year. She says it was her third time performing at the festival, yet it was her first time performing as a leader. During this performance, Sugimoto experienced a full circle moment as she performed music that reflected her journey as both a musician and a person.

“It was really an incredible and kind of a significant time in my career, to be able to perform music from the album and share it to all of Chicago. It was a great turnout, and a lot of people who had never listened to my music heard my music, so that was a pretty joyous moment.”

Natalie Zalewski can be reached at