March 19, 2021 | « back

Q&A with Yo-Yo Ma

Here’s a blast from the past – a 2008 Q&A with Yo-Yo Ma, about their collaborative recording of George Harrison’s classic, “Here Comes The Sun” (featured on Yo-Yo’s album Songs of Joy and Peace).

How did you choose to include the song, Here Comes the Sun, on your new album?
James suggested it as a solstice song, and I thought it was a wonderful idea. It was actually the first song chosen for Songs of Joy & Peace, and when James suggested it I knew we were on a good path.

How much of the final cello part was written before the recording took place?
Charles Floyd created a beautiful arrangement, and then James and I spent a day playing around with it and trying different directions. Actually, Charles did two beautiful arrangements, one in 4/4 and one in 3/4, and we ended up choosing the one in 3/4, which was James’s instinct all along. It was so nice to have the time and just amazing to sit right next to James as we worked together. Once we got down to the brass tacks of recording, of course, we had to isolate the guitar and voice from the cello, but since we started with the song working in a more intimate setting, we were able to draw on that for the recording.

Why did you choose to record in Washington, MA?
James and his wife Kim very kindly invited us to record in his barn studio in Washington, MA, and I can’t imagine a better place. The Berkshires are beloved to both James and me, and we recorded in March, just as the snow was melting and you begin to see the first hints of spring. James’s team is made up of the most lovely people, and it was just an incredibly warm atmosphere – perfect for working through Here Comes the Sun together, and determining what we could bring to the piece.

We know that James’s first instrument was cello. Any chance you have ever played guitar?
I have fooled around on my daughter’s guitar, and one of my wishes is to get to know the guitar better. The guitar is exciting to me because, unlike the cello, it is a melodic, rhythmic and harmonic instrument, and it can do all three at once.

James said he has been listening to you since you first played in public. Do you remember when you first heard James in-concert or when you heard your first James Taylor song?
When my wife Jill and I were dating, probably 1972, she had the album “Sweet Baby James”, so I first heard James through Jill.

When did you first meet James? When did you first work together?
I first met James when he started dating his lovely wife Kim. I’m guessing James and I probably met backstage at a concert. The first substantive conversation I remember was at a Japanese restaurant, and we talked about music and life on the road, that sort of thing. James and I first worked together when he generously recorded a couple of tracks for an album Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer and I made together called Appalachian Journey.

Do you have other plans to work together?
I’m ready anytime! We actually recorded another track together, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, for James’s Grammy-nominated “Covers” album. And James is putting together a couple of concerts at Tanglewood next summer, and has been kind enough to suggest that he might have room for a cellist. We always have such a great time when we work together, I know we’ll find other chances.