Jacob Koller

Tokyo, Japan

Ocean Piano Suite


Behind the Music

Although music is the main focus in my life, fishing has always been a hobby and passion of mine. Beautiful rivers, lakes and oceans move me. So when Ian first approached me to join this project, I was really excited to do it. The reporting made it clear how the ocean is a flagrantly lawless place. It reminded me of the Wild West. I was also inspired by the incredible work that Ian is doing to increase awareness to these issues. To me, he is a modern superhero, which was what I envisioned in the song, "The Reporter." 

When composing music, I usually start by sitting at the piano and improvising. For this project, however,  before I sat down at the piano, I spent a couple of months just thinking, watching the videos and reading. Once it all sank in, I composed all three pieces in one day. I wanted the music to feel raw, improvisational and emotive. 

Before I started working on this project, I was aware of a few issues affecting the oceans, like overfishing and pollution. But I had no idea how much illegal activity went on out there. We are all paying a price for this and I believe it's necessary to inform as many people as possible about these issues so we can find solutions. Our existence depends on it.

Jacob Koller
About Jacob Koller

I started playing piano when I was four because my older brother played and I wanted to do whatever he did. I won a bunch of classical competitions, but didn’t really get into music until I joined my high school jazz band. More than the actual genre of jazz, it was the freedom of improvisation of which I couldn’t get enough. I studied jazz and classical piano at Arizona State University and took lessons with some amazing pianists including Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner and Uri Caine. 

I worked as a full-time gigging jazz musician for a long time, but didn’t find my true calling until moving to Japan. A month after I moved to Japan, I was fortunate enough to land a job arranging 15 songs for a solo piano album. The CD sold over 10,000 copies and more arranging projects followed. After a few years, I realized that arranging, composing and teaching was what I wanted to do, so I quit playing random jazz gigs and dedicated my time to those three things. 

I released my own CDs on several labels in Japan including Colombia and Universal Records. Although these opportunities were great for my artistic development, I disagreed with the labels’ sales approach and decided to form my own label and publishing company in 2017. It has taken me a while to figure out what I want to do, but I am having a blast arranging all kinds of different songs, making videos, releasing sheet music books etc.

The Journalism behind the Music

All music in this project is based on The Outlaw Ocean, a New York Times Best-Selling book by Ian Urbina that chronicles lawlessness at sea around the world. This reporting touches on a diversity of abuses ranging from illegal and overfishing, arms trafficking at sea, human slavery, gun running, intentional dumping, murder of stowaways, thievery of ships and other topics.

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