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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Modern Jazz: A Japanese Thing ! - by Wiggia

I know JD is doing a piece on the Japanese pianist Hiromi, who saved a dire BBC Proms big band night after the band leaders decided to indulge themselves in their favorite instruments to such excess as to be boring - over two hours of mainly trumpet and asst brass is an indulgence too far. I only watched it because my nephew was playing in one of the bands; to feature one sax solo in that time from him who was voted by his peers this year as the best saxophonist in the country is a real waste of talent. But this is not about that. Having got it off my chest, it is about the impact Hiromi had that night and everywhere she plays, it is a talent extraordinaire.

What she did do is draw attention to the fact that modern jazz is very popular in Japan. Much of the music is original and they do seem to have more females playing in the genre than anywhere else.

It appears that jazz started to be played in Japan in and around 1910. The reason it filtered back there was that the ocean liners that plied their trade into the States at that time had bands/orchestras on board and when docking in places like San Francisco the musicians would go to see the local jazz bands and buy sheet music and records that they took home with them. Some also played in hotel lobby orchestras while in town.

With the advent of popular music in the late twenties Japan became exposed to American music in films. Much of the music had jazz overtones and the hip guys and girls of the period became in effect flappers and dandies in the dance halls.

It was after WW11 that the floodgates opened, Many American soldiers who were stationed in Japan after the war were musicians and formed dance bands to play locally, but to fill the numbers they recruited Japanese musicians.

In the fifties and sixties Japanese musicians started to make an impression in their own right, the most famous being Toshiko Akiyoshi the pianist, an uncompromising lady from the start who would play be bop and insist to the clubs that she played there would be no vocalist, just her and her band playing be bop; not always the popular choice amongst club owners.

By this time they were being recognised abroad especially in the States but not necessarily treated as equals, there being a comparative tone to the reviews of their music, rather like Matt Munro was referred to as the English Perry Como rather than just Matt Munro.

The Japanese started to go their own way as simply being an outpost for American music was a dead end, so they experimented with various set ups and incorporated Japanese music in their jazz, especially when playing abroad, for obvious reasons: playing Count Basie when Basie was still alive was pointless in America.

Today the music is seen as hip and sophisticated, a culture of its own. In popular terms it is on a par with the same music in say the UK: not much exposure on the radio or TV but it has a fan base, and it has made its mark abroad with now Hiromi and the sax player Takuya Kuroda who landed a Blue Note contract which in itself is an accolade.

I am not going to put up anything by Hiromi as JD is going to do an extensive post on her. I have drawn the short straw and have had to ferret through unknown territories to come up with the weird and the hopefully wonderful.

Toshiko Akiyoshi is an international star as a pianist and a bandleader, plus she won the Best Composer and Arranger award in the reader's poll in Downbeat, the first woman to do so. Here she is with her trio in 1958:


And here playing the Village at her 60th anniversary concert:


and here conducting her big band with Long Yellow Road:


and finally at the Monterrey jazz festival in ‘75 with Clark Terry on trumpet:


Takuya Kuroda playing RSBD now on Concord records; this from 2016:


and here with "Everybody Loves the Sunshine":


The Swing Girls - First and Last concert !


In Tokyo, the Teikyo High School Band, the Swinging Honey Bees:


Another of many talented lady Japanese pianists, Junko Onishi with her trio:


and the last of these, Senri Kawaguchi (the drummer) has a blast with her all-girl group and "Lover Come Back to Me":


- follow that!

Nice !

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