Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within

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William Minor

Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within
University of Michigan Press
2004

The history of travel literature is a long one, appearing shortly after Europeans started making trips across the continent and across the world. The form is a combination of diary writing, traveloguery, journalism and letter- writing-to-home. Jazz Journeys to Japan is a recent entry into the field, but goes one step further to act as a historical reference guide to Japanese jazz for the uninitiated.

The subject is a fascinating one. Anyone who has been to the Blue Note on any day realizes that jazz is a huge part of modern Japanese culture. But the population is not just fans; Japan has produced an enormous volume of native musicians, some of whom, like Toshiko Akiyoshi as the most notable example, have joined the pantheon of jazz history. Jazz in Japan, much like the other well-known passion, baseball, is a beguiling development, given the history between the States and Japan in the first part of the last century.

The book follows a trip by the author, respected jazz journalist William Minor, to discover, or more accurately, illuminate the history of Japanese jazz. This is no encyclopedic reference or dry academic text. Minor booked a trip where he met with various proponents of Japanese jazz to get their take on the music, their own contributions to it and their hopes for its future.

For those hoping to get a comprehensive overview of Japanese jazz, the limitation of a travel narrative is quickly apparent. The emphasis is on experience so there is a lot of jumping around and the reader may hear about the same period several times at different portions of the book. But, Minor, who did a similar project with jazz in the Soviet Union, was not attempting to write a definitive Japanese jazz history (one imagines such a thing exists in the original language), but to create a visceral image of the country. Though it is not the typical linear approach to writing about jazz, Minor knows the subject well and includes both fascinating insights and his own love, aspects integral to travel literature since its creation.

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