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A Fireside Chat With Lew Tabackin

By Published: April 4, 2003

FJ: Is the climate for jazz warmer in Japan?

LT: Japan was really jumping. They had a bubbly economy and there was a great interest in jazz music, mainly from young people. Another thing happened. I have all these theories on why things fail I guess. The bubble economy was happening in Japan and there was a tremendous amount of discretionary income from business people. Jazz clubs opened up, a lot of large scale jazz clubs opened up and they were hiring musicians from America and the management and musicians were getting a tremendous amount of money. They were getting maybe four or five times what they would get in America and the club has to charge a hundred, a hundred and twenty-five dollars a set, which drove away the young people. Young people couldn't afford it and so you have clubs patronized by businessmen and the younger people moved in other directions and so we lost a lot of the younger people because of that whole economic interaction that existed. Now that the bubble has burst, the situation has changed. I go there and I do basically a grassroots tour. I call people and I bring my little group and play in small clubs and small concert halls for money that is workable, but nothing that is extraordinary. That was the way it used to be before the Japanese economy swelled. We used to go and play in small towns and the young people would be in tears, they were so moved by the music and it went from that to becoming big business and now it is trying to readjust in some way.

FJ: We live in strange times and how tragically ironic that Hiroshima was composed with a theme of peace in mind and now we see ourselves on the brink of war.

LT: Well, it is pretty interesting. We recorded quite a bit. The big band has recorded a fair amount of stuff that hasn't come out in America. We recorded for a company called BMG, which is associated with RCA. We recorded for Japanese BMG and America BMG wouldn't release our stuff because for some reason, they didn't think it was marketable, which really was. The few albums that we recorded for them was quite accessible. The Hiroshima thing was done and it has come out in America on a small label and it was obviously, the least commercial thing that has been releases in America. I think it is quite ironic that it is so appropriate today. Toshiko was commissioned to write this and that is some heavy stuff. She didn't know if she could do it and she has done some strong stuff. But then she found something beautiful and tried to base the piece on hope in a sense. That is the only way she could deal with it. I don't know if you can imagine, Fred, but it was a live recording and was done on the anniversary of the bomb dropping and it was done in Hiroshima. You can imagine how heavy that situation was. It was a lot of stuff to deal with. It was quite a moving experience. I don't know if you noticed, but she used a Korean traditional flautist.

FJ: I did.

LT: She did that for two reasons. One, because the sound is really incredible. It is a very special sound. It doesn't exist anywhere else, definitely, not in Japanese music. It is a very expressive sound. And also, there were a lot of Koreans who were killed by the Hiroshima bomb because they were working in the factories. There were a lot of Korean victims, so she felt it was important on two levels to utilize that voice. We played in Korea a couple of times and we met this flautist and he was like the main guy in Korea for traditional Korean music. So that was important. She also involved a Japanese drummer, George Kawaguchi and of course, there was the young girl who did the narration. The whole thing was quite extraordinary. We live in a strange society. People don't really listen to music. Everything is background music. People just don't approach the oral experience for what it is. They listen to this when they eat and listen to this when they read. I hope people actually take the time and effort to listen to the music and hear what she is trying to express.

FJ: Any tour dates?

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