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A Fireside Chat With Toshiko Akiyoshi

By Published: April 20, 2003

TA: Yes, I had always been trio or quartet. I always considered myself a pianist. I never considered myself a writer. As I said, in '66, I decided that perhaps I would have a concept and perhaps somebody would notice because like I said before, I was just paying rent and no one really paid too much attention to me. I had a solo, trio, and then it was a big band. I had written five tunes for that. When we rehearsed the first night, we rehearsed from twelve to three in the morning and that was the first rehearsal that I felt comfortable. During that time, I was getting anxious about the fact that I really wanted to express some kind of attitude and not just improvise over the tune. I think everything comes at a certain time. As I said, I never was interested in writing for the big band, but I thought I would do that and when I did the first rehearsal, I felt comfortable doing this. I felt like I could express my view on not only musical view, but perhaps, my attitude towards life. Once you start it, you have to keep it, but in those days, I didn't have the money to do that. It was something that I couldn't afford and so that was that. It ended as a dream. Then when we moved to Los Angeles, Lew was bored with the whole scene because he was making a comfortable income, but not much jazz scene in Los Angeles. He said, 'I will get the musicians together. Maybe we will play your music,' just for something to do and that is the way it started in 1973, March, I believe.

FJ: Did you see a difference in the attitude of a Los Angeles musician versus that of a New York one?

TA: Definitely, definitely, because New York is a dog eat dog place. That is the way it was in when I was in New York. When I moved to New York from Boston, I knew some people from before, even from Japan. For example, musicians that were drafted and were stationed in Japan, I met them and learned some tunes. They were nice musicians and some of them moved to New York and their attitude changed. New York is that kind of place. Some people do change and some people don't, but you have to be so aggressive. It has always been like this here, but one of the things with Los Angeles musicians was they didn't know what they were getting into. I didn't have any track record of writing big band music. Some musicians knew I was a player. They knew and respected me being a player, but they never knew what I write. So in the very beginning, I think there was a lot of confusion and so it took six months to settle down to 'regular' musicians. They were the ones that gave me all the cooperation because they didn't know what they were getting into. Most of them were studio players, so I utilized that. The first band, I have tremendous affection for because they gave me cooperation and they gave me affection and they still call me. I have a terrible affection, respect, and warm feeling. When I came to New York, there was ten years of track record. Five records were out and every one of them were Grammy nominated, so when I came to New York, there was word that we were going to start the band and young musicians wanted to participate and come into the band. They knew what they were getting into and so there is a tremendous difference, I think.

FJ: Ironically, you have documented a wealth of music on record, but this country is odd in that it record companies stateside do not keep catalogs complete, but opt to keep them current, deleting the majority of works from artists.

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