A Fireside Chat With Toshiko Akiyoshi
TA: Yeah, I know. Exactly, I think the most difficult part is that it affects my orchestra's work. When you go to the Midwest a couple of years ago for example, they said, 'Oh, you still have a band.' There is a lack of information because we have no CD. We haven't had a CD since Sony/Columbia in '94. Since then, we have three recordings for BMG Japan, but BMG America never picked them up. Lew always said that I am demographically challenged (laughing). Naturally, I would like to have them out because it takes a long time for me to write music and I think they are very well played. It is a reality that if it is not there, the main pain that I receive is that we do not get jobs because of that. I, myself, am busy. I can always play standards and sit down at the piano and make money. It is very, very difficult. The latest one came out here and was recorded in Japan two years ago. BMG Japan felt very, very badly that they did not have enough power to have BMG America put those in here and so a producer told me that if I could find someone to put it out here then go ahead and so that is what I did. And so it came out here, as you know, last month. It may not be a big company, but at least it is out. Business world of a record company is just like a film company today. They decide whether they are going to be out or not, not by music department, but by marketing department. The main thing for me is it affects our job. This year, we have out thirtieth anniversary and so this year there are some things. Last year, we didn't have anything. I looked at the books in January. I, myself, was busy doing this and that and I didn't realize that the band did not have any job outside of Birdland, except one job in Japan. That was it. It takes quite a lot for musicians to try and stay with one organization, so we developed a lot of subs. I call it the bench (laughing).
FJ: Hiroshima comes at a time where its message is as poignant as ever.
TA: I know. This was a coincidence. Some people said as you just said that it is timely, but the fact is that a priest in Hiroshima asked me in 1998 and I was busy at that particular time doing San Francisco's commissioned piece. He said that he would wait. Meanwhile, I never thought about Hiroshima to tell you the truth. He sent me photo taken three days after the bomb was dropped and the photo is so awful, people losing skin and so on. It was a great shock to me because I had never seen anything like this and as I said before, I never thought about it. I was too busy in my little world and thought I didn't know if I could do this.
First of all, I really didn't see the meaning of writing about something so tragic and so horrible. What does that bring to anyone? I didn't really find something meaningful about doing this, so I was going to tell him that I would not be able to do this. Out from shock, I kept looking at it and three or four times later, I missed one photo, which was one woman who was underground and wasn't affected by the bomb and came out and this photo was beautiful. I don't know how I missed it, but when I saw it, I knew that I could write this. That means something to mean and hopefully, means something to people who hear. This is not about America and Japan. It just happened to be Japan and America. It could be any place. We are anti-war. We don't want atomic weapons. The Hiroshima people still have hope for a better future. We do hope and at least we do hope. It doesn't matter what the situation might be. I thought that would be meaningful for me to write and I decided to write. Because of hope, I would like to play this in the twenty-first century and so I asked the priest and he agreed. He had to wait a year or so and so we played 2001 and as you know, it was a live recording.
It was an emotional concert. Every member of the band was emotionally involved. Some musicians even told me how proud they were to be associated with the organization. Musicians usually don't say things like that. The performance, I don't think you can get any better. It was a great performance. I actually cried on the stage because Lew plays so beautifully on the last one. The last one is very short, but it is the most important part to me. We have hope and so the last one, to me, is the most important part. I listen every once in a while and I would like to think I am very critical of my work and I personally feel that it is a pretty good accomplishment. When I play solo piano, which I do quite a lot in Japan, I always play that last.