Satoko Fujii: Four And More
SF: Yeah, it's very difficult. It's too long. [laughs] Even for Japanese.
He's got a great sound and he's got a very open mind. He plays many different kinds of music. I like his approach a lot. He also plays in Natsuki's band, Gato Libre. He really cares about tambre. Sometimes after the show, after we've ended playing, he's still tuning. [laughs] He's a guy like that. I think bass players are like that.
AAJ: So let's talk about your drummer.
SF: His name is Akira Horikoshi. He plays in my big band in Tokyo. He's a little younger than the other people in the band. He started playing rock, I think because his older brother was a big rock fan. But he learned many different styles, and he's got the technique to play a lot of world music or straight-ahead jazz or big band stuff. I really like his approach because his drums don't sound like drums. His approach is more like a Japanese taiko approach than like typical drum-kit technique. Even when he plays straight-ahead jazz, it sounds like Japanese music. Very simple and a deep sound.
AAJ: When he first started playing with you in this more free context, was it difficult for him?
SF: Do you know Yosuke Yamashita? He's part of the first generation of free jazz pianists in Japan. Very out. He sounds like Cecil Taylor. Akira was the drummer in his trio for a long time, so he's really familiar with this kind of music. He's more happy playing free stuff.
AAJ: You mentioned the Gato Libre project. On their new record, Kuro, you play accordion. When did you pick that up?
SF: Well, there's a story. I think Natsuki invited me to play accordion because I don't have any chops. [laughs] So he thought he could make me be quiet. With accordion, I have no technique, so I have to pick something I really like and play very little. Natsuki wanted me to do that. That's his decision, not my decision. That's one reason.
Another reason is that there is a jazz club in Tokyo that has very good curry, but they don't have a piano. I wanted to eat curry there, so I had to choose something to do. [laughs]
AAJ: I don't know how many musical decisions have been made because of curry...
SF: Sometimes musicians are that simple, I think. [laughs]
AAJ: This Gato Libre project sounds very influenced by folk music. Is that a conscious influence?
SF: I don't think Natsuki planned anything like that. He wrote the pieces without any idea. It just came from his heart, and it ended up having a European folk music feeling. But that was not his plan. He just wrote something that he wanted to play, and it ended up like that.
AAJ: CD number four this year features you and Natsuki and percussionist John Hollenbeck. The band is called Junk Box and the album is called Cloudy, Then Sunny. Can you talk about how you and John Hollenbeck first began playing together?
SF: He's such a great composer. When he plays with his band [The Claudia Quintet], he's not just a player. He's more like a musical director and composer. But he's a great drummer and I really wanted to play with him. He has such a free sense. So instead of writing something with notesthe traditional way, notationI just used my way to write music and asked him to play. We made two albums because I really enjoyed our first album and wanted to develop it more.
AAJ: You turn 50 in October. Happy birthday, by the way. You could easily slow down now, but you released four albums this year. Why are you still so energetic and passionate about playing?
SF: I don't know. [laughs] I do the things that I want to do. That's just ended up meaning five or six albums a year. I sometimes have gotten some complaints from record companies, because they have a hard time selling my CDs, and if I make more, it's harder for them. But I just can't stop. I think I'm addicted.
AAJ: What kind of audience is there in Japan for the kind of music you make?
SF: There are certain people, not many, who love this kind of music. But if you go to jazz clubs in Tokyo, there are many clubs with straight-ahead hard bop stuff. Many Japanese jazz fans love that kind of music. If you count the jazz clubs in Tokyo, we have many more than in New York City. But I think there are maybe three clubs in Tokyo where I can play. I think in other places people will throw eggs or tomatoes. [laughs]
I think this is very common thing, not just in Tokyo. I think it's the same in New York or other places, too.
AAJ: I think people who don't try to listen to this music are really missing out. You don't really need any education in music to appreciate this music.
SF: I think the music that I make is much more accessible for people who don't know about jazz or don't have any music education. I think hard bop is difficult to listen to. When I was at Berklee, I wanted to be a very good bebop pianist. So I listened to [saxophonist] Charlie Parker every night before I went to bed, and every night I had nightmares. [laughs] So I think that kind of music needs some study to understand. There are many chord progressions and a lot of tensions.
I think my kind of music is more like just feeling something. I've been told many times that people don't understand my music because it's too difficult, but I don't know what they mean by "difficult" or "easy." For me, sometimes straight-ahead jazz sounds do difficult.
Satoko Fujii ma-do, Heat Wave (Not Two Records, 2008)
Gato Libre, Kuro (Libra Records, 2008)
Satoko Fujii, Trace A River (Libra Records, 2008)
Junk Box, Cloudy, Then Sunny (Libra Records, 2008)
Carla Kihlstedt/Satoko Fujii, Minamo (Henceforth Records, 2007)
Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble, Fujin Raijin (Les Disques Victo, 2007)
Satoko Fujii Quartet, Bacchus (Muzak, 2007)
Satoko Fujii Orchestra Kobe, Kobe Yee!! (Crab Apple Records, 2006)