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Takuya Kuroda: Rising Son

By Published: February 19, 2014
Shortly after graduating, Takuya Kuroda started taking all sorts of gigs in order to support himself. "I would take any gig," admits the trumpeter. Although there is a saying famous in freelance circles that goes, "A gig is a gig is a gig is a gig," not all performing opportunities and work-related contracts are equal. While performing, teaching, composing, arranging, and other odd jobs are good ways to earn an income in the beginning, there are the occasional hyper-odd jobs and gigs that arise. But this did not stop Kuroda from answering any calls. "I would take gigs—any gigs," he confessed. "I know a lot of cats that took stupid gigs, but I would go anywhere."

Even though the rising son of Kobe's desire to play never faltered, Kuroda was faced with difficulty shortly after graduating. "There were times that I would get really dark and say, 'I don't know if I can make [this] my entire life,'" Kuroda recounts. "Then a really good gig would come around and I would go, 'Oh shit! I can make it!'" The "really good gigs" that Kuroda encountered that lifted his spirits came in the form of wedding gigs, teaching, and/or arranging horn lines for well-known Japanese pop stars. But like any good plot to a good story, the one-offs that served as a morale booster to our protagonist would eventually end and Kuroda would be back to square-one. "Once in a while a good paying gig would come to me, then I would go back to no gigs and go, 'What the fuck?'" remembers the trumpeter.

Takuya Kuroda repeated this cycle until misfortune struck his family. "My grandpa passed away around 2009," he laments. "It was the first real loss that I've had in my family and it [made] me realize that life was really limited." With the awareness of life's brevity in mind, Takuya Kuroda decided to work on his first album, Bitter & High (Self Produced, 2010).

The trumpeter's first album as a leader was a good start and even landed him some attention on NPR. While Kuroda's debut album might have been a hit for critics, he was still faced with the problem of moving units. "I printed a thousand albums and there were piles of boxes in my room at the time," he remembers. "I was like, 'Fuck! What am I supposed to do?' So I arranged a tour in Japan."

"I booked 12 [shows] and I couldn't even get a hotel so I crashed at my parent's or my friend's place," Kuroda continues. "I kind of broke even with the money I spent. Doing that really helped my mental health because I felt like I had my own project." Though Takuya Kuroda wasn't making a lot of money through recording and booking tours for himself, breaking even was enough to help him decide to continue pursuing his own projects.

Bitter & High wasn't the only important release that Kuroda presented in 2010; the trumpeter also appears on vocalist Jose James
Jose James
Jose James
' Blackmagic (Brownswood). James—who produced Kuroda's forthcoming album—first met the trumpeter when the duo performed at a mutual friend's senior recital at The New School. "I was on my friend's senior recital with Jose at The New School around 2007—right after I graduated," he elaborates.

"Jose came up to me after and asked me if I wanted to play on his album and I said yes," Kuroda continues. "This was the time that I didn't have a lot of gigs so I was ready to play on anything. From there, he started calling me more for shows and recordings. After two years, he asked if I asked to be an official member of the band."

Kuroda's affiliation with Jose James—a partnership that continues today—would prove to be a positive impact on the trumpeter. "I was lucky to be [included] in Jose James' band and travel all over the world," he shares. But James' influence over Kuroda's career goes deeper than just filling up his passport with immigration stamps. Rising Son, Kuroda's newest groove-heavy release was an idea that came from James.

"One day [James] came up to me and said, 'Yo Tak, I have an idea. How do you feel about me producing your album?'" Kuroda recalls. "I was like, 'What?' I didn't even know what a producer did at the time, so I was like 'Yeah, I'll think about it.'"

"But every time I saw Jose, he was so serious about it," he continues. "After months Jose was like, 'Yo Tak, did you decide?' So I was thinking, 'Oh my god, Jose's serious!' I thought that he would forget about it, but he was really serious so I agreed."

While Takuya Kuroda's 2012 release, Six Aces (Self Produced), features a few songs with a backbeat, the majority of Kuroda's albums stay within a straight-ahead palette. Rising Son is the first of project where Kuroda—as a leader—explores his sound exclusively through a hip-hop, neo-soul, and R&B lens. "Jose really wanted to focus on a groove because he really loved how I played on his band," Kuroda states.

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