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Christian Jacob: On Respect and Knowledge of Jazz in Japan

Wayne Zade By

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Christian Jacob was born in Lorraine, France, and began classical piano studies at the age of four. His early musical influences included Debussy and Ravel, as well as Oscar Peterson, whose approaches to improvisation impressed him the most.
Having won First Prize in a piano competition at the Paris Conservatory, Jacob studied and then later taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Maynard Ferguson played an important role early in Jacob's career, giving the pianist a job in his band and producing his first two records on the Concord label—Maynard Ferguson Presents Christian Jacob (1997) and Time Lines (1999). His professional associations multiplied quickly in stints with Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Randy Brecker, Miroslav Vitous, and Bill Holman, among others.
In the mid-'90s, Jacob teamed up with vocalist Tierney Sutton, bassist Trey Henry, and drummer Ray Brinker in the Tierney Sutton Band. Over 15 years, they have recorded seven critically acclaimed CDs for Telarc Jazz. In 2004 and 2006, respectively, Jacob released two albums on his own independent label, Wilder Jazz: Styne and Mine, a tribute to the music of Jule Styne, and Contradictions, which pays homage to his friend the late pianist Michel Petrucciani, followed by Live in Japan, released in 2008.
All About Jazz: Can you remember the first time you went to Japan to play?

Christian Jacob: Yes, the very first time was around 1986. I was at Berklee College of Music, and I went with vibraphonist Gary Burton and a group called the Berklee All-Stars. Berklee was trying to do Berklee in Japan, and that was I believe even the first year in which they were actually going over and trying to do some classes in Japan. Wait, I graduated in 1986, so maybe this was 1987 because then I was a teacher at Berklee; as soon as I graduated, I taught at Berklee, until 1989.

So I went with Gary, and we did some teaching there, plus the group with which we played concerts. This was in Hamamatsu, which is a fairly small town, not a big city. But then we played some concerts and toured around.

I have come back many times to Japan, but that was my first visit. And I remember being excited! At that point in my life, I had traveled quite a bit; but I had never gone to Japan, and it was my wish to do so.

AAJ: So, what was it about Japan? Were you just curious? Was it the country itself and the culture, or the music scene there?

CJ: Oh, more about the people and the country. It's interesting that you bring this up. I had no particular interest in the music there. You know, basically, the way that I came to America was the same way. When I was in France, and I was young, I wanted to go to America so much! The people, the country, the buildings. It was a different culture.

AAJ Travel is a great education.

CJ: Right. The same thing for me in Japan. Interesting culture, buildings. I'm not, you know, an historian, or scholar. It was for me just the attraction of a new country.

AAJ From Gary Burton, had you heard about Japan? Did he talk about his travels there?

CJ: Maybe he did talk, yes. He must have told me about concerts he had played. Just in conversation. Between musicians we always trade notes and information: "Oh, the last time I played in Berlin," things like that. Now I'm remembering. At one concert, he needed something. Maybe it was a different monitor, another monitor. And the promoters were like "Oh, yes, oh, yes," but they didn't have one or couldn't get one. Or maybe he needed to change the time of something? And they were like, "Oh, yes, oh yes," but they couldn't or wouldn't do it. So there was this surface, external impression.

AAJ: Politeness?

CJ: Yeah, big politeness. But they couldn't or wouldn't budge about what he wanted. I forget exactly what it was.

AAJ: When you read about Japan, or the culture, you have an awareness of the distinction between "outside" and "inside." There are certain externals that have to be observed, but the people might be thinking something very different.

CJ: Oh, I noticed this later too, and I understand this exactly now. So this was a concert story from Gary, and he was just saying how funny it was to him. It seemed very Japanese.

Later, my story in this vein had to do with a big band I came over to Japan to play with. Trumpeter Carl Saunders was in the band, it was led by a drummer from Los Angeles, Frank Capp. We arrived, and we had the bus. We're at the bus, and I hadn't had time to use the restroom. We take off, and I say to the tour manager that we'd have to stop along the way so I could use the restroom. So he starts studying his papers, shuffling his papers, and panicking because this isn't on the schedule. And he said, finally, "Yes, yes, OK." But I felt like it was made to be such a big deal.

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