Christian Jacob: On Respect and Knowledge of Jazz in Japan

Wayne Zade By

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AAJ: And the trio was responsive to this?

CJ: Oh, yeah, yeah. They liked the arrangements, and so it was good. Those songs were the big hit of that tour. We ended up going to a club where we didn't have a concert, but a jam session was happening. Suddenly they introduced me, and so I was like, OK, I'll play. Then people began asking for those Japanese songs!

AAJ: Based on your experience in working with Mr. Sangu, do you have the sense that the record business in Japan is similar to the record business in the States—operates in a similar way? Is there anything different, better in Japan?

CJ: To be honest, I don't know. If anything, I'm the opposite of a business guy. I'm not even sure how it works in the States. I deal with it the best I can. I used to be with Concord Records and then, OK, they didn't sell enough—and I'm out. So, I think, what am I doing? I don't want to be running around trying to get signed, to be able to record. So, I decided, I'll just record myself, do it on my own.

AAJ: More and more musicians seem to be doing that.

CJ: It seems to me that Yasuo is working so hard. It's a hard business, I think, over there too. He's trying to make it work. He needs to economize. For me, it's not a money thing for me to go there. I went there because I really wanted to. But I can't do that too often.

AAJ: The economy in Japan has been in trouble too.

CJ: Serious trouble, yes.

AAJ: Yet Japanese fans are famously great record collectors, and autograph seekers.

CJ: The Japanese are so knowledgeable.

AAJ: And records stay in print there. There are such great record stores in Japan. Do you ever shop for records there?

CJ: Yeah, oh yeah, it's ridiculous.

AAJ: Have you had a sense in Japan of how American musicians in other musical fields, such as classical or hip-hop, are regarded? Is American music in general popular there?

CJ: It seems to me that classical music in general is well regarded there. I'm thinking of Makoto Ozone in this sense now. He's a lovely guy, and a good friend of mine. He's doing a classical career now.

AAJ: He's active in teaching music in Japan too, coaching bands in high schools.

CJ: He has a radio program too. He goes back and forth to Japan a lot. His manager is a classical music manager, so Makoto has expanded his range. He just finished a Chopin tour. I really admire him. I did the reverse: I came from classical to jazz.

AAJ: The piano, and piano trios in jazz, seem to have the highest regard in the minds of Japanese jazz audiences. Can you explain this, do you wonder why?

CJ: The piano is like a little orchestra. I'm a pianist—so it makes sense to me! I know why this is not true in the States, though. In the States, the piano, the trio, always has been put into the role of background music. In France, we don't have that sense. We have more the approach that the Japanese have. The piano is like the king's instrument. An orchestra in a box. The piano is one of the instruments on which you need a lot of years.

More than on other instruments. I do believe this. A great pianist puts down much more work than, say, a great trumpeter, maybe not in terms of time, but at least in terms of more varied areas of knowledge that he or she must have.

So, yes, Japan has that—respect, for the piano, and the piano trio in jazz. I mean, they love everything, but the piano, they love the most.

strong>AAJ: There's such interplay, cooperation in the piano trio. It's a little community. And Japanese society is different from American society in this sense; American society is so oriented around the individual.

CJ: I think so, yes.

AAJ: In terms of jazz and the history of jazz, have you noticed in Japan a preference for African-American musicians, in terms of authenticity in the music? Or, is music beyond race?

CJ: I haven't noticed that when I've been in Japan. I would actually say not as much as what I have noticed in the States regarding race and jazz. I may have heard a comment or two among Japanese people about the size of certain black athletes, tall or strong, there might be that awareness. I think the Japanese fans are certainly aware of the history of jazz in the South in America, but for them it's just about the music itself and whoever is playing it well. I've been so impressed with compliments I've received from Japanese jazz fans. They have been so precise and particular in what they like. They just really study and know this music.

AAJ: Can you compare Japanese audiences with European audiences? Do you tour in Europe much now?

CJ: You know, I don't, not much now. There are certain similarities between the two, but European audiences maybe exhibit traits of American and Japanese audiences. In the European audience you're going to have the part of the people who are really listening, and the part of the people who are a little lost, don't know what they are listening to or listening for and are therefore afraid of giving a judgment; and then those people who want to help out with the energy, yelling, "Yeah! Yeah!" There's just a wide range of listeners in Europe. In Japan, the listening is more attentive, analytical, as in classical music. But respect is always the word that comes to my mind about the Japanese. I feel that all the time there.


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