Greetings from Japan jazz fans. I'm back on tour in the land of the rising sun, where raw fish, horse and whale are happily eaten by young and old. It seems that at least a couple of times every year for the past fifteen years I'm asked to come over here and play music for some of the most fanatical jazz fans on planet earth. Right now I'm on tour with the amazing Japanese bassist Kiyoto Fujiwara who for the past fifteen years has had some of the coolest bands and made some of the hippest recordings I've ever been a part of.
Right now I'm in the beautiful port city of Takamatsu located on the island of Shikoku just across the bay from Osaka and Kobe where the devastating earthquake hit five years ago. Besides having the best Udon (noodles) in Japan it's also Kiyoto's home town. We are usually helped here by a wild and crazy Buddhist monk we call J-monk (for jazz-monk) who loves jazz and hanging out like a good monk should. Sometimes he takes us out to a typical Japanese jazz coffee shop which exists in the thousands all over the countryside. Here while sipping a cup of green tea or drinking a cup of coffee you can make requests to listen to just about any Blue Note, Riverside or any other classic record you can think of.
It's sad to me that Kiyoto Fujiwara isn't better known in the United States even though he has lived in New York City for the past twenty five years and has made nine of his own recordings, three with Kenny Garrett and two with Thomas Chapin (both whom I wrote about in previous articles) as well as three piano trio and one duo recording with another great Japanese bassist Chin Suzuki. (I'm on all but the bass duo CD). The drummer on all the recordings is the dynamic and creative Shunsuke Fuke who also has been in New York for over twenty years. Unfortunately all of his recordings have been available only in Japan and consequently the American jazz audience is unaware of how great Kiyoto is. He is truly one of the most unique creative bassists around and has been hired by many great jazz players who have recognised his talents including Horace Silver, Clifford Jordan, Andrew Hill, Joe Lee Wilson, Andy Bey and dozens of others. Not only is Kiyoto a superb bassist but he also writes some very unique music. His melodic and harmonic sense are very fascinating and full of surprise. His music is filled with openness and beauty as well as wildness and swing. He definitely has his own thing going on which isn't so easy in today's jazz world.
If you want to hear a bit of Kiyoto's playing check out the Thomas Chapin CD on the Arabesque label called You Don't Know Me or the Thomas Chapin Trio Plus Strings CD on the Knitting Factory label otherwise you'll just have to make a trip to Japan to buy one of his latest CD's on the King Records label. It would be worth the trip. And don't forget to try some that delicious raw whale tongue while you're there.
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
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