Steve Kuhn: On Japan

Wayne Zade By

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AAJ: This year, ECM released the new Mostly Coltrane, and a reissued three-CD box set of three of your albums from 1975 to 1980, Life's Backward Glances. Will you be touring in Japan to promote these releases?

Steve KuhnSK: No, at least nothing has been set up yet. I've spoken with the guy who usually brings us over, and he wanted me to come over in January, 2010. But I just haven't followed up on that yet. He wanted me to bring Billy Drummond and George Mraz over.

AAJ: So will the Japanese promoters sometime ask for a specific rhythm section?

SK: This promoter does, based on his clients' preferences. When I was over there last year, I was with Eddie Gomez and Billy Drummond. I've been there with Mraz before; I can't even remember everybody. I've been there with David Finck on bass as well. The Japanese do tend to go for bigger names. That is more appealing to them.

AAJ: Is that a more recent development, an economic move?

SK: I don't think so. The economy no doubt has some impact on it, but basically they know who they like, names they are familiar with, and who they want to have play there.

AAJ: Have you ever been on the "100 Golden Fingers" Tour? Ten pianists tour the country with a rhythm section, playing in various configurations.

SK: No. I was never asked to do that tour.

AAJ: Quite a few American pianists have been on the 'Fingers' tour; Tommy Flanagan was one. Most of the players have generally been older, better known?

SK: [laughs] Well, if they're older, I would fit in there now!

AAJ: Do they even still have the "Fingers" tour?

SK: As far as I know, it's still happening.

AAJ: So, would you say that you average one trip a year to Japan?

SK: I'll go to Japan every year, or year and a half, usually. It's going to be longer now, since it's already been a year; I was there last July.

AAJ: How could we leave the subject of jazz and Japan without asking you, Do you remember an album you made called The Country and Western Sound of Jazz Pianos (Dauntless), with Toshiko Akiyoshi? That was in 1963!

SK: Oh, sure.

AAJ: It's out on CD now, right?

SK: I did get a copy—in Japan. Or somebody sent it to me from Japan.

strong>AAJ: Do you remember much from that date?

SK (laughs): A little bit. My friend Eddie Summerlin had the idea to try to get the country and western market and the jazz market, and draw on the two markets. The bottom line was that it didn't really do anything in either market. It was not a success, to say the least. There were two basses on it, and drums, guitar, and the two pianos. Eddie wrote all the arrangements of country and western songs.

The producer was Tom Wilson, whom I had met at Harvard; he was a couple of years ahead of me there. Then he came to New York, and he was involved with United Artists, I believe. Then he was at Dauntless. Audio Fidelity was the name of the big company, and Dauntless was the jazz part of it. He came up with the idea of the two pianos. Originally it was supposed to be Herbie Hancock and me, but for some reason, Herbie wasn't able to do it; I don't remember the situation. So Toshiko came on board.

AAJ: Have you stayed in touch with Toshiko?

SK: No, not really. I've run into her a couple of times. And she lives here in New York.

AAJ: One of her greatest albums is Hiroshima: Rising from the Abyss (True Life, 2003), which she took a very long time to get to do. It's really powerful.

SK: Yes, I imagine it would be.

AAJ: Any final thoughts on Japan and jazz?

Steve Kuhn

SK: I remember my first visit there so well, and subsequent visits have been memorable too. The Japanese people are incredibly up on jazz, and in terms of you as an individual. They're such passionate collectors. There was stuff I had recorded, as a sideman and even a couple as a leader that I had forgotten that I had done. The fans come up to you with copies of these things.

I remember outside some clubs, on occasion, there would be these very different people, almost like homeless or street people, and their arms would be filled with these records. I just really get very emotional about this, because I could see that they couldn't afford to come into the clubs, and they were standing out in front, wanting me to sign their albums. They just couldn't afford the admission, and these places were sold out, and I couldn't do anything about it anyway.

AAJ: Like 80 dollar cover charges at the clubs?

SK: It depends. Yeah, some might cost a hundred dollars.

I asked about all this, and apparently there is a record-buying base, and then there are people who can afford to go to the clubs. They are two different entities, really. One doesn't necessarily tie into the other, as they do in the States, for example. In Japan, people can't afford to do both, so they do one or the other. In Japan, in the fancier venues, it's mostly businessmen who put it all on their expense accounts. Also in those places guys are there not so much for the music, they're just looking for women, or they're drinking until they get drunk.

In Japan, the real fans know a lot about me and my history, and about the music. One guy in particular shows up every time I'm over there, anywhere in the country. He works, he has a day job, but he manages to make every concert we do in Japan. He's even put up a website on me. It's all in Japanese, so I have no idea quite what it says. But he knows everything, and things that I've forgotten about!

The Japanese want to know as much as they can know. It's very flattering, and it's very touching. I really enjoy going there. The thing I hate the most is the flight back and forth. But once I'm there, I always enjoy myself.

Selected Discography

Steve Kuhn Trio w/ Joe Lovano, Mostly Coltrane (ECM, 2009)

Steve Kuhn, Life's Backward Glances: Solo and Quartet (ECM, 2009)

Stan Getz, Recorded Fall 1961 (Verve, 2009)
Steve Kuhn, Baubles, Bangles, and Beads (Pony Canyon, 2008
Steve Kuhn, Plays Standards (Tokuma Japan, 2008)
Steve Kuhn, Two by 2 (Sunnyside, 2007)
Steve Kuhn, Live at Birdland (Blue Note, 2007)
Steve Kuhn, Pavane for a Dead Princess (Venus Jazz, 2006)
Steve Kuhn, Temptation (Venus Jazz, 2003)
Steve Kuhn, Love Walked In (Sunnyside, 2003)
Sheila Jordan, Little Song (High Note, 2002)
Karin Krog,Where You At? (Enja, 2002)
Steve Kuhn, Sing Me Softly of the Blues (Venus Jazz, 2000)
Steve Kuhn, The Best Things (Reservoir, 2000)
Steve Kuhn, Countdown (Reservoir, 1999)
Steve Kuhn, Dedication (Reservoir, 1998)
Pete LaRoca, Basra (Blue Note, 1995)
Steve Kuhn, Years Later (Concord Jazz, 1992)
Steve Kuhn, Live at Maybeck Recital Hall, Vol. 13 (Concord Jazz, 1990)
Steve Kuhn, Oceans in the Sky (Owl, 1989)
David Darling, Cycles (ECM, 1982)
Steve Swallow, Home (ECM, 1980)
Steve Kuhn, Trance (ECM, 1974)
Steve Kuhn, Three Waves (Contact, 1966)
Steve Kuhn, The October Suite (Impulse!, 1966)

Photo Credits

Robert Lewis, Courtesy of ECM Records

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