Awards aren't handed down to individuals that proclaim how tough it is to live in New York. Likewise, it's not news to write that the life of the modern day jazz musician is difficult. If we follow the past two sentences we might come to the conclusion that the life of a New York jazz musician is not a bunch of wine and roses. While prodigies that venture off on world tours before they are legally able to purchase alcoholic beverages exist, they arein most casesthe exception to the rule. The reality for most professional musician hopefuls is not one full of performances at huge gala events with even bigger paychecks at the end of the night. In actuality, the life of the recent conservatory graduate is one reduced to playing for tips at restaurants that overcharge customers for meals that are certified organicwhatever that means. Kobe-born, Brooklyn-based trumpeter, composer, and Blue Note recording artist Takuya Kuroda knows about the latter all too well.
Kuroda's latest album, Rising Son
(Blue Note, 2014), acts as a metaphor for his career. The trumpeter explains that his career, like the sun that rises slowly, took time to develop in order to reach where it is at now. "I've been in New York for 10 years," Kuroda comments. "I wouldn't say it's been slow but seeing bigger results took time."
The 33-year old trumpet player was 20 when he first came to the U.S. to participate in Berklee's Five-Week Program. After the five weeks at Berklee, Kuroda went down to New York and lived with his cousin for a month. During this time, the Japanese trumpet player who couldn't even speak a word of English at the time found himself cutting it up at jam sessions every night. "There was a great [jam session] in Brooklyn at Up Over Jazz Café," recalls Takuya Kuroda. "It's closed now, but Vincent Herring
used to run the jam session on Monday nights. It was kind of a happening jam back in the day. There were a lot of young lions that would play [there] like Robert Glasper
and Kenyatta Beasley
"I didn't have any friends in [New York] at the time, so the only spot I could go and meet other cats was at jam sessions," confesses the trumpet player. "I couldn't even speak English at the time, and the only way I could express myself was through playing trumpet."
Despite the language barrier, the month spent in New York proved to be enough to make Kuroda return. After finishing his studies at Konan University, Kuroda started attending the famed New School For Jazz and Contemporary Music in 2003 where he began studying under the late Laurie Frink. "Basically, the reason why I'm still in New York and I'm [still] playing is because I studied with her," Kuroda admits.
"I still remember the first day I studied with her," continues the trumpeter. "I was nervous and she asked me to play two octaves of a C Major scale. I was so nervous that I couldn't even make it [past] the second octave. She was like, 'It's okay.' Then she asked me what my goals were, what was my concept, and who I want to be. Then after 20 minutes, she gave me manuscript paper and she said to me, 'Work on this for month and come back.'"
What Kuroda saw on the paper shocked him. "It was just long tones and exercises that 12 year old kids [practice]," Kuroda explains. "I was like, 'Wait! I've been playing trumpet for 12 years!' But she explained and said it wasn't about how easy the [exercises] were, it was about getting to this crazy level of awareness."
Upon Laurie Frink's advice, Kuroda began practicing the seemingly abecedarian exercises that were prescribed to him and sure enough, he began seeing results. "I did the exercises and before I noticed it, friends at school came up to me and [started] saying, 'Yo! You've been shedding man!' I wasn't even shedding songs," Kuroda notes. "I was just doing this simple routine for a month. It wasn't like I was working on 'Giant Steps' at a really fast tempo or something, it was just about [getting] a better tone on the horn to make your ideas better."
But for all the shedding that Kuroda did during his time at New School, life after school was still a challenge. "I didn't really have my own project right after graduating, so I was focused on how I was going to make it in terms of paying rent and basic real world things that everybody faces after graduating," Kuroda recalls.