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Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: The Real Tokyo Blues


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Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: The Real Tokyo Blues
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (April 4, 1884-April 18, 1943) is a notorious military figure, as he was the commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet during much of World War II. Yamamoto was responsible for planning and executing the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. But before Japan attacked the United States, Yamamoto spent significant time in North America, between 1921 and 1923 in Boston at Harvard, plus a stint as the Japanese naval attaché in Washington, DC. It is presumed that he spent some of his free time in the US capital hearing jazz on record and occasionally in local clubs, enough that he learned to play a bit of stride piano, while he later showed interest in swing after returning to his homeland.

The source and exact dates of the discs for this release are unknown, but they were presumably recorded privately in Japan, probably no later than 1935. It is possible that U.S. soldiers took them from the Yamamoto family home after the war, where they lay forgotten for decades until jazz researcher Zachary "Digger" Dixon recognized them after picking them up for a song at an estate sale. Given that Yamamoto's military duties probably left him little personal time, it is understandable that he was not able to play at a master level, but one has to admire his dedication to jazz, even though he had lost both his index and middle fingers of his left hand during the Battle of Tshushima in 1905, while serving aboard the cruiser Nisshin in the Russo-Japanese War. His rhythm is a little unsteady in the take of James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout," but is much more capable in the remainder of the session, including a lyrical "Chinatown, My Chinatown" and bluesy take of "Ain't Misbehavin.'" As for the remaining three songs, his choice of them ended up rather ironic, given how the war ended.

Of course, Yamamato did not live to see the end of the war. He had supposedly warned Japan's military leadership that the U.S.A. had to be defeated quickly or there would be major consequences. Their failure to consider his advice was a problem through much of the war, especially when they considered their military secret code to be incapable of being cracked by the Allied Forces. Unfortunately for the Japanese, the code was cracked in time to predict the planned invasion of Midway in the Pacific, which produced catastrophic losses in terms of aircraft carriers, seasoned pilots, planes and ships that they could not afford to lose during and after the battle in June 1942. Japanese warlords retained faith in their secret code and that cost Yamamoto his life, as the US Navy learned of the admiral's flight schedule for a tour of island bases. Yamamoto never had to deal with a hostile jazz media criticizing him as a jazz pianist. But fate stepped in when President Franklin Roosevelt approved a flight of sixteen P-38 fighters which intercepted his group en route and he was shot down in flames, causing his Mitsubishi bomber to crash in the jungles of Bougainville.

Track Listing

Carolina Shout; Chinatown, My Chinatown; Japanese Sandman; Ain’t Misbehavin’; The Stars and Stripes Forever; Who’s Sorry Now?.


Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: piano.

Album information

Title: The Real Tokyo Blues | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: April First Records

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