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Tomas Fujiwara: The More the Better

Troy Dostert By

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AAJ: So you've known him since high school?

TF: We didn't go to high school together, but I met him when we were both in high school, and we played a handful of times in high school. And he already had every Miles Davis album, and he was already deep into it. I moved to New York when I was 17, and at that point I was very into checking out as much music, both live and recorded, as possible. And I really became interested in the history, the people, and the stories, and how it connected to the culture of the times. And that's ongoing.

AAJ: Listening to your previous work and this album, there are other influences that are there—for instance, a rock influence. Where did that come from?

TF: When I first started playing drums, I wanted to play the music on the radio that my friends were listening to, so a lot of that was rock. Unfortunately, a lot of that in that era was hair-rock... but also I got really into hip-hop, and hip-hop was actually a way that I learned about jazz, because at that time they wrote out where the samples came from on the CDs. So that's how I learned about James Brown through the funky drummer breakbeat, or if they sampled a Milt Jackson riff, I would go check that out. Or Ron Carter, on [A Tribe Called Quest's] Low End Theory, and even those Jazzmatazz records, I think Donald Byrd was on one of them, Roy Ayers...so I've always paid attention to popular music.

AAJ: Could you say something about the role that family plays in your music? A lot of your songs have dedications to various members of your family—including The Air is Different, which had a photo of your grandfather on the cover, correct?

TF: Yes. One of the compositions on that album was written after my grandfather had just passed. He was a Buddhist priest, and I took a bell/bowl from the temple as a keepsake, and I didn't use it that much, but one day I played it and listened to it, and I heard all of this resonance and I started writing a piece based on that. And then as I was writing more music around that time for the Hook Up, I drew more inspiration from my time with him and my grandmother in Japan. They lived in a beautiful, remote place, and the temple was attached to the house, and I would go there a lot in the summers as a kid. So that was on my mind. But with a lot of my inspiration for pieces, I don't want to be too overt about it; I really want the listener to take their own experience from it. So a piece that might be inspired by my grandfather, if it makes someone else think of, I don't know, an ocean seascape, that's great. And I feel that if there are too many pieces where I'm telling people exactly what they're about, and the inspiration, I feel like that limits their experience and limits their creativity as it relates to the music that I'm trying to produce. Because I think listening can be very creative and evocative and also individual, varying from person to person.

That photograph [from The Air is Different] was taken at the Emperor's Palace, and my grandfather had received that medal that he has on his jacket from the emperor for his contributions to the country as both a priest and in education, as he was superintendent of schools in their town. And I always love that photo, so when I was thinking about the layout for the album, and some visual stuff, that really resonated with me. And then I wrote a piece about him in the album liner notes. But more of the music was inspired by things like that, and I was less obvious about stating those things—again, to let people take what they will from it. But I think that's a nice way to show the personal nature of the pieces I compose, and it doesn't give too much away, because if you don't know my grandfather you can know that a piece might be inspired by him. You can see that as part of my process, but you can also take something of your own away from it. And Triple Double is dedicated to my four grandmothers: pieces are inspired by them and by certain memories, but I spell that out a little less. You know it's dedicated to these important women in my life, but I don't think I say which songs and in what way they inspire me. And I like that: I give you a little and let you figure it out.

And that's also the way I compose when I have great musicians to compose for—I don't want to spell everything out. I was just explaining this to someone last night at the workshop we did at the University of Michigan, when they were asking me how I write. And when I write it all out, it's maybe twice as much information as what I end up giving to the band. So I might write something super-specific—articulation, dynamics, et cetera—but then I might pull out certain things when I give them the music, and let them interpret it the way they want.

AAJ: Do you use a piano when you write?

TF: Yeah—I'll use the piano, I'll use the vibes, I'll use the drum set. I'll do some writing away from an instrument, and I'll use the computer. It changes from piece to piece. With most of my compositions I'll probably end up using most of those things, but depending on what the first instrument is, that might make a difference between a piece that originated on the piano versus a piece that originated on the drum set.

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