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Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within

Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within

by William Minor

Part music history, part cultural meditation, part travel narrative, Jazz Journeys to Japan is the first book to address the experiences of individual players — Japanese jazz greats such as Toshiko Akiyoshi, Masahiko Satoh, Makoto Ozone, and Yosuke Yamashita.

William Minor navigates the converging streams of Western music and Eastern tradition, revealing


Part music history, part cultural meditation, part travel narrative, Jazz Journeys to Japan is the first book to address the experiences of individual players — Japanese jazz greats such as Toshiko Akiyoshi, Masahiko Satoh, Makoto Ozone, and Yosuke Yamashita.

William Minor navigates the converging streams of Western music and Eastern tradition, revealing through interviews with musicians, critics, and producers the unique synthesis that results from this convergence. And, turning conventional wisdom on its ear, he disproves the widely held notion that Japanese jazz artists don't "swing." Along the way, we experience Minor's growing appreciation of Japanese culture, which mirrors his subjects' discovery of American jazz.

William Minor's previous books include Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey through the Soviet Union, and Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years. He has written for Downbeat, Jazz Times, Jazz Notes, Coda, and Swing Journal.

Product Details

University of Michigan Press
Publication date:
Jazz Perspectives Series
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Jazz Journeys to Japan: the Heart Within

By William Minor

University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2003 William Minor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0472113453


FLIGHT 187, COACH CLASS TO HAWAII, left San Francisco Airport just about noon, guaranteed lunch and movie. I don't remember the lunch. I don't remember the movie--which I might have stolen glances at but would not have succumbed to in full anyway. Much to the chagrin of our fellow passengers, perhaps, once we'd been commanded to drop our window shades and the plane's interior--although it was still daylight outside--went movie dark, my wife Betty and I left our overhead lights ablaze for reading. I was actually studying, contemplating, what I knew of the history of jazz in Japan, going over notes I had assembled before we left the States.

My wife, Betty, was sitting next to me. She had agreed to accompany me on a jazz journey to Japan I had first proposed nearly a year ago, but had agreed a tad more reluctantly than she had to a similar trek we made in the summer of 1990 through the former Soviet Union. Betty wanted to go to Paris.

"Everybody's written about jazz in France," I'd said at the time. "They've even made movies about it."

"I still want to go to Paris."

So here we were, on our way to jazz in Japan, our first stopover Hawaii. Fortunately, Betty loves Hawaii (we were married there forty years ago, and she enjoys returning to the scene of the crime). I had discovered that two Japanese musicians I wanted very much to interview (and who would prove of immense significance to me and the rest of the journey)--Tiger Okoshi and Toshiko Akiyoshi--would be performing at the Hawaii International Jazz Festival, held, conveniently, just at the time we'd settled on for starting out for Japan.

I had, over the past year of preparation, also assembled not just notes on the history of jazz in Japan but a substantial collection of recordings made by Japanese musicians, and I had even managed to hear them, live, and meet a number of them. I was still somewhat overwhelmed by the extent, in Japan, of this art form I love, especially compared to the relatively fragmented or scattered presence of jazz in the former Soviet Union, and I knew that, in flight now, I had lots of information (names, dates, etc.) to sort out.

Jazz had been a part of the Japanese cultural scene for nearly a quarter of a century before the postwar inundation of GI musicians and fans that produced indigenous counterparts such as pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, alto saxophonist Sadao Watanabe, clarinetist Eiji Kitamura, and saxophonist Hidehiko "Sleepy" Matsumoto. The latter, when he performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1963, the first Japanese artist to appear there (playing baritone sax alongside Gerry Mulligan no less), prompted an ordinarily enlightened critic, Ralph Gleason (who should have known better), to regard him as a novelty, "interesting only as a curiosity." But jazz was no longer just a curiosity, a novelty, to the Japanese. Purportedly, jazz arrived in Japan as early as 1921, when a young man named Shigeya Kikuchi, serving as secretary to his father on a U.S. business trip, returned to his native country with a load of Dixieland 78s. Japan's own "Roaring Twenties" were inaugurated by the Great Earthquake of 1923-- which devastated Tokyo, the city burning for forty hours but, as Edward Seidensticker has written, reconstruction, in typical Japanese fashion, having begun "before the last embers were out."

Musical resuscitation took place in halls frequented by dancers gyrating to steps imported from America. Violinist/bassist Ichiro Ida, from Kobe, created the first professional Dixieland orchestra, called the Hilarious Stars--this instinct for curious monikers later providing a succession of "Herds" that make Woody Herman's differentiations look bland: Cats Herd, the Counter Herd, New Blue Herd, etc. Japanese jazz bands have, since that day (and long before rock groups) adorned themselves with interesting names: the Tokyo Cuban Boys, the Sharps and Flats, Rhythm Aces, Six Lemons, Six Brothers, Six Joes, Six Joys, Laughing Stars, Luck and Sun Jazz Band, the Cozy Quartet Plus One, Albatross, Swing Ace Big Band, the Gay Stars, the Gay Septet, and Field Holler Jazz Orchestra, to cite just a few.

Before leaving the States, I had made the acquaintance of American drummer Akira Tana who, as it turned out, had written his undergraduate thesis in musicology at Harvard on jazz in Japan, and he had sent me A History of King Jazz Recordings, an excellent compilation, a ten-disc collection that contains music recorded from 1937 to 1942 by groups with such names as the Fraternity Syncopators and the King Novelty Orchestra, music much in the vein of early recordings by Duke Ellington, Chick Webb, and Jimmie Lunceford--albeit, I'll admit, with less verve, swing, or sprightliness. Listening, it was interesting to hear the prewar repertoire switch from "St. Louis Blues," "Pagan Love Song," "Goody Goody," and "When It's Lamplighting Time," to songs whose titles all ended with the word bushi (a somewhat antiquated word for "song" in Japanese). Japan, with its new hakko ichu policy (literally, bringing the eight corners of the world under one roof ), had undertaken the task of "rescuing" China from Western imperialism. Thus the jazz tune "Kiso Bushi," based on a folk song sung at a festival along the Kiso River, although labeled "scherzando" (playful) in the original version, had become by the late 1930s a solemn, almost dirgelike military march replete with tenor saxophone and clarinet jazz riffs.

In 1939, two years after the "Rape of Nanking" (where, during Japan's "undeclared war" with China, at least one report lists 20,000 women assaulted and 300,000 people massacred--a Japanese estimate placing the figure at a mere 150,000), Chinese folk songs presented as jazz tunes (this "American" musical idiom still allowed) were popular. In 1940, the popular tune "Ko¯jo¯ No Tsuki" (Moon Over the Desolate Castle) tolerated a sax solo that tipped its hat to Coleman Hawkins, and the same year's "Kanton No Hanauri-Musume" (The Girl Selling Flowers in Canton) is unabashedly two-beat sweet, sporting a muted trumpet solo and thumping section work spiced with loud cymbal splashes. As late as 1942, martial vocal choruses, heard on "Kusatsu Bushi," were still seasoned with drum riffs reminiscent of Gene Krupa, but after that jazz-based music disappears--as do words such as besuboru (baseball)--for the duration of the war. When jazz music reemerged after the war, the repertoire was made up of Stephen Foster songs such as "Oh! Susanna" and "Old Folks at Home"--as performed by a combo led by Hiroshi Masuo, formerly a pianist with the wartime King Novelty Orchestra.

Later, critic Masahisa Segawa, who was introduced to me as the "Leonard Feather of Japan" (there would appear to be two of everything in Nihon or Nippon--two Japanese words for the nation itself; another equally esteemed Japanese critic, Yozo Iwanami, was also introduced to me with that appellation; two clarinetists, incidentally, Eiji Kitamura and Shoji Suzuki, are called the "Benny Goodman of Japan"), would tell me that Shigeya Kikuchi was probably not the only person to return from the States in 1921 with jazz in hand. "Around that time," Segawa said, "several persons took jazz recordings, sheet music, or any information about jazz and brought them back to Japan; so these along with many dance records were already available." Kikuchi was a young pianist, and he wanted to play and develop a jazz style for himself. A student at Keio¯ University when he returned, he called his classmates and organized a small band. Also at this time some Nisei--Japanese Ameri-can--musicians came to Japan from the United States. One, Takaji Domoto, met with Kikuchi and other students and taught them how to play jazz.

Segawa also felt that there had been considerable jazz activity before the 1923 earthquake: "Already in Tokyo and Osaka--particularly in Osaka--there were many dance halls. I mean ballrooms. So already there were many Japanese bands playing dance music--very primitive dance music. Many Japanese were dancing at that time. Many music sheets [Segawa used this phrase, and I liked it!] had been introduced, so they were playing these tunes." By 1935, Nisei singers had come to Japan, along with many Filipino musicians, among whom the Conde brothers were best known. Masahisa Segawa told me that clarinetist Raymond Conde is still playing actively. "There were four Conde brothers," he said, "and two--Raymond and Billy--stayed in Japan. They married Japanese ladies and they have families, and they have Japanese nationality." Two Filipino musicians, Francis Kokiko and clarinetist Conde, became the core of the most popular combo after the war: the Gay Septet. And out of the Gay Septet came such current players as drummer George Kawaguchi and tenor saxophonist Hidehiko "Sleepy" Matsumoto. "Those Filipino musicians taught them," Segawa said.

When I mentioned Micky Matsuyama and the King Jazz Orchestra, on the History of King Jazz Recordings that Segawa himself had compiled, the critic replied, "That too was about 1935, I think, a little later than the Osaka bands. Whether we can call this jazz or not, I don't know. But already, in 1923 or 1924, American dance music or American popular songs had been recorded by Japanese, and these songs were sung in Japanese." In 1928, two major American recording companies--Victor and Columbia--established subsidiary companies: Japan Columbia Records and Japan Victor Records. The year 1928 also saw the beginning of electronic recording in Japan, so the sound quality on recordings was better. Both Victor and Columbia issued the same songs, "My Blue Heaven" and "Song of Araby," sung by the same person, Tamara Teiichi, with the Amazon Trio. "The bands were a bit different," Segawa said. "One was a student band, the other professional. But they both used exactly the same sheet music. Therefore they both sound very similar." "Watashi no Azura" (My Blue Heaven) was one of the most widely sung American songs. "And 'Arabian Uta' [Song of Araby]," Segawa said, "was never recorded in the States. Only the sheet music was issued there--so that's a very strange thing." The composer Carl Fischer wrote "Dardanella" and many other early popular songs in the United States, but someone bought "Song of Araby" and brought it to Japan, where Keizo Horiuchi, a very famous music composer, translated it into Japanese and recorded it. "So this song was recorded only in Japan, and very widely sung," Segawa said.

When I asked Masahisa Segawa about the quality of bands at this time, whether groups such as the Fraternity Syncopators were actually good, he replied, "There were two kinds of musicians in the main development or model in Japan: professional musicians and college students." The sources of professional musicians were military bands or children's bands (or boys' bands). Many department stores had their own boys' bands or children's bands, for advertising purposes. They taught them how to play, and they eventually became professionals, so these musicians made up one stream. The college students were mostly the sons of well-to-do families. They had money and could import records and sheet music. The most advance-minded college-student players listened to Duke Ellington or Jimmy Lunceford, and they wanted to play the most advanced jazz in their bands. Those student bands did not have to worry about money, so they could play whatever they liked to play. But the professional bands worked in dance halls, so they had to play only songs that appealed to the dancers.

In 1941, Segawa told me, the government prohibited anyone from playing American songs, so the first Japanese bands tried to play non-American songs in a jazz style or manner--tunes like "Song of India," which was composed by Rimsky-Korsakov, a Russian composer. This was classical music, but Japanese bands also played Tommy Dorsey's version of "Song of India." Gradually the police caught on, so in 1943, the government issued a very detailed order to prohibit jazz. "No band could have more than two saxophones," Segawa said. "No band could use a mute or cup with a trumpet. No drummer could play four beats-- restrictions like that. So they were trying to kill jazz. The military bands still had to use some woodwind instruments, but they could only be used in these bands, and for military music."

The second "Leonard Feather of Japan," Yozo Iwanami, whose contributions to the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz I had found invaluable in the States, would tell me that, although big band "swing," or dance music, was quite popular before World War II, the postwar Occupation provided Japanese their initial heavy firsthand exposure to the music. That was when Japanese jazz had its biggest evolution: "New jazz-- bebop from the United States--could be heard because of recordings and radio shows. The soldiers brought this music. There were many army clubs, air force bases, other camps, and Japanese musicians played only jazz at such places. And there were many nightclubs in the cities for dancing: in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka. But jazz clubs? In the mid-1950s, maybe two or three. The American soldiers' clubs were the jazz clubs. From 1945 to maybe 1955, it was the military bases that let Japanese jazz grow up. Hidehiko 'Sleepy' Matsumoto played at the American soldiers' clubs. And Toshiko Akiyoshi. Many jazz players started there. Sadao Watanabe . . ."

In 1947, a group called the Gramercy Six recorded for Victor Hot Club (a record company established after the war). "They were one of the first combos to play bebop and cool jazz," Masahisa Segawa told me. "It was a fad for Japanese musicians to try and play bebop. Hiroshi Masuo's 'Oh! Susanna' is just one example of that, but there were very few tunes recorded in that vein that still remain, so there was no alternative: I took Masuo-san's version for the History of King Jazz Recordings. But Masuo-san was not really like Coleman Hawkins or those prewar jazz musicians in the States who tried to adopt the bebop idiom and make it their own. He was one of those who couldn't completely absorb the bebop style, so he gave up and went back to swing."

A mix of 1930s and 1940s American styles, and "cool jazz" by way of Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, and Lee Konitz, exerted its influence in the early 1950s. Kiyoshi Koyama, editor of Swing Journal, produced a recording of nine native musicians in this idiom. Drummer George Kawaguchi's 1953 trio recording of Gene Krupa's "Drum Boogie" inaugurated major interest in jazz. By 1954, over 170 radio broadcasts were disseminating the music throughout the country, broadcasting live jazz performances from nightclubs and dance halls. When television began, there were attempts to show jazz programs. In 1956, the first long-play-ing recordings appeared in Japan.

"Benny Goodman's Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert LP was one of the most popular jazz LPs in Japan," Segawa said. "It sold out." When I mentioned the similarity of Gene Krupa's style of drumming on "Sing, Sing, Sing" to taiko, Segawa said, "That's why Mr. Suniko Ichi has used jazz drumming in his arrangements of Japanese folk songs. Actually, Sunisan used Japanese taiko and koto too." When I asked Yozo Iwanami who the first American musicians he'd heard live were, he replied, "Probably the Gene Krupa Trio. With Charlie Ventura and Teddy Napolean. Then Jazz at the Philharmonic in 1953. J. C. Heard was the drummer, and he stayed in Japan for maybe one or two years. And I heard Louis Armstrong, with his All Stars. Cozy Cole, Barney Bigard, Arvil Shaw. Trummy Young was on trombone."

Yozo Iwanami was the first person to tell me about Shotoro Moriyasu, who committed suicide in 1955 and whom the critic considers "the most talented modern jazz pianist in Japan." I mentioned that I had asked pianist Kotaro Tsukahara to list the most important postwar pianists in Japan, those who, he felt, had exerted the greatest influence, and Shotoro Moriyasu had been first on his list, followed by Toshiko Akiyoshi, Kazuo Yashiro, and Yoshitaka Akimitsu. Iwanami said that, after Moriyasu, Akiyoshi was "the next most talented pianist," but he considered Yashiro a great pianist too. Yoshitaka Akimitsu was mostly a swing player, in the Teddy Wilson mode, whereas Shotoro Moriyasu "was like Bud Powell; the conception came from Charlie Parker."

Modern recording techniques were well in place by 1957, when clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, a member of Benny Goodman's band, supervised a recording by Shoji Suzuki and the Rhythm Aces. This record-- "Suzukakino Michi" (its melody by Haida Harushko, a Nisei guitar player who wrote many Westernized Japanese popular songs)--became a best-seller in Japan, and the group undertook a concert tour throughout the country. At the time, audiences included young Japanese women so moved by the music that they "swooned," just as American girls had once over Frank Sinatra. An all-female theater genre called takurazuka was extremely popular during this period, but the rise of jazz contributed to a shift toward interest in male performers. Coffeehouses, clubs, and cabarets fostered the rapid popularization of jazz, providing employment and hands-on "schooling" for Japanese musicians.

At the close of the 1950s, both recording opportunities and radio presentations of the music flourished. Swing Journal conducted a critics poll modeled on the American equivalent, highlighting the achievements of Japanese artists. Masahisa Segawa spoke of 1960 as "the year of the real development of modern jazz in Japan," everything from hard bop to the avant-garde. The major influences were John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lenny Tristano, and, somewhat later, Ornette Coleman and Archie Shepp. "Many types of modern jazz were being developed," Segawa said. "The New Century Recording Institute was a group of jazzmen, but not a band. It was a group of young men who got together to study and play advanced jazz. They did hold concerts from time to time." The Shiraki Hideo Quintet was part of a rather early period of modern jazz, so they stayed in the mainstream mode, not playing avantgarde or free jazz. But in the hard bop vein, the Shiraki Hideo Quintet was one of the most advanced. The producer of the 1965 Berlin Jazz Festival invited the quintet to play not only American jazz but some Japanese-style jazz also--so they took a koto player. "I think the combination worked successfully," Segawa said. MPS Records--a German label--recorded that performance. Shiraki Hideo, unfortunately, died very early, and the quintet broke up right after its Berlin appearance.

In the 1960s, a controversial issue first raised its head: the negative response to an attempt on the part of local musicians to use national materials in their work, rather than relying on standards or blind imitation of American models. Some native musicians were suspicious of Shiraki's motives for using indigenous elements, seeing this as a ploy to gain international favor. Should the use of traditional materials constitute "Japanese jazz," or should the overall personal expressiveness of the musicians themselves?

The late 1960s to early 1970s was the period when avant-garde and free-style jazz were most active. "Yosuke Yamashita's trio was one of them," Segawa said, "but there were so many others!" Japanese performers organized Shinseki Ongaku Kenkyu Jyu (the New Century Music Recording Institute), focused on ways to offer jazz of a uniquely Japanese character, but when Masao Yagi released a recording of Thelonious Monk tunes, promoters turned directly to the American pianist's work itself, bypassing Yagi.


Excerpted from Jazz Journeys to Japan: the Heart Within by William Minor Copyright © 2003 by William Minor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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