I make no secret of my interest in Japanese jazz. Madelaine and I did a two-hour broadcast of nothing but on KCSB a couple weeks back, and now you can find the one-off show, which we called Nihon no Jyazu, streamable, downloadable, and explained on the Santa Barbara Independent’s site:
The first of my many mentions of this came when I went digging through the station’s vinyl shelves looking for internationally interesting music. Picking up the Terumasa Hino Sextet’s album Fuji, I consulted my copy of All-Japan: The Catalogue of Everything Japanese. “Jazz and Japan shouldn’t mix,” I quoted the book as saying. “After all, the essence of jazz lies in improvisation—a concept largely absent from both traditional Japanese music and Japanese society as a whole. Japan may adapt, but it does not improvise.” So, reason one to do an all-Japanese-jazz show: the sheer oddity of it. But I’ve also found a second reason: There’s a whole lot of the stuff!
I learned this after seizing the opportunity to use an open two-hour slot last Friday night. Its regular KCSBer couldn’t make it, so I figured I could use it to make the Japanese jazz show I’ve so often discussed a reality, if only for one night. If not now, I said to myself, when? With only a few months left before I move out of Santa Barbara, I’ve got to cram as much free-form radio goodness into my life as humanly possible. Thus, if you happened to be listening between 10 p.m. and midnight last Friday, you caught Nihon no Jyazu—which, creatively, means “Jazz of Japan” — the one-shot show with wall-to-wall playing from the Land of the Rising Sun (not to mention a goofily valedictory sort of atmosphere).
The program features not only Japanese players (Hino, Makoto Ozone, Eiji Kitamura, Teruo Nakamura, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Sadao Watanabe) but Japanese players collaborating with Western players, Western players of Japanese ancestry, and Western players playing live in Japan. When Madelaine and I finally get to Japan — maybe next year — we I insist on organizing our trip around visits to as many jazz clubs as possible. I feel increasingly desperate to see Osaka, a city that seems musically rich, though I’ve also heard Kobe’s jazz scene specifically praised.
Why do I enjoy Japanese jazz so? I can think of three possible explanations:
- Re-interpretation. For decades and decades, Japan has impressed the rest of the world with its penchant for taking foreign ideas, parsing them through Japanese sensibilities, then turning around and giving the results back to the world. Think of how Japanese car companies played it. Should we think of jazz differently?
- Fervent fandom. I get the impression that, when a Japanese person gets into something, they get way into it. Though small pretty much by definition, the Japanese community of jazz listeners and players easily muster a disproportionately intense enthusiasm and dedication that results in a disproportionately rich jazz culture. cf. giant, statistic-heavy animated robots — should we think of jazz differently?
- Filtration. Last time I visited Amoeba Music, the dreadlocked guy at the checkout counter looked up at me and said, “Damn, you got a lot of Japanese jazz.” Indeed I did, and not as a result of hours of labor. When you set out to find something as specific as Japanese jazz, I discovered, you find it either quickly and easily or you don’t find it at all. Tight browsing constraints, perhaps paradoxically, always improve my shopping experience. (Previous such constraints have included “only soul/funk/R&B from 1975-1984” and “only ECM vinyl.”)