Thoughts on Japanese Musicians

August 12, 2008

This post was originally posted on my MySpace blog, but it more properly belongs here, thus I am re-posting it. I have one or two other posts that are relevant to this site that will also be transferred in the interests of organizing all my music posts in a single location.

Recently I spent a couple of weeks in Japan. While there, I had the opportunity of once again performing with some of the musicians I used to play regularly with; luminaries such as Kusano Hiroshi (guitar), Yamada Yukio (drums), Taneda Atsuo (trumpet), Tabe Toshihiko (sax/piano) and of course Kajiwara Junichi (trombone). They currently have their own group, called the New Skylark Orchestra.

Two things that have always struck me about Japanese musicians is how technically proficient they are and how welcoming they are to foreigners. As an example, when I first went to japan, I found a live house (the original Big band, when it was located around the corner from my apartment), and soon met a number of local players. I was a fairly young kid at the time, with less-than-excellent musical maturity, but they were very friendly and I was soon playing in a number of musical groups. This led to some friendships that still exist.

On this most recent occasion, I contacted my friends to let them know I was in Japan, and they were kind enough to set up a live session at a couple of local live houses (clubs, in our language).

The clubs are small, but very well appointed, and well equipped. The place I played this time, called Big Band, is a second-storey establishment, with a full drum set, grand piano, and excellent accoustics. Most of them make their money by selling drinks and ‘snacks’ (light foods such as pizzas and similar fare) to the patrons. Big band is no exception. While I partook of some Japanese beer, my fellow players indulged in shochu- an excellent alcohol distilled from a variety of sources. The bar was attended by two young Japanese music students who were learning to sing jazz. As is usual in Japan, the service was excellent.

As a word of advice, if you do go to Japan, be prepared to learn from the musicians over there- they are proficient and very very skilled. If you go with an open mind, you will meet some excellent musicians, and you will enjoy some superb musical experiences. I certainly did, and continue to do so on every return to Japan.