Jazz and Japan

Thurs. 3/24 at Noon: This week on the Thursday jazz show we'll honor the contributions that Japan has brought to the music of jazz, and let them know that we are thinking about them in their time of sorrow and struggle in the aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami and near-nuclear nightmare.

Japanese jazz affectionados are legendary for their love of jazz where their big cities have jazz tea houses with collections of jazz records that make us stateside collectors drool. Apparently, one can sit and sip a cup of hot tea and choose what sides you'd like to hear, in Toyko! and Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, and Kyoto! That doesn't happen in America.

And in the 1970s while American record companies took to churning out some horrid gawd-forsaken disco jazz the Japanese were keeping the true flame and re-issuing the genuine article. Praise be.

Then, my fellow Japanese jazz nuts decided to come to America and show US how to run jazz clubs! Every city in America had one or two jazz clubs operated by Japanese jazzers. In my hometown of Los Angeles we had The Maiden Voyage downtown across the street from MacArthur Park Lake, run by Japanese gangsters. At least they looked like gangsters to me, or maybe they had watched too many Cagney movies? They were some rough looking customers with cigs hanging from their lips and dark shades masking their deadpan stares in pinstripe suits and stingy-brim Bogie hats. I should have said Hi and got to know them but I was a little too timid for that. Gangsters! I'd put on my Fu Manchu and sneak past them to my table.

Think about it, we wouldn't have the great recordings on Keynote Records of Lester Young without the efforts of Harry Lim in the 40s. Or the Keynote records of Coleman Hawkins or Lennie Tristano's earliest records! And think of the dozen great records Toshiya Taenaka made in Los Angeles and NYC of Warne Marsh, Al Haig, Sal Mosca, Horace Tapscott, and Billy Bauer (I'm still looking for this item, in case, you know where one might be).

And still, to this day, among us record collectors rumors spread like wildfire when our Japanese counterparts are in town emptying out the bins and taking all the gems we missed. Last year in a saxophone shop on 46th Street/NYC with Richard Tabnik we were allowed to step into the climate-controlled vault of vintage Selmer and Conn saxes and saw one entire wall of saxophones gone. The Japanese cleared them out. Like connoisseurs they knew which to grab and which to leave to us saps over here.

And since the 1960s a steady stream of American jazz players have been welcomed on the island. Huge arenas are booked for our jazz and the Japanese sit reverently and quietly and listen to every note, they save their applause till the end of the concert (from what I've been told) so as not to miss anything, and then at concert's end, an uproarious applause. It almost embarrasses me that they love jazz more than American's do. But, what are you going to do. American's by & large just don't get jazz. Flies right over their noggins and heads north. Heads to Japan!

Today, we bow to the East, to our brothers and sisters in Japan.


Slideshow image: "Red Fuji" by Katsushika Hokusai