Interview #254 John Abercrombie Part 1
ジョン・アバークロンビー Part 1
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ウェイン・ゼイド @ミズーリ州セントルイス市 2000年2月13日
cover photo:©1979 Yasuhisa Yoneda 米田泰久
♪ 1979年「ECM スーパー・ギター・セッション」で初来日
John Abercrombie ：ある程度は覚えているよ。何のために訪日したのか、どんな人たちがいたのか、なんとなくは覚えているね。ECMレコードと関係があったのかどうかははっきりしないんだけど、あったのかもしれないね。一緒に参加したメンバーはみんなECMのレコーディング・アーティストだったから。リッチー・バイラーク、ジョージ・ムラーツ、ピーター・ドナルド、それからパット・メセニーのバンドも一緒だった。パットはまだ日本で人気が出る前だった。彼はたしか『パット・メセニー・グループ』というアルバムを出したばかりで、白い表紙のアルバムだったけど、あっという間に名声を上げたね。それにブラジルのギタリスト、エグベルト・ジズモンチも参加していて、エグベルトもECMに録音していた。ECMのパッケージ・コンサートのようなものだったけど、「Guitar Supertour」*1 とかいうギター・ツアーと銘打たれていたね。それが初めての日本行きだったね。
客の入りが少なかったのは、ECMの音楽が当時日本では新しかったからだと思うんだ。当時、日本で一番人気のあるギタリストはラリー・カールトンかリー・リトナーだと聞かされた。彼らはもっとポップ発の人たちでしたね。たしかに、ジャズの影響は受けているけど、もっと “イージーリスニング “に近いと言える。僕の感じではね。僕が演奏していたジャズも、パットが演奏していたジャズも、日本の聴衆にとっては少し新しい音楽だったのだろうと感じたんだ。
WZ： キース・ジャレットは、その頃にはすでに日本に進出していたのだろうか？ 彼もECMアーティストのひとりだよね。
あまり一緒に演奏したことはないけれど、とても優れた日本人ミュージシャンが何人かいる。菊地雅章というピアニストがいて、一度一緒に演奏したことがある。彼は “Poo “と呼ばれていて、とても面白い人物なんだ。中村照夫というベーシストがいたね。彼は面白くて、とてもアメリカナイズされていたね。彼と話していると、黒人のジャズミュージシャンと話しているような気がして、それがまたイカしてるんだ。”よお、どおだい、元気でやってるか” みたいな。それから、素晴らしいトランペッターがいたんだけど、彼とはあまり一緒に仕事をしたことがないね。日本に戻った 日野皓正だ 。彼は日本のミュージシャンの中では有名な方だと思う。本当にいい演奏をするんだよ。
*2 このフランス人は、NHKでの通訳の仕事を生業とし、フランスからジャズ・グループを招聘するために Tokyo Jazz Actionというオフィスをオフィスを主宰していた
僕が知っている日本のミュージシャンは、みんな本当に素晴らしくて、親しみやすい人たちばかり。小曽根真とか、素晴らしいよ。 日本で彼に会ったんだけど、僕とマーク・ジョンソンを連れて、有名な天文台に出かけて、昼食をとったんだ。彼はBMWに乗って、携帯電話やその他もろもろを持ちながらドライブしていた。だけど最近出たちょっとした紹介記事によると、彼はそういうのを全部やめてニューヨークに戻り、シンプルなアパートに住んで、ただぶらぶらしてもっと音楽をやりたいと思っているらしい。それは真のことだと思うんだけど、どうだろう。いや、間違い無いだろうね。それから、ニューヨークで日本人のドラマーと一緒にアルバムも作ったんだ。ジョージ大塚という名前で、もう亡くなってしまったと思うんだけど。そのアルバムにはピアノの “Poo”菊地雅章、ベースのミロスラフ・ヴィトウス、ピアノのリッチー・バイラーク、サックスのスティーヴ・グロスマンらが参加していて、いい演奏が入っているんだよ*3。
♫ 関連記事（ECM Super Guitar Session ’79)
ウェイン・ゼイド (Wayne Zade)
1976年から2016年まで、ミズーリ州フルトンのウェストミンスター大学で英語の教授を務め、 ハーレム・ルネッサンスやジャズ、ブルース、詩など、アメリカ文学やジャズの講義を担当。 2000年頃から日本のジャズに興味を持ち、日本で演奏した多くのアメリカ人ジャズ・ミュージシャンや、アメリカで演奏した日本人ジャズ・ミュージシャンにインタビュー。これらのインタビューは、2023年に出版される『Nippon Soul: Jazz in Japan』という本にまとめられる予定。
An Interview with John Abercrombie by Wayne Zade @St. Louis, MO
Feb. 13, 2000
Wayne Zade: John, I’d like to ask you to begin by talking a bit about what you rcmember about your first visit to play in Japan.
John Abercrombie: I do recall some things. I recall kind of what is was for, and the people involved. I’m not sure it was connected with ECM Records or not, but it may have been. All the people I went with were ECM recording artists. It was my quartet, which you have the album of there [Abercrombie Quartet, 1979], with Richie Beirach, George Mraz, Peter Donald, and we went with the Pat Metheny band. Pat wasn’t popular yet. He had just come out with an album called, I think, Pat Metheny Group, a white-covered album that eventually skyrocketed into fame. And Egberto Gismonti was also on that bill, the Brazilian guitarist, and Egberto recorded for ECM. So it was kind of an ECM package, but it was also billed as a guitar tour, “Guitar Supertour” or something–I don’t really remember. So that was the first time I went to Japan.
We played all concert halls, I think, except I remember a jam session at a place called The Pit Inn, which is a sort of famouse small club in Japan where a lot of Japanese jazz musicians play, and Americans play, and it’s a very informal place–really a lot more like an American club. Lots of younger people, and a nice, exciting place to play. But most of the gigs we had there were in concert halls. And they were, believe it or not with a lineup like that, not that well attended.
The audiences were small because I think the music was–ECM was kind of new to Japan, you know. And when I went there, people told me that the most favorite guitar player in Japan was, I think, the most popular was Larry Carlton or Lee Ritenour, who were more pop-oriented. Jazz- influenced, but more–their music is definitely more like “easy listening.” And I felt that. I felt that our music probably was a little new to the Japanese audience, the kind of jazz I was playing, or even that Pat was playing.
WZ: Had Keith Jarrett made his inroads into Japan by this time? He’s another ECM artist.
JA: Yeah, Keith had already been there. He had been there, but I still don’t think–I’m sure he had been very successful there. But somehow this music was new. I do remember a funny incident. I mean, just being backstage, and all of a sudden this promoter of a concert brought back 50 or 60 of these blank pieces of paper. And the idea was everybody had to sign them, and they were either sold or given away; I don’t know what the deal was. 1 remember having to sign just millions of things, it seemed. And then people showed up after the concert wanting me to sign like their shirts, their bodies–just write on some article of clothing! I even had one guy– now this was another time I went to Japan–had me autograph his beautiful old Gibson guitar. He had a coffee shop, a little coffee house that had jazz, y0u know, records, There’s a lot of those kind of places in Japan. I forget the name of them. You could go in and get coffee or tea and they’d have all the Blue Note records, jazz from everywhere. You can just sit around and listen to jazz. Not “live” but recorded jazz.
I remember that: I remember signing a lot of autographs. It was just kind of an amazing change. It felt so different, yet it also felt very Westernized. Any musician will tell you this because most musicians are freaks for things like tape recorders, cameras, gadgets and stuff, and Japan is like fantasy land. I mean, everything is there. They have stores that have nothing but matches and I love watches, so I would spend like, literally, an hour or two in a watch store just looking at these different watches before I would decide if I was going to buy. Tape recorders are very popular, and the ginzas, these different areas where you can go and shop, were fascinating.
So on my first trip to Japan, I didn’t get into the culture or anything. I would like to have seen some temples, but we were moving so fast, I didn’t get much of a chance to see anything. It all seemed like a big rush. Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo–a bunch of different places. One thing I did experience (and I don’t know if y0u want to include this), I went to a bath house, It was kind of a geisha thing, but I forget what they call them–
WZ: Kind of like a spa, but you know, uh, you can get other things in these places too, if you want. And that was kind of an experience.
WZ: And your next trip to Japan?
JA: On the first trip, I had mixed feelings. I was a little disappointed with the turnout of some of the audiences. I think that’a what kept me from going back to Japan for a while in the late ’70s. My quartet was really peaking then–we were really tight as a band. But then I didn’t go back for over 10 years
WZ: Had you heard a general vibe from other jazz musicians about their experiences in Japan, before you made your first trip ?
JA: Oh, I heard people talk about it, yeah. For the most part people said how well they were received and how wonderfully they were treated, and I must say that for me that part of it was true, I think the Japanese respect people who do things well, not just musicians. I think they’re a very respectful people, and so we were treated very well. And the people who came to hear the music responded very well because the Japanese–at least in my experience with them, in all the times I’ve been there–it’s not usually standing ovations, screaming and yelling. It’s very polite, very reserved, and yet it’s–when they like it, they early seem to like it. But I didn’t got a lot of hooking and hollering like I would from a European audience or maybe some American audiences.
WZ: Did you have the sense, when you played there with your quartet for example, that maybe the Japanese jazz fans were more used to be-bop from American players?
JA: Yeah. They are used to bebop, or like I said, the popular guitarists, like Larry Carlton or George Benson. (Of course, George Benson is one of my favorite guitar players of all time!) More pop-oriented jazz. What I was playing, and what I’ve played on all my recordings and what I usually present–sometimes it confuses people a little because my guitar sound doesn’t sound like the traditional bebop guitar sound of somebody like Tal Farlow. My sound has always been different, I mean, from when I started to play. I think it takes getting used to.
WZ: But you sounded a little more like Tai Farlow the other night …
JA: In Tony Reedus’ band [Frontiers], yeah. The kind of things I’m playing right now I’ve noticed coming out more and more. With Charles Lloyd too, and Billy Higgins is the drummer in that band. Some musicians seem to bring out, some groups, bring that out more in me. But these are basically jazz bands. But my music on earlier recordings, and even by my current band, goes a little “left,” you know? To the left of center. It’s now always jazz-jazz sounding, and it’s without a lot of influences. I think that maybe was the reason the Japanese were a little–were used to hearing different things. Just like Americans! That’s why I equate Japan and America very much. The jazz over there that I heard, when I heard their players play, was pretty traditionally-oriented. You could hear Japanese trumpet players who sound like Freddie Hubbard. There was a lot of that going on. I knew a couple of Japanese guitar players, like Ryo Kawasaki, who had been in New York–
WZ: With Elvin Jones?
JA: Yeah, he played with Elvin. Strangest guitar player to watch. I never saw anybody move so much. And the faces he would make–he’d be like grimacing. Aw, it was just wild. Good player, but not my favorite player. Actually, there was another guy named Masuo, who played for a short time with Sonny Rollins. I can’t remember Masuo’s first name [Yoshiaki). He’s very, very musical; kind of like a Grant Green, or a cross between Grant Green and Jim Hall. A very sparse player, not a lot of notes but all kind of well placed–I always liked his playing a lot.
There are some very good Japanese musicians I played with a little bit, not much. There was Masabumi Kikuchi, a piano player; I played once with him. They call him “Poo”–he’s a riot, he’s very funny. There was a bass player named Akira Nakamura. He was fun, he was very Americanized. When you talked to him, you thought you were talking to a black jazz musician, which was lovely. “Yeah, man, shit! What’s up?” Then there was a wonderful trumpet player, I never really worked with him that much. He’s back in Japan. Terumasa Hino. He’s maybe one of the more well-known Japanese musicians. Really plays good.
WZ: Did you find among the Japanese jazz. musicians an awareness of racial identities? I mean., you’re a white guy, somebody else is a black guy …
WZ: Was there a preference for black musicians?
JA: I didn’t get the feeling that there was. No, I really didn’t. At least my take on it was that there were no racial feelings going on. l know from other people that–I know there’s a French man who lives in Japan, who speaks Japanese fluently, and who brought me over with a French band; this was with Joe Lovano, and it was the second time I went to Japan. And he spoke about the difficulty he was having getting accepted by the Japanese, and how he could speak the language fluently and how he had been living there ten, 15 years and he still got the run around sometimes and couldn’t quite get–as a promoter of music he was having trouble. And I think certain circles were closed to him–and in that sense it could be that things were closed from a business point of view. But I think the musicians had this more just sort of open view.
Every Japanese musician I’ve known has been really great and friendly. I mean, someone like Makoto Ozone: what a great person he is! I saw him in Japan. He took me and Marc Johnson out for a trip to some famous observatory, and we had lunch. He was driving around in a BMW, with cell phones and whatnot. But I read recently, just a little blurb, where he has given up all that and has moved back to New York and is living in just a simple apartment and just wants to hang out and play more music. I think that was Makoto, but I’m not sure. Pretty sure. I also made an album–I made one recording with a Japanese drummer, that was made in New York.
His name was George Otsuka–I think he’s passed away. That album had “Poo” on piano, Miroslav Vitous on bass, Richie Beirach on piano, Steve Grossman on saxophone–it’s got some nice things on it!
WZ: Is that an American album or a Japanese album?
JA: That’s a Japanese album; it was made for Trio Records, run by a guy named Kenny xxxxxxx. He’s a great guy. After my first trip to Japan, with the quartet, on the way back we stopped in Los Angeles. Richie Beirach went on to New York, and the three of us–George Mraz, Peter Donald, and I–remained in L.A. and did an album for a Japanese company called Discomate which went out of business. The way we got the gig–Discomate wanted to record Joe Pass.
This was being produced by Lew Tabackin, the saxophone player-
WZ: Who’s married to Toshiko Akiyoshi …
JA: Right, there are all these tie-ins. So, anyway, Lew heard some tapes of the three of us playing and he said, “Oh, I don’t want to produce Joe Pass, I’d rather produce this. This is more my cup of tea.” I was very pleased, and the Japanese went with the idea. All it consisted of was Lew was just sitting in the studio, smoking his pipe, and saying to us, “Why don’t you do another one? Do another one.” And it was all standard tunes. That was it–it had to be an album of standards. It’s a great little record, now it’s a little collectors’ item. I lent it around to people, and then it was re-released on a label called Jazz America. But on the original, there’s a picture of us on the back–kind of Kingston Trio style: I’m holding my guitar, Peter’s with his drum , George holding his bass, we’re all smiling–it’s really hysterical.
WZ: You’re wearing striped, button down collar shirts …
JA: No, not quite. I had a leather jacket on. Lots of hair and sideburns. But I like the record. It’s kind of homespun, and kind of funky, but I like that. And that was made for a Japanese company. So I’ve got these tie-ins with Japan, though I’ve never recorded in Japan, and I haven’t been to Japan as much as some other musicians, but there are all these weird little connections.
It’s interesting that we called that album Direct Flight–because that’s what we didn’t get when we went to .Japan. The people who brought us were trying to get us over there inexpensively, so we had to fly like through Nome–some very bizarre routing, and it took us forever to get there. So we did that little record as a joke, but we never admitted it was a joke. The album cover had this jet plane taking off.
WZ: You’ve recorded for ECM for many years now; you have an unusually abiding relationship with that label. Do you have a sense of how the jazz record business in Japan works? Is it much different from the jazz record business in the States or i11 Europe?
JA: I don’t think so, no. I think it pretty much works the same. I think that America and Japan approach things similarly. Europe, it seems to me, is not quite so hard sell, in terms of how they’re trying to promote the records. In this country, in America, it’s like–if you just look at today’s color jazz magazines, the ads are getting so glossy–I mean some of those magazines, like Jazziz .. .
WZ: … or Jazz Times?
JA: Yeah. They’re like fashion magazines. They didn’t start out that way. Down Beat’s having to compete. Everything looks like Vogue or Mademoiselle. I don’t know. It’s like, weird. They’ve taken on this very slick quality, and if you don’t have a real good photographer, you might not get in the magazine anymore.
WZ: Or on their web pages. The magazines all have web pages n0w.
JA: Yeah. Have you seen the magazines in Japan? These thick magazines, like Swing Journal’? There are a couple of them, and they’re all very similar in format. I don’t know how they manage to put so much stuff in a magazine, but you open it up and every little space is accounted for. There are millions of ads, millions of reviews, of new records, records that were recorded 30 years ago.
WZ: Are any of these in English?
JA: No, these are all in Japanese. You should see the ratings system. There’s a little guy, and he’s holding a megaphone. If he’s holding his hands up, it’s a four star review. And if he’s bowing, that’s even better. Then there’s a little alligator–which is not good! So you can look at these magazines, and know what they think of the records, but you can’t read anything about them. It’s hysterical. Fun to look at. Very thick. In Europe, the marketing departments just don’t push as hard, they’re not as hard sell. They probably think it’s too crass to do that.
WZ: Again, you record for ECM, and their standards of production are among the highest.
JA: They’re very high.
WZ: We’re sitting here looking at LPs that I’ve had for 25 years, and they sound like I’ve just opened them..
JA: Well, they look like you take care of them. You should see mine!
WZ: But is it your impression that the Japanese have higher technical standards than American record companies?
JA: I think so. It just seems that in whatever they do, there seems to be a lot of care taken. Think of so many things, technical things–electronic equipment, tape recorders. It’s just quality stuff. Most of it never breaks down.
WZ: Do you have a car?
JA: Well, I have two. One is a Subaru!
WZ: It’s Japanese.
JA: Japanese. But I also just bought an old Mercedes–an ’87. But in so many things I’ve owned over the years, the quality is there. And I’ve actually even played Yamaha guitars. I knew a couple of Japanese guys–they were my students. I had two Japanese students, but what were their names? Ken? Both very good players. Tetsu, Tetsu was one. He told me one time, “Oh, John, aw! How could you play Yamaha guitars? I could never play Yamaha–it’s shit!” He’s thinking they make skis, tractors, sewing machines, televisions, you know. They make everything, you know! So don’t play Yamaha, he was telling me. But I had a short bout with a Yamaha guitar, and actually I played a few of them. I knew a girl who was the representative in New York, on 57th Street. She kept giving me guitars to try. I kept trying them.
WZ: Some of the Yamaha pianos sound lovely.
JA: I have a Yamaha piano at.home. It’s a big one, a big nine-footer, and it’s gorgeous–for me, anyway. Maybe not for Keith Jarrett or Oscar Peterson, or somebody, or a classical musician, but for me, or a lot of jazz players. It’s more affordable, anyway, than a Steinway. So I think the Japanese expectations are very, very high; they have very high standards technically. Also, Japan is where a lot of stuff gets developed, a lot of the stuff we all use. And a lot of the equipment I used ! I mean, I do play guitars by American makers, I seem to prefer that, although that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy a Japanese guitar. But all the little bits and pieces I use, a lot of my little effect units, you know, the reverbs–most of it is from the Roland Corporation, which is a huge corporation that makes instruments and synthesizers.
WZ: And it’s a Japanese corporation?
JA: Yeah. Their stuff is absolutely the best. I prefer their things, although there’s American stuff that people say is better. And I’ve tried it, but I just like the quality of the Japanese stuff better.
The Japanese just seem to have a way of making things that you can use that are kind of universal. People can fix these things, and it’s not so esoteric. Very smart.
WZ: You mentioned having a couple of Japanese students.
WZ: This was in the States?
JA: Yeah, they had to come to the States.
WZ: Have you done any teaching in Japan?
JA: No, not in Japan. I’m trying to remember, and I can’t. I couldn’t at first remember being in Japan with Joe Lovano, so obviously my mind forgot a lot of things. But I have had a number of Japanese students over the years, when I was living in New York. Not so much now.
I actually have one Japanese student at the New England Conservatory. I can’t remember his name now, because he’s a new student, he just started with me this semester. I’ll have to look his name up and remember who he is when I go back again, in a couple of weeks.
But two guys I remember. One was Tetsu, and the other was Katsu. Tetsu and Katsu!
WZ: They’re not an act, are they?
JA: No, oh, no’ They were both real good players, especially Katsu. He was just really musical, with great facility on the guitar. He went back to Japan, but Tetsu, I think, still lives in New York. So I’ve had some connections with Japanese musicians. But the interesting thing about these guys is that they’d come for the lesson and they’d both bring tape recorders. Which I thought was very smart, because some students would just show up with no paper to write notes on, no tape recorders, so they would leave the lesson probably forgetting everything.
WZ: How was Tetsu’s and Katsu’s English?
JA: Pretty good. And my Japanese in nil. So other than domo ?????, that didn’t give us much to talk about. But they were pretty good. There were times when it was a little rough for me, trying to explain things, but that’s why they had the tape recorders, because we would play. And they would come in, and I’d say, “So what should we do?” They’d just turn on the tape recorders and go, “Let’s play ‘Autumn Leaves ! One, two–.” And they’d count it off for me, you know.
What they wanted to do more than anything was play with me and record it; then they could go back and listen to it and see what they could learn. I thought that was pretty smart. That’s really what I end up doing with most of my students anyway. Just sort of play and talk. I don’t have a big regime or agenda. So Tetsu and Katsu fit in perfecly with that. They were very intelligent, bright.
But I don’t know–and you’ll probably hear this from a lot of musicians too–I mean, I can’t ever remember hearing any Japanese jazz musicians who I thought particularly sounded original. l don’t mean they’re not there; I just haven’t heard them yet. Not that there are that many musicians–period–who sound that original. American, European, or Japanese, whatever. We all have to copy somebody, we all have to, like, learn the language.
I also remember being in Japan, the first or second time, and going to some nightclub or something, on a night off or after a gig, and hearing a band performing, like a show band. I could have been sitting in Vegas, they sounded exactly like that–whatever they were singing and playing, actually perfect. Right off a Vegas revue or something. There were girl singers, with absolutely no inflection or Japanese intonation–they sounded American. All in English–all very perfect. Whatever they were singing–Sonny and Cher, you know. The Osmonds! You know, something like that. Kind of pop music.
WZ: Do you have a sense of how the Japanese regard American classical musicians?
JA: I’ve never been exposed to that much. You mean, other kinds of music?
WZ: The pop stuff I can kind of see. And the jazz stuff I can definitely see. l just wondered about the extent to which people liked, say, Itzhak Perlman …
JA: Oh, yeah. I’m teaching now at the New England Conservatory. I started last year, so this is my second year, and I’m a real part-time teacher. I would say that when I walk down the hallway of that school, which is basically a classical school with a small jazz department, almost all of the violinists, I would say 80% of the violin students, girls, I see walking with their cases are Japanese.
WZ: Ray Drummond told me that studying the piano was one of the few opportunities open to young Japanese girls.
JA: Very probably true. And lots of violinists. And cellists, you know, I remember seeing a movie about Isaac Stern on TV, when he went to China to teach, called “From Mao to Mozart.” It’s a great documentary, and I remember seeing many Chinese girls playin the violin.
But I don’t have a connection with a lot of classical musicians–period. I just think the people would regard American musicians with a lot of respect.
WZ: So this is now about 20 years or more since the first time you went to Japan to play. When was the last time you went, most recently?
JA: The last time I went, actually, was for a one-night gig, opposite Herbie Hancock’s band. This came about in a very funny way. I was in and out of there so quick, I didn’t know what happened. It was at a Mt. Fuji festival, something around Mt. Fuji. But it wasn’t the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival; it was called something like “Jazz on the Lake.” Herbie had the band with Mike Brecker and John Scofield and Jack DeJohnette and Don Alias. Now I had my own trio, with Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine. And the Japanese had this idea that they wanted each member of Herbie’s band–and they had a five-night stand–each night they wanted a different member of that band to open the show before Herbie came out. Which was a very strange concept. One night, Michael Brecker would play first, with a band of his choice, and then play with Herbie.
The next night, John Scofield would front a band. They actually wanted Jack DeJohnette to play with myself and Dave Holland–we’d had a cooperative trio called Gateway. Jack, because he was having tendonitis problems, for physical reasons, he didn’t want to have to do two gigs in one night. So l thought I wasn’t going to get that gig. But then they decided that they wanted me to play anyway. Unbelievable money for one concert! So l called up Marc and Peter. The Japanese didn’t want my organ trio; they wanted Marc and Peter. So we ran over and did it, business class.
WZ: You.just played opposite Herbie’s band for one night, then?
JA: Yeah, a 45 minute set or something! We made ridiculous sums of money. I made more money in one set than I would have made probably in a couple of months of work! Or, at least the band did, and we split it. And it was so quick, I hardly remember it.
WZ: And that was how long ago?
JA: Oh, maybe about four years ago. And that was the last time I was in Japan. There is actually talk about my going back to Japan now, maybe at the end of August. I’d be working at the Blue Note clubs there, with a bassist named Lars Danielsson, and a woman singer who’s from Denmark. But I don’t know if f’m going to do it. It sounds like a strange …
WZ: Is Lars Danielsson any relation to Palle Danielsson., another great bassist?
JA: No, they’re not related. They’re both Swedish, and they’re both amazing bass players.
WZ: How about other times you’ve been to Japan to play?
JA: There have been probably three or four other times. The second time I went was with a French band and Joe Lovano. It was very unusual. This French promoter decided to book a tour for a French bass player named Henri Texier, and Henri had a band with myself and Joe Lovano and a French drummer named Aldo Romano, who might have been Italian. So we had a quartet. And that was an interesting tour! It also didn’t do extremely well, but it was a fun tour.
We played big concert halls, but nobody knew who Henri or Aldo were; Joe was totally unknown at the time too. He was just an ordinary saxophone player–he didn’t have any fame like he has now. So, again, it was a little disappointing that we didn’t draw a lot of people in. But it was an interesting thing to be in Japan with a French band.
On that tour they put us in some small hotel–this was the economy Japanese tour. You could probably lift up the whole bath unit and take it out of the hotel–the toilet, the sink, the shower: everything was like one contained little unit. And everything was very small. But I had fun.
And then I went back to Japan to play the Blue Notes, and that was when I had a chance to actually see more of Japan. I went back with Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine–we might have been there twice. We played all the three Blue Notes–there’s one in Tokyo, one in Osaka, and one in Fukuoka. We played all three cities, and my wife came to Tokyo. The way the gig was set up, it was so easy, because the first set was at 7:00, the second set at 9:00, and you were done by like 10:30! You’d get back to the hotel room and go to sleep and wake up, and then have the whole day to sightsee. Which is what we did. So that’s when we went off to some of the famous cities–their names, for some reason, are escaping me now. But the cities known for temples. There’s one at Osaka, a famous one.
WZ: Was it on this tour that you saw a baseball game?
JA: No, that was the one with Joe Lovano. That was exciting. We were at Hiroshima, and we also went to see the Hirsohima memorial, which is a devastating thing to go and see. There’s a room inside, it’s a big circular room, and you start at the beginning. And what it is, it’s just a mural that goes all the way around. And you see what happened when the bomb dropped. And you get terrified–! think you can sign something. Really an experience. Very sad, you know, thing–to realize what had happened, what devastation there was.
But later we were walking around and we just saw a baseball stadium. We saw what was happening, and Joe and I just said, “Man, let’s go to a game!” So we got our tickets. Nobody spoke any English, but we could make ourselves understood, and we went in. I think we saw the Tokyo Carp–I remember that was one team. And they were playing the Hiroshima team. It was just so much fun. It’s really like an American game. Huge crowd. Completely into it. I think we were probably the only Americans there. All Japanese, and they’re all whooping it up. Just like with jazz–they were completely fanatical. They play like we do–and that’s how their jazz is played too.
So that was one of the other trips to Japan. On this trip I played on this TV show, with Joe and this French band, one of the first gigs the band had. That was the only experience I had playing on TV there; nothing on radio.
Then my next trip was for those Blue Note dates I’ve mentioned. We saw all these wonderful shrines. We just bought a book and went to see that part of Japan. And that was absolutely fantastic–! was so glad we did that. Otherwise, I would see Sony! But then we were on our own all day, and we’d stop into these Japanese restaurants, in the middle of these temple towns, you know, just sit down. You really felt that you were in Japan–out of the city.
WZ: Really different from when you first went over to Japan.
JA: Yeah. This was more a feeling of really being out there, of living in the country, the deeper part. Not like being in the cities–all the lights, the Sony factories, you know, the watch stores. And I had a friend in Japan, a jazz player from California, trumpet player, very unusual because he’s kind of a big band trumpet player, never really in being a soloist that I remember, he always played jobs in big bands. He moved to Japan because he was very interested in Japanese music, the culture, and he speaks fluent Japanese, so he took us around. For an American guy, he knows his way around and he showed us around.
When I went back to Japan again, it was with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland and we played the Blue Notes. And that was good. Especially in the Tokyo cluh, it seemed that people were getting more vocal about the music, a little more enthusiastic about the music. I think in a club setting–this is kind of how I feel anyway. Tn certain concert halls, it’s kind of hard to reach out and get to the music. It’s nice in a concert hall if it’s a good sound. But a club atmosphere for jazz–now Wynton Marsalis would probably totally disagree and say jazz should be in Lincoln Center–but there’s something about playing in a jazz club–the Jazz Showcase, the Dakota Bar and Grill in Minneapolis–that puts you right there, right there with the people. That’s what had changed for me and what I felt at the Blue Note clubs. A very nice experience.
And I love the city of Fukuoka, right there by the water. It reminded me of San Francisco, really a nice feeling. And it’s a very easy place to kind of get around and be, even though you’re in Japan–there are signs in English, the trains run perfectly, it’s very easy to understand, not like the New York subway. You can be on the train and know where you’re going …
WZ: The “bullet train”?
JA: Yeah, the bullet train. But even the normal trains that go, you know, where you need to go. And they serve coffee and ,, a on the trains the girl pushes around the cart. There are all these places where you can get coffee; there are all these machines too. You just put in a few yen. Ice coffee is very popular. I wound up drinking tons of ice coffee.
Then the only other time I went to Japan, I went back with the organ band, Dan Wall and Adam Nussbaum. That was part of ECM’s 25th anniversary. The same promoter who had Trio Records, Kenny Inaoka?, brought us over, and we played opposite a French band that recorded for ECM, kind of a, not avant garde band, but compared to us they were avant garde–and it was interesting to watch the Japanese response to them, because they didn’t really go over that well at all, yet they’re great musicians. I think their music was maybe a little too cerebral. A little too- it wasn’t jazz-sounding music. It was improvised, though it sounded more like improvised classical music. Very interesting for a musician to listen to, but I think the average public didn’t really get it. And of course this was an odd pairing with my band because my band can get pretty visceral and earthy–it was an unusual pairing, you know? And my band seemed to go over quite well. And that was a nice–we played mostly concert halls there, though not too many. As a matter of fact, we were in one place where there was this incredible–that was destroyed in a terrible hurricane. It was about six months after I was there.
WZ: So what year was that?
JA: Probably about seven or eight years ago. And I remember, with Dan Wall, we went out walking in a hurricane. We walked into the eye of a hurricane. It was very peaceful. And Dan likes to do it. He said,”Come on, man, you can’t get hurt.” I’m looking outside this hotel room and I see like this amazing shit going on. And we went out! And it was like nothing. It was like we were walking through this very calm and gray day – and a very shortly after that, whatever place we were, I remember seeing it on the news. It was completely devastated by a hurricane. And we had been out walking in one!
Wayne Zade was Professor of English at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, from 1976-2016. He taught courses in American Literature and jazz, including the Harlem Renaissance and Jazz, Blues, and Poetry. He became interested in jazz in Japan around the year 2000 and was able to interview many American jazz musicians who played in Japan and some Japanese jazz musicians who played in the U.S. These interviews will be collected in a book, Nippon Soul: Jazz in Japan, which will be published in 2023.