Jazz Music … born in New Orleans, matured in Chicago and in NYC, and absolutely killing it into adulthood in Japan !
Dig it …. There are places called Kissas (or Jazz Izakayas) where cats just come to listen. No one opens their instrument case (and up until not so long ago, one wouldn’t even open their mouths to speak). People come here to listen. That, unto itself, is a very sublime notion.
And don’t think for a quick second that these are uneducated fools spinning Spyro Gyra or Kenny G (nothing against the master of the everlasting circling breath). Currently, as in right now at the very moment as my fingers hit this keypad, its Thelonous Monk’s “Pannonica”, and before that it was Count Basie, Diz, Getz, Art Pepper, Sonny Stitt. Heavy cats! People sit and sip their coffee, beer or spirit of choice (in my case it’s usually the Yamazaki Japanese whisky) and chill. That’s right … they sit, drink, listen and chill. Such a novel thought to one hair brained, overactive, verbose cat I very know (whose initials are D.H).
Jazz Kissas are dimly lit and they store their vinyl from floor to ceiling and from bow to aft…. They are often subdued by a whispy cloud of cigarette smoke … Japanese Jazz Kissas have everything a proper jazz establishment should have, even down to the salty cats behind the bar.
Proprietors are usually quiet and mellow and fear not; any jazz fix will be served up right by these masters of ambience; Playing the right blend of Zoot Simms or Kenny Baron, these sultans of spin will weave soundscapes to accompany that weary look you’re wearing.
Some of the Kissas I’ve visited we’re Dug, Intro and The Cotton Club in Tokyo, Ebokunen in Kanazawa and Lush Life in Kyoto. The picture below is of Daniel sitting in during the all night jam session at Intro. Though it’s been tricky to communicate with language while in japan, it was absolutely trilling to communicate so effortlessly through the music.
Of all the Kissas I’ve visited my favorite was a smaller Kissa called Jazz Bar Bird, located on the third floor of what some people call the Jazz Building in downtown Osaka. It was dark (so dark) and it was smoky (sooo smoky) and the collection of vinyl was overwhelming. Dude likes his Bill Evans; can you blame him??
Need further proof of its awesomeness ? Well, Jennifer and I were here our new friend Taiki (who’s friendship I owe solely to the fact that he and his wife are fellow Saxophonists that I met on a train platform). As aspiring jazz musicians, they asked me to recommend an easy song to learn and I responded with Bye Bye Blackbird. They were unfamiliar with the song so I asked the man behind the bar to play this song. Without hesitating he reached into the volumes of vinyl and pulled out one of the most adventurous versions I’ve ever heard … It was of the John Coltrane Quartet, live in 1962. An absolutely smoking version with Trane is full gallop, but hardly the version I wanted to have my uninitiated friends listen to. Way too out. This made me love the Jazz Bar Bird even more! If the bar man had played something more pedestrian it would been seen as caving in and he wasn’t about to do this. This is his jazz kissa and as a costumer we need to respect that.
On a side note, I just scored a sweet new axe here in Japan. It’s called an Ishimori (Woodstone when translated to English) which is also the last name of the man who makes them. Above is a pic of him and I after 5 hours of testing all of his saxophones and finally purchasing the best neck / body combo I could find. The entire experience was magical and I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to play so many of his horns and to meet the man who created them. Mr. Ishimori and I talked at length over the minute differences in each horn and each neck. It amazed me to what length Ishimori and his commrades go to create these masterful works and I felt that I just had to have one. Sad part is … now I have to wait until I return home to play it