Japanese Jazz Kissa and the Art of the Piano Trio: Exit to Vintage Street


Every every now and then, a listening session turns into one thing extra. You lose your self for a couple of minutes, or for an entire document facet. You interact with the music. You float and drift amongst the notes and devices. Time stops. Transcendent. This is what it’s all about. A greater high quality audio system takes this to a different degree, and my first expertise in a jazz kissa in Japan modified every little thing for me.

The transcendent expertise doesn’t occur on a regular basis, however occurred just a few evenings in the past listening to Billy Taylor and his trio on the 1959 launch, One for Fun. With Earl May on bass and Kenny Dennis on drums driving the rhythm on a decent and soulful outing. Perfect. It made me begin to consider the piano trio sub-genre of jazz, and what made me fall in love with that mixture. 

Billy Taylor’s One for Fun on the turntable. Dual 701, NAD 3020, Dynaco ST-70 and Klipsch KLF30.

Early in my jazz listening, I used to be drawn to the pyrotechnics of the trumpet and sax. Don’t get me improper, I nonetheless love these devices and groupings that embrace one or each, however there’s one thing in regards to the trio. The most elemental, and intimate grouping. Just piano, bass and drums. Piano usually within the lead, however a much more democratic grouping than when the limelight-stealing brass are concerned. Bass and drums with extra to say within the musical dialogue, and larger soloing alternatives for these oft uncared for devices.

Lee Morgan can take the evening off. 

There are so many nice pianists for listeners to discover; some well-known, and a few flying beneath the radar. An inventory of the main artists ought to embrace: Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, all well-known for his or her work with Miles Davis, and for their very own trio work. McCoy Tyner of John Coltrane’s well-known quartet and Horace Silver of the Jazz Messengers, each leaders and creators of among the most memorable music from the interval. Sonny Clark, Thelonious Monk and Oscar Peterson; all identified for his or her supporting roles on a few of jazz’s biggest albums, and for their very own initiatives as leaders. 

And who can neglect Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal or Duke Ellington. Bud Powell most likely belongs on this record as nicely. The Philadelphia-native recorded some lovely albums over the course of his profession with Charlie Parker and others; Jazz Giant is a should hear in case you’ve by no means heard it and need a severe style of his enjoying and compositional expertise. A really underrated jazz pianist that it’s essential discover. 

Oscar Peterson's The Art of The Trio with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, spinning on the Dual 701.
Oscar Peterson’s The Art of The Trio with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen, spinning on the Dual 701.

Now in case you’re not a giant reader, and also you haven’t explored most of those artists but, you’ll be able to cease proper now. Truth be informed, you could possibly construct a considerable jazz assortment on simply Bill Evans’ and Oscar Peterson’s work as band leaders and sidemen. But dig and discover a bit of deeper and wider; you’ll uncover that there are quite a few different underappreciated jazz pianists to be discovered. This is the place I’ve been enjoying of late, and I’ve been loving among the comparatively unknown however stellar pianists and recordings that I’ve dug up.

Two very distinct experiences spring-boarded my curiosity and have knowledgeable my ongoing piano trio explorations. First, in May 2019, my spouse and I went to Japan for just a few weeks to have a vacation and go to household and mates. Japan is a particular place and there are points of it – from the angle of the music listener – that we actually don’t have right here. 

A secondary mission this journey was to go to as many Jazz kissas (jazz bars/espresso outlets) as potential. The Japanese tradition places an excessive amount of significance on ceremony. To have a cup of tea at a kissaten (“tea-drinking shop”) whereas listening to jazz has been part of Japanese tradition since 1929, however the fashionable connection between kissa and tea is extra tenuous. Kissa are extra about espresso (which additionally turned standard through the American occupation), as a result of espresso and jazz collectively have been seen as very western and unique.

The Second World War had a profound affect on the jazz kissa motion; listening to American jazz music was clearly forbidden with the 2 international locations engaged in warfare throughout the Pacific and it needed to stay underground through the battle years. American jazz artists turned standard once more in Japan within the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties, however only a few folks may afford the costs of the data. That actuality made the jazz kissa the one place that the typical particular person may benefit from the music.

Our first evening in Fukuoka, my spouse met up with an outdated pal, so I headed out for some solo exploring and occurred throughout a spot referred to as Jazz Bar Browny. Arriving fairly early (that they had simply opened, and the place was empty), I grabbed a seat on the bar and began chatting with the “master” (bartender and proprietor). He requested if I had any requests, and I instructed Duke Jordan’s Flight to Jordan

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On it went. Perfect for this setting and their excellent system. They actually do have a really completely different appreciation of music and jazz in Japan and I lengthy for the day that I can expertise one thing related in Canada or the United States. It won’t ever have the identical ambiance because the jazz kissas in Japan, however I believe we’d like them. It may sound considerably loopy (and even unhappy) to some, however jazz listeners in Japan will spend a complete day and night listening to their favourite jazz recordings (each vinyl and CDs) in a jazz kissa. It serves as a possibility to socialize, drink, and revel in quite a lot of fantastic music on some wonderful audio programs. 

The Japanese do not need quite a lot of house. Certainly not the form of house for the programs utilized in these jazz bars and low outlets. The jazz kissa offers a possibility to essentially expertise music in a particular method. 

Browny's incredible sound system playing Duke Jordan's Flight to Jordan. JBLs at one end (not shown) and at the other, the bar, records, two Denon DP-1300 turntables with Shure V15iii cart's, McIntosh C30 preamp and MC2105 power amp.
Browny’s unbelievable sound system enjoying Duke Jordan’s Flight to Jordan. JBLs at one finish (not proven) and on the different, the bar, data, two Denon DP-1300 turntables with Shure V15iii cart’s, McIntosh C30 preamp and MC2105 energy amp.

Duke and his crew sounded wonderful, and on the finish of the primary facet the grasp requested me for my high pianists. I discussed among the aforementioned artists. On reflection I ponder if he thought I used to be some ignorant westerner who learn that record in a stereo journal. 

His gleeful response made me understand how fortunate I used to be to be in that particular second. 

“Tonight, I will teach you about my favourite jazz piano players!” he yelled throughout the bar which was beginning to get busy. 

And so started a procession of performers and data I’d by no means heard of. Some bought performed (and have since been added to my assortment), and a few solely talked about, photographed and filed away for later reference.

That evening modified music for me. 

Billy Taylor – One for Fun (1959): The album that bought me began on this text, and that I fortunately managed to trace down just some months in the past. Taylor was not only a good pianist and composer, however a jazz educator and promoter as nicely. Leonard Feather referred to as him, indisputably “the world’s foremost spokesman for jazz.” He recorded prolifically within the ‘50s and ‘60s, however a lot of his discography is out of print and difficult to search out, significantly on vinyl. His swinging, bebop enjoying is elegant, crisp, brightly playful and creative, and assured to place an enormous smile in your face.

Jazz Bar Browny's master introducing Billy Taylor.
Jazz Bar Browny’s grasp introducing Billy Taylor.

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto – Night and Day Live at Misty (2014): Yamamoto is a Browny favourite and performs there frequently. He was self-taught (so far as jazz piano is worried). In the Nineteen Seventies, he was each the home pianist at Misty, a Tokyo jazz membership for which this album was recorded for his or her 30th anniversary, and recorded prolifically by the renown Japanese jazz label, Three Blind Mice. His enjoying options energetic, funky syncopation, and a dominant proper hand. Yamamoto will get an viewers to maneuver its toes. 

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto's live Body and Soul, celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Jazz Bar Misty.
Tsuyoshi Yamamoto’s dwell Body and Soul, celebrating the thirtieth Anniversary of Jazz Bar Misty.

Jack Wilson – Jack Wilson Quartet that includes Roy Ayers (1963): This was Wilson’s first album as chief, with Roy Ayers on vibes making this not a trio recording, however sustaining the democratic trio really feel. Wilson’s enjoying has been knocked for being spinoff, with comparisons drawn to Bud Powell and Horace Silver, however I’m no professional on that and actually take pleasure in his jaunty, bouncing, rhythmic model. I get predictive hints of Ryo Fukui (whom he predated) in a few of his work, which is actually nothing to complain about. 

Michel Sardaby – Blue Sunset (1970): Sardaby hails from the island of Martinique within the Caribbean however moved to Paris within the ‘60s where he began his career, before settling in New York. Blue Sunset, recorded in Paris with Gilbert Rovere and Philippe Combelle, is a perfect late-night post-bop spin; warm, sophisticated, laid-back, and infused with a touch of the blues. It is easy to imagine that you’re in some darkish piano bar simply earlier than closing. I’ve since discovered a number of extra of his releases, and so they share the same vibe, with later albums that includes extra of a Latin swing. 

Bar Browny, Suntory Royal and Michel Sardaby brought together perfectly with Denon DP-1300 turntables with Shure V15iii cart's, McIntosh C30 preamp and MC2105 power amp
Bar Browny, Suntory Royal and Michel Sardaby introduced collectively completely with Denon DP-1300 turntables with Shure V15iii cart’s, McIntosh C30 preamp and MC2105 energy amp

Other data pulled and never performed that evening have been by Dick Morgan, Morris Nanton, Monty Alexander, Harold Mabern and Tete Montoliu. For some I’ve added data to the gathering, and others nonetheless function on the Discogs want record, to be explored at a later date.

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My second “trio experience” – extra extended – befell on our return to Canada in June. With curiosity aroused, I regarded additional into Japanese jazz artists; and pianists particularly. This introduced me again full circle to my first brushes with jazz 25+ years earlier. Over and over, I got here throughout Ryo Fukui, the godfather of Japanese jazz piano (or a minimum of essentially the most well-known jazz pianist exterior Japan). I ordered a replica of Scenery, his 1976 debut, and from the quilt picture and additional studying about his origins, linked the dots to my time residing in Sapporo within the early ‘90s and listening to him play dwell on Wednesday nights.

Barry Harris Plays Tadd Dameron, with Ryo Fukui's Scenery in the background.
Barry Harris Plays Tadd Dameron, with Ryo Fukui’s Scenery within the background.

Following the breadcrumbs and studying extra about Fukui, led me to Barry Harris, one other performer-educator cited as one in every of his greatest influences and greatest mates. He wasn’t a performer that I used to be aware of, however I quickly realized that I wanted to study extra about him as he’d accompanied the likes of Art Farmer, Donald Byrd, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Thad Jones and Lee Morgan on a few of my favorite data. Preminado and The Last Time I Saw Paris quickly joined the rising piano trio assortment of albums at residence. 

Barry Harris' Preminado with NAD 3020, Dynaco ST-70 and Dual 701.
Barry Harris’ Preminado with NAD 3020, Dynaco ST-70 and Dual 701.

Further investigation of Japanese jazz piano stars introduced Toshiko Akiyoshi to my consideration, found enjoying in Ginza by a touring Oscar Peterson in 1953. He introduced her to the eye of Verve’s Norman Granz, and off she went into the world of well-known jazz artists. 

Akiyoshi was well-known within the United States within the ‘50s and ‘60s for her small ensemble work (as chief and with first husband, Charlie Mariano), and within the ‘70s for her massive band work with second husband, Lew Tabackin. What makes her work distinctive is the inclusion of Japanese melodies and themes (and typically devices), whereas all the time staying true to jazz sensibilities. Her 1978 launch, Finesse, is a fantastic trio recording. 

Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio's Finesse on the Yamaha YP701 turntable.
Toshiko Akiyoshi Trio’s Finesse on the Yamaha YP701 turntable.

And so for me the jazz piano journey continues, with diversions and additional discoveries to be made (when you’ve got recommendations, message me at @audioloveyyc). I do know I’ve missed a slew of different superb pianists right here, together with Tommy Flanagan, Horace Parlan, Duke Pearson, Kenny Drew, and extra. Mentioned or ignored, all of the artists showing on this article are worthy of a hear. A return to Japan to take pleasure in music at my favourite jazz kissa is lengthy overdue.

Billy Taylor’s Interlude, purchased on Discogs just days ago. Currently in transit, somewhere between Paris and Calgary.
Billy Taylor’s Interlude, bought on Discogs simply days in the past. Currently in transit, someplace between Paris and Calgary.

I hope I’ve sparked some curiosity right here in a wealthy and fulfilling jazz model. If I’ve, you’re in for an actual deal with as you’re employed your method by way of a few of these artists. And in case you’re feeling overwhelmed questioning the place to begin, blindfold your self and throw darts; you’ll be able to’t go improper.


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