On February 14, 2021, the Italian critic Enrico Bettinello wrote in his facebook post entitled “DISCHI JAZZ BRUTTI (an attempt at a mini-investigation and a reflection that requires your help)”:
“Those who listen to jazz usually face a path that – generalizing – we could describe as follows:
starting with a X record which acts as a “trigger” -> subsequent basic “literacy” with classic masterpieces (the Kind Of Blue, A Love Supreme, Mingus Ah Um …) -> deepening of discographies of artists or historical periods that you like (all Bill Evans, all the hard-bop …) -> entry into the magical world of “for connoisseurs” (every sound made by Sun Ra, Japanese free, “but how don’t you know Phineas Newborn …”, Strata East ..) -> more or less uncritical completism … “
Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity and time to reply to Enrico directly on his post, who instead stipulated me to write an in-depth study on Japanese jazz, in particular on a record that I love very much (obviously due to the presence of the guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi): ” Ginparis Session June 26, 1963 ”, produced by the independent record company Three Blind Mice in 1971, reissued on cd in 2019 thanks to Craftman Records.
I don’t think it’s a surprise anymore to learn how jazz, the quintessential modern music of the twentieth century, has been adopted by musicians and music lovers in every corner of the globe: from southern Africa to northern Europe, from Mexico City to Moscow. But in few places in the world the jazz message has been received and absorbed with such intensity as in Japan’s night clubs, record shops and cafes. The enthusiastic Japanese welcome towards this music proved not to be a passing or insignificant passion: in the 80s Japan was the largest per capita market in the world for jazz records and most likely it was the Japanese fan who kept the jazz record industry alive during the lean years of the 70s, when this music began to lose commercial appeal in its homeland. But while Japanese jazz enthusiasts are renowned around the world as sophisticated fans and consumers of music, relatively little is known outside of Japan about the extraordinary and abundant music produced by generations of Japanese jazz musicians. Numerous Japanese jazz players have been hugely successful, such as Toshiko Akiyoshi, Sadao Watanabe, Teramasu Hino and many others are household names among jazz listeners around the world, and with good reasons. But if we put these global figures aside and focus on the Japanese scene, the picture is less familiar, because Japanese jazz has historically had limited international distribution and relatively few Japanese titles have been released or reissued worldwide. As a result, the work of many celebrated Japanese jazumen has remained largely unknown outside of Japan, and the extraordinary reach and depth of Japanese jazz has not been widely recognized.
Jazz first arrived in Japan in the years immediately following World War I, as the country was becoming increasingly affiliated with Western nations and their economies. The sound of the modern age was a sign of Japan’s growing integration with global cultural and economic currents, and in the 20s and 30s the profile of jazz in Japan inevitably grew. Merchants, travelers and sailors brought American records to the country in significant quantities, books and magazines were imported and sometimes even translated, and a generation of musicians learned to play the music called jazz for dance lovers and sophisticated Japanese music lovers. The 30s also saw the opening of the first jazu kissas. These specialty cafes were dedicated to serious listening and would become an important and long-lived part of the Japanese jazz scene, serving as a hub for musicians and enthusiasts alike, places where the attention to music was concentrated, sounds were absorbed in earnest, and those who thought alike could exchange information. They still survive to the present day, as any jazz-loving visitor to Japan will testify. The late 30s saw increasing Japanese imperial ambition and aggression and the invasion of China in 1937, followed by the Nanking massacres at the end of that year, marking a new phase of military expansion. Only a few years later Japan would attack the United States, the home of jazz, and while ultra-nationalism gripped the nation, jazz music, one of the most important signs of the cultural Americanization that had defined the interwar years, was considered unpatriotic and non-Japanese and largely repressed by the authorities. However, the late 1930s had seen the beginning of attempts by musicians to develop a more directly “Japanese” version of jazz, although the circumstances of the war meant that these experiments did not make dramatic progress. Between the late 30s and the catastrophic defeat of Japan in 1945, the once thriving Japanese jazz scene had been brought under control and suppressed, where it was not completely silenced. The end of the war led to an entirely new stage of development for Japanese jazz. Defeated by the Allies in crucial battles in the Pacific, repelled by the Russian invasion of Manchuria, and ultimately overwhelmed by the brute force of the atomic bomb, Japan surrendered in early September 1945. For the first time in its history, the country was occupied by foreign powers and a network of American military bases was established under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur. Japan was once again invaded by American culture and its cultural products, including jazz music, which had returned to public prominence both thanks to imported records and its ubiquitous presence on American radio broadcasts. Americans obviously demanded entertainment, and their presence prompted them to establish a profusion of clubs, bars and dance halls for the occupation forces. In Yokohama, the headquarters of the American GHQ, there were no less than thirty clubs that catered to American soldiers and workers (including many exclusively for black soldiers, having the occupiers of Japan brought with them the racial segregation of their homeland). Such a large number of establishments required a large number of musicians, who had the unique opportunity to play jazz for an American audience.
In addition to be bop and swing, Americans also wanted to hear more modern styles. There were many American musicians enlisted in the army, some of whom were high-level professionals, who gave, even to Japanese jazz musicians, the opportunity to learn music directly from masters. Of great importance in this regard was Hampton Hawes, who led the 289th Army Band in Yokohama between 1953-1954. With the new sound of bebop coming to life in the United States, followed by the rise of West Coast’s cool jazz, young musicians cutting their teeth in American clubs necessarily had to keep up with the times. Competition on new styles was the order of the day and the club circuit fed many young musicians who would become the main lights of postwar Japanese bop, swing and cool, including world-renowned pianist and bandleader Toshiko Akiyoshi, the saxophonist ‘Sleepy’ Matsumoto, the hugely popular drummer George Kawaguchi and the extraordinarily talented (and self-taught) pianist Shotaro Moriyasu. During these postwar years, many Japanese jazz musicians had intentionally developed styles that perfectly mimicked American musicians. While this was a source of pride and a proof of equal ability, as the decade passed it began to be viewed with greater ambivalence. Was Japanese jazz too dependent on its American model? Were Japanese musicians overly dependent on their idols? If Lionel Hampton had deliberately toured the country without a full band in order to fill his line-ups with local musicians, both foreign and some Japanese critics had denigrated Japanese jazz as little more than a superficial imitation, a statement of principle, which was regularly repeated until recently, with many musicians and fans worried that there might be an ounce of truth in all of this. In this, Japan was no different from Britain or France, where even local musicians had to fight for recognition, acceptance and acclaim. Jazz magazines such as Swing Journal focused overwhelmingly on American music, without helping the cause of Japanese musicians in any way. As time passed the Japanese jazzmen again began to wonder, as they had done in the 1930s, if there could ever be a truly Japanese jazz, a national variant of music that would be so indelibly imprinted with a specifically Japanese sound, produced only by Japanese musicians.
In the 60s, a small number of forward-thinking Japanese jazz musicians were starting to work on a new sound. These young musicians were brought together as a collective by guitarist Masayuki “JoJo” Takayanagi (a veteran of the GI clubs) and bassist Hideto Kanai. The association initially included pianist Masabumi Kikuchi and drum prodigy Masahiko Togashi, as well as trumpeter Teramasu Hino and pianist Yosuke Yamashita. Soejima Teruto believes that the first example of music breaking free from modern jazz imitations began in 1962, with the establishment of the regular live event “Friday Jazz Corner”. At that time, Takayanagi was a friend of chanson singer Kudo Ben, and through the introduction of Kudo, a regular live session was organized at the famous club Ginparis (Ginza Paris, the “s” is silent), behind Yamaha, in Ginza. A club in the basement, with seating for a hundred people. Since late Friday night was a little busy time, owner Harada san had decided to use it for jazz, making the “Friday Jazz Corner” a regular rendezvous and leaving the musicians free.
“Once every two or three months, from midnight until the next morning, always at Ginparis, they’d perform their originals, and all because they had access to this space to perform, the movement they started there has had a profound influence on the jazz scene of today.” (from Uchida Osamu’s notes to the Ginparis Session LP)
The Jazz Academy Quartet of Takayanagi Masayuki, Togashi Masahiko, Kikuchi Masabumi and Kanai Hideto played regularly there, but there was not a lot of audience, the takings were low, but the desire to be able to play one’s music freely was in itself sufficient motivation to continue. On the other hand, this space created the impetus for Takayanagi, Kanai and Kageyama Isamu (who was more properly a visual artist but who also played bass) to form, in the fall of 1962, an organization of thirty musicians called New Century Music Research Laboratory. Kanai Hideto said the name was inspired by the influential contemporary art music group Twentieth Century Music Research Lab, which included Yoshida Hidekazu, Mayuzumi Toshiro, Takemitsu Toru, and others. This was around the same time that ambitious black musicians in Chicago were forming the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and was actually part of a worldwide movement that was pushing avant-garde musicians to organize groups where they could interact. creatively among themselves, although most of them were not likely known to each other.
They were the first stimuli of the Japanese jazz avant-garde. Like all avant-gardes, they were initially rejected, but their shift to free improvisation, a collective ethos and less orthodox currents of American jazz, was highly significant. Here our record comes in, in fact an early 60’s session of the original quartet of Takayanagi, Kanai, Kikuchi and Togashi was captured in the LP Ginparis Sessions: June 26, 1963 (Three Blind Mice, 1971).
Let’s read what Soejima Teruto tells us about it in his book “Free Jazz In Japan”
“Along these lines, the Friday Jazz Corner began to heat up. Audiences gradually became larger. There’s one story of a legendary show at Ginparis on June 26, 1963, where the crowd was so large that the police and fire department came to keep an eye on things. If you want more detail about the real situation, you can check Uchida Osamu’s liner notes mentioned above) or his book Jazz go Wakakatta Koro (when jazz was young). There is a little discussion mixed in there of rumors of drug use by some musicians of the time, namely, that one particular musician had recently been released from prison and took his seat at the drums for the first time in a long while that night, and that another musician was about start serving a one-year sentence behind bars the next day, so the show as both a welcoming and farewell party, too. (ed.: in Japan, there is often gap between sentencing and the beginning of punishment.) For me personally, I still hadn’t developed the habit of going to see jazz live so I asn’t there, and I don’t have any right to comment on the show, but, in any case, it isn’t something that needs to be written. On the subject of musicians and drugs, I’ll confine myself to what I experienced backstage, starting in 1969. Putting that subject aside, the explosive power of the white hot performances can be easily confirmed by listening to the album .Ginparis Session, put out by Three Blind Mice.”
It could reasonably be said that the first steps taken by this daring collective were the basis of the subsequent music that can be heard in the free jazz records of Takayanagi himself, who is often referred to as the godfather or the conscience of the generation that would follow in the footsteps of the Jazz Academy. . In the late 1960s, the ideas presented by Takayanagi, Kanai and their colleagues came to the fore. Inspired in part by the Afrocentrism in American jazz, Japanese jazz musicians and their audiences looked inward for a Japanese equivalent. It wasn’t just about borrowing Japanese folk themes or importing traditional instruments into the standard jazz ensemble: it was about finding a particular creative identity and creating jazz music that expressed Japanese experience, identity and artistic philosophy.
To quote Takayanagi himself in the booklet of the collection “Spiritual Jazz Vol.8 Japan: Parts I & II”: ‘the logic of the avant-garde cannot be established until 10 or 20 years have passed’ and when this logic is finally understood, musicians must fight for a musical future ‘that is worth the time we have spent in the past.’ The music collected in “Ginparis Sessions”, even if only four pieces:
- Green Sleeves (Bass – Hideto Kanai, Kunimitsu Inaba, Drums – Masahiko Togashi ,Guitar – Masayuki Takayanagi) 18:01
- Nardis (Bass – Hideto Kanai, Drums – Masahiko Togashi, Piano – Masabumi Kikuchi, Written By – Miles Davis) 11:08
- If I Were A Bell (Bass – Kunimitsu Inaba, Drums – Hiroshi Yamazaki, Guitar – Sadanori Nakamure, Trumpet – Terumasa Hino, Written By – Loesser) 12:38
- Obstruction (Bass – Hideto Kanai, Drums – Masahiko Togashi, Guitar – Kyohei Uyama Piano – Yosuke Yamashita, Written By – Hideto Kanai) 11:45
of which only one by a Japanese author, it represents a snapshot of that jazz generation that took the spirit of Takayanagi’s message to heart. Working within their culture and society, what they created was a new sound based on new creative principles: Japanese jazz music of the heart, soul and spirit.