Goodbye, Charlie

Charlie Haden died today.   I just typed that sentence very fast without thinking, but now I don’t know if I can ever type it again.

I’ve enjoyed the personal tributes I’ve been reading from my CalArts friends, all of whom were deeply inspired by Charlie and are no doubt as profoundly affected as I am.  Whenever I play with or hear any musician who went to that school, I can usually sense a kindred spirit we all share, which I imagine was formed in no small part in Room 120 on Tuesday afternoons, when Charlie came by to teach an improv class, only it was more of all of us listening to records or CD’s, and listening to him tell the most amazing stories.

All of us who knew him have personal anecdotes regarding Charlie.  Allow me to share a few of mine, as they are all rushing back now:

I can’t really describe how much Charlie helped me as a musician. He helped me to see music as something I couldn’t own, that didn’t come from me, but rather something beautiful that comes from another place, though me and other musicians into the world. He would say “play every note as if your life depended on it!” And he certainly did, even in class.  Early on, he admonished me for comping too much and too erratically behind him when he was soloing on ballads.  He asked me to simply play whole notes on the downbeats, as if I were a string orchestra.  He would then proceed to play the most beautiful melodies, seemingly completely out of time, but when I would start to drift with him he would yell out “where’s the time!”  It would make me so nervous.  I eventually realized that Charlie himself would accompany other soloists in a similar fashion, playing with perfect time and perfect harmony, often times using just whole or half notes, and he expected the same treatment when it was his turn to solo.  I felt bad about the way I played behind him, until I saw him work with a few outstanding and well-known pianists, and witnessed Charlie chastising them about their accompaniment in the same way he did to me.  How about that?

I remember working on Ornette Coleman’s tune Lonely Woman, when Charlie went to the piano and played at least 5 different re-harmonizations of the melody, which he said were interchangeable with each other and something that wasn’t on the original recording but part of the way they performed the tune.  How I wish I had written those progressions down right away, because to my shame and regret I cannot recall all of them.  A little while later, Charlie told us he played Lonely Woman with Ethan Iverson (at Dewey Redman’s memorial) and was very impressed because Ethan somehow knew all of those different ways to do it.  This is why Ethan Iverson is the best.

I remember a particular class session where Charlie talked about his friendship with bassist Scott LaFaro. He went into detail about the night he died in a car crash, how his bass was in his car as well and got destroyed as well in the fire. It was an emotional moment for Charlie, then he put on a record of LaFaro with the Bill Evans Trio, and picked up a bass and played pretty much note for note everything Scott did underneath Evans’ piano solo. To me and the other students in attendance, if seemed as if the ghosts of Evans and LaFaro had appeared in the room and were playing along with Charlie! (Paul Motian was still alive then.). There was always something mystical about and around Charlie whenever he played, and certainly that’s truer than ever now.

Charlie helped me to get a scholarship from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), which is the organization responsible for putting on the Grammy Awards every year.  When I met the good folks at NARAS, they told me that Charlie had spoken so highly of me, even comparing me to the great Gonzalo Rubalcaba, whom he discovered and helped to super jazz stardom.  Now, I have no illusions that Charlie actually believed I was in the same universe as someone as amazing and virtuosic as Gonzalo, but the fact he went that far in going to bat for me to get me that scholarship is humbling and to this day one of the most incredible things anyone outside of my family has ever done for me.  As a side note to that story, they also told me that they would have given the scholarship to another student pianist if it weren’t for Charlie’s endorsement.  That student?  Adam Benjamin, the incredible keyboardist for Kneebody, Dave Douglas, and so many others.  Sorry, Adam!  I’m just glad I got the award a year before Adam came back to CalArts for grad school and became one of Charlie’s favorite pianists.  (By the way, NARAS ended up giving a scholarship to Adam as well, and of course he deserved it.)

After I got out of school, Charlie would call me sometimes to go over to his house to play tunes, an invitation I know he extended to other piano students as well.  Usually he would have me go to Starbucks on the way and get coffee for him, which in my mind was an incredible bargain.  One particular session he told me he just needed to play a bit to get in shape before he went out of town to do something.  He wouldn’t say what it was.  After the fact, I learned he was getting ready to go to New Jersey to Keith Jarrett’s home to record, resulting in two utterly important recordings, Jasmine, and Last Dance (the latter just released and apparently the first number one jazz album for Jarrett, which is astounding).

I also caught a glimmer of the Hollywood version of Charlie.  He invited me to the Henry Fonda Theater, for the sound check of Hullabaloo, a regular fundraiser held by Flea and the Red Hot Chili Peppers for the Silverlake Conservatory (and getting to meet Flea was an honor and totally surreal).  Charlie was to perform on the bill that evening with the great Larry Goldings, but Larry couldn’t make the sound check so I was to fill in for him.  I remember Charlie giving the piano tuner such a hard time, which made me think of stories I had heard about his erstwhile bandleader Keith Jarrett and his contentious relationship with piano technicians.  I wondered if Charlie had learned to do that from Keith, or even vice versa.  The sound check sounded great, but at the show, the sound man apparently just erased Charlie’s bass settings on the board and decided to use Flea’s settings instead.  Charlie’s bass sound was mammoth and completely dominated Larry’s piano to the point where you couldn’t hear Larry at all.  Charlie wasn’t about to take that lying down, and he refused to continue to play until they fixed the sound.  Many minutes passed, and the crowd began to grow restless, to the point where Charlie’s son-in-law (the very funny actor Jack Black) had to go on stage to entertain the audience while they tried to fix the sound.  Eventually Charlie just tuned his amp off and pushed the bass mic away and played acoustically, which then made it impossible to hear him.  Thankfully Flea saved the day by coming on stage with a trumpet and playing blues with Charlie and Larry, which if nothing else, was a unique moment in the history of music.

There are so many more memories, but as this post is already too long perhaps I best process those on my own.  It had been years since I last spoke with Charlie.  I caught a glimpse of him at Royce Hall when Brad Mehladu and the Bad Plus played there, but I wasn’t able to get to where he was before he disappeared behind a wall of admirers.  I already miss Charlie a lot, and I’ll forever treasure his stories, his music, and most of all for me, I will treasure his enthusiasm and encouragement for me personally. He helped me to believe in myself as a musician and an artist, which is something I take with me to every musical situation I find myself in.  I will never forget him.  Thanks for everything, Charlie.

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GF3 @ CAP Studio Theater

Gary Fukushima, piano
Miles Senzaki, drums
JP Maramba, bass

Jazz at the CAP
Tuesday, November 19
8:30pm and 10:30pm

CAP Studio Theater
13527 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

$10 ($5 w/ student ID)

I recall a conversation I had years ago with a veteran bass player over the future of jazz.  He was amused at ongoing various attempts by well-intentioned patrons and writers to issue a cause célèbre to “Save Jazz” like it was an endangered rare bird on the verge of extinction.  Jazz music, he postulated, was strong enough on its own to continue to compel musicians to devote their lives to playing it, therby ensuring its survival.  I think he went on to compare it (and us jazz musicians) to cockroaches that couldn’t be killed.  You might not see us at first glance, but turn over enough rocks and there we are, wriggling into the cracks of society at seedy bars, upscale restaruants and hotel lobbies, wedding receptions, art galleries, and even the occasional concert, playing and singing the same undead tunes as our musical ancestors did so many decades ago.  Maybe we are not thriving but we are surely surviving, like zombies carrening recklessly from gig to gig, devouring any spare food we can find in between sets and consuming the token alcoholic beverage from bartenders who take pity on our pathetic existence.  We do this for love, the love of an beautifully elusive music and performance art.  We love it like a drug when at its most potent renders our hardship as easy as apple pie on a summer’s afternoon.  Even cockroaches love pie.  I know this because I just looked it up and saw pictures of it.  I did this so you don’t have to, and please don’t, for your sake.  That was so gross.

Sinclair Lott might not be trying to single-handedly Save Jazz, but he sure is doing a great job of turning over some rocks so people can see us wriggle.  As a drummer and fellow Jazz-Roach (don’t call him Max bad pun sorry), Sinclair has an empathy and sympathy for those of us trying to find places to play meaningful gigs, which usually involves playing our own original music at a place where there are no sports on big flat screens and managers asking us to simultaneously play less loud and more upbeat.  And Sinclair has found such a place!  The Complete Actors Place Studio Theater is a great place to take a drama class, catch a screening of an indie movie, or set up an audition with your favorite movie executive.  Unless it happens to be Tuesday evening, in which case you can do none of those things because there will be jazz musicians hogging the entire stage.  So far, Sinclair has had players like Jeff Hamilton, Larry Goldings, Joe La Barbera, Josh Nelson, Tamir Hendleman, Sara Gazarek, Chuck Manning, Cathy Segal-Garcia, and other amazing artists do what they do in a well-lit, well-presented and great sounding space.

This Tuesday is our night, our meaning myself, Miles, and JP.  We have been getting together a bit to work on new music, and I can speak for all of us when I say we are more excited about what we are doing now than at any point in our seven years of playing together.  I think we don’t sound like anyone else but we definitely have a sound.  What is that sound?  It might take a writer better than me to describe it, because I’ll just start talking about bugs or something.

I don’t want to beg, because begging is so un-roach-like, but I am imploring any of you who are free on Tuesday to some our and catch one or both of our sets.  Sinclair saw us at Blue Whale a few months ago and that was enough for him to give us a shot at his place, and we are so grateful to him for the opportunity.  Hopefully you’ll give us a shot as well.

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Trio show, finally. And it’s my birthday, too

Gary Fukushima, piano
JP Maramba, bass
Miles Senzaki, drums

Friday, August 30
Blue Whale

It has been eight years since I first met Miles, at a little club in Little Tokyo, and I met JP roughly around that same time at a gig at a wine bar in Westlake Village. We soon afterward became the house rhythm section for a few years at a Tuesday night jam session. There was lots of good musical moments, laughs, a little too much to drink most nights, and most importantly, the makings of a working relationship that grew into something stronger than friendship, the bonds of which have proved to be quite resilient as the three of us have changed and grown in different ways.

We are definitely not the same young guys that used to do that weekly session. Miles and JP have gone on to do many different kinds of music and been a part of many diverse musical scenes, from afro-beat to soul to rock, and they do it all with so much integrity, a relentless drive to make it right and real, to find a groove that is deep and worthy of the beats they reference.

I’ve learned a lot from them, having stayed closer to my home in the jazz world, and I am thankful for the chance to learn how to do different things, from learning Afro-Peruvian polyrhythms to understanding reggae and hip-hop, which J-Dilla records to check out, and why Tony Allen is one of the best drummers who ever lived.

So when we play now, those things have changed our band and adapted our sound away from the more esoteric piano trio subtleties to things that usually have some deep groove running through the heart of it. Where it begins to get fun is when we try to keep the groove happening into more tricky settings, namely a fair amount of material that is in some sort of odd-eighth-note configuration. We are also trying to do justice to songs by other artists we have enjoyed listening to, from Stevie Wonder to Little Dragon to Tears for Fears to Bob Dylan. We have a really interesting and extensive repertoire now, more than what we can usually do in the course of an evening.

We’ve been getting together on a weekly basis for some time now, which we haven’t done since the jam session days, but now we do it with the express purpose of realizing all of the things we thought we might be able to do before. Eight years is a long time to have a working group and not have any much documentation of it, so we are taking steps to remedy that. I think we are on the verge of something very special.

Our upcoming show at Blue Whale will be the first step in seeing what more we can do after all this time together. I love this band and I love the guys in it, and I am more excited for this show than almost anything else I can think of recently. I hope you can come and hear what we are starting to hear.

Last, and I think least, my birthday is on the 31st, which means I will turn a year older promptly at the conclusion of our second set at midnight on Friday night/Saturday morning. I plan on hanging out for a while to celebrate, so to those of my musician friends who have gigs, even if you can’t make the show it would be awesome to see you afterward for a minute.

Thanks for reading!



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Sweet Hearts

Sweet Hearts (feat. Priscilla Ahn and Charlie Wadhams)
Monday, April 23 9pm
1737 Vine Street
21+ FREE with RSVP (click here to RSVP)
18+ ok!

Sunday, April 29 10pm
Bootleg Bar
2220 Beverly Blvd

I’m going to be doing a few shows this week with two really cool singer sonwriters, Priscilla Ahn and Charlie Wadhams.  They just recently put out an EP called Sweet Hearts.  It’s a small collection of sweet love songs that are poetic and catchy at the same time.  For a sample you can check out a video below and see more of their videos here.  I had the good fortune of touring a bit with Priscilla last year, and she’s definitely one of my favorite singers to listen to, period.

This Monday we will be at Bardot as part of the School Night! series presented by Chris Douridas (KCRW) and Matt Goldman (MFG).  We are on first at 9pm and it’s only a 30 minute set, so don’t be late!  For those of you over the age of 21 the show is free if you click on this link to RSVP.

Next Sunday the 23rd we will be at the Bootleg Bar, which is a great place to go to hear music.  Opening for Sweet Hearts will be a band called The Parlour Suite, and they are great!

I hope you come out to see one or both of these shows.  It would be a great date night, and even if you’re single there will be plenty of cute girls (and guys) there that you could meet, unless you’re one of those creeps who like to go to shows where you know cute girls like to hang out.  But if you’re not creepy then I’m sure the cuties would like to meet you so then you definitely should go.

At any rate the music is awesome, and that’s why you should go!

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On the road with Priscilla

As I write this blog entry I am in a rather large van heading to Columbus, Ohio.  It’s a pleasant day, with a lot of big puffy low-hanging clouds and warm sunshine peeking out from behind them.  There is a pretty girl sitting in the front passenger seat.  Her name is Priscilla Ahn, and she happens to be an amazing singer/songwriter/indie rock musician that I have had the good fortune to be able to play with.

Let’s back up a bit.  At the beginning of this summer I was trading emails back an forth with an old colleague from CalArts when he wrote that he was giving my info to a singer whom he had done some stuff with that was looking for a keyboard player.  I thought it might be fun, I hadn’t done many non-jazz gigs and anything John Wood was working on would be worthwhile, since he’s one of the best rock keyboardists I know personally.  I thought I would be a show in town somewhere, probably a little club in Echo Park or something.

The next day, Priscilla emails me and asked me if I wanted to go to Korea and Singapore with her.  What?

Of course I said yes and promptly got her recordings to start researching.  Her music has a lot of quirky synth sounds, almost toy-like in nature, so much of my preparation went into leaning how to emulate those sounds as best I could.  As a jazz pianist who primarily deals with finding the best delay effect for my Wurlitzer, this was a refreshing departure from my day to day routine.  I ended up using some soft samples on my computer and an old Yamaha toy keyboard that I had as a kid, then sold, then bought again at a pawn shop a few years back cause I thought it might come in handy one day…

The shows in Asia were awesome.  The Jisan Valley Rock Festival outside of Seoul, Korea was overwhelming, with thousands of fans all there to see Priscilla.  She’s pretty big in Korea, with a number one record there and a very loyal fan base.  In Singapore we played at Esplanade, a beautiful recital hall with great sound and a great piano that I was able to add to my synth setup.  There was a lot of down time so I got to see a lot of both cities in the short amount of time we were there.

And then it was over.  One week, two shows halfway around the world.  When I was in high school I wanted to do essentially three things:  Go to grad school and maybe teach in college, get married and start a family, and tour around the world playing music.  In one week, I had accomplished that elusive third goal.  It was a great little trip and I came back ready to resume my humble little life as an anonymous jazz musician and educator.

Then one night I got a text from Priscilla asking me if I wanted to go on tour with her.  For a musician, A callback is probably the best compliment you can receive, and I was thrilled that she wanted to keep me around for a little while.  Only problem, the tour was three weeks, not even a month into the new term at CalState Northridge, where I teach classes.  It took a bit of last-minute pleading, but I was able to take a leave of absence to do this trip.

So here we are, a week into the tour, in Ohio.  This post was supposed to be a review of the first week of the tour, but it’s already too long, so I’ll do it on a later post.  But now you know how I got here in the first place.

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Gigs this weekend–Nola’s and the Blue Whale

Friday, September 2, 7:30pm-11pm
Gary Fukushima-piano, JP Maramba-bass, Miles Senzaki-drums

734 E. 3rd St. (Downtown Arts District)
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 680-3003


Saturday, September 3, 9-midnight
Josh Aguiar Group
Josh Aguiar-trumpet, Gerry Pinter-saxophone, Gary Fukushima-piano, Roger Shew-bass, Tim Pleasant-drums

The Blue Whale
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012-3833
(213) 620-0908

Today is my birthday. This getting old business is getting old.

As I mention in my earlier blog post, the last half of summer for me has been filled with a lot of activities that are new to me, from playing indie rock and electronic music and doo-wop and blues on organ to doing some fairly major yard work and buying my first grill. Sure, it’s only a charcoal grill but it’s about time I buck up and do what real men are supposed to do when you have a serviceable backyard. By the way, when the charcoal is really hot don’t put marinated chicken into the flames, you end up with black chicken.

Anyway, this weekend I get to play jazz again and not just any jazz, I’m talking about my music with my trio, cause today is my birthday and it’s all about me today, on my birthday. Did I mention that it’s my birthday?

On Friday GF3 is debuting in a new venue for us, a place in the Artist district called Nola’s, for New Orleans, Louisiana, with appropriate decorum and fare. We’ll be doing three sets there so we will probably play our entire book. Should be a lot of fun. Oh, and there’s no cover!

Saturday finds me back in the comforting walls of the Blue Whale, where I’ll be playing with a cool band let by trumpeter Josh Aguiar, who might be one of the more versatile trumpet players I’ve ever played with, equally at home playing bebop and latin jazz as he is playing avant-garde and crazy. He’s also a riot on the microphone. Seriously, I’d pay a cover to hear him do 10 minutes of stand up.

I am looking forward to doing some things that are familliar to me, you know like when Frodo and the hobbits return back to the Shire from Mordor having vanquished Sauron and his minions. Although drinking at their favorite pub just wasn’t the same for them, was it? I wonder how I’ll feel back with my trusty trio, it’s been so long. My eyes hurt from staring into that fire on Mt. Doom. And how am I going to play with only nine fingers?

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Bye-Bye, Summer, Hello Old Man

Well, that was fast.

On Tuesday I taught my first class back from summer break at CalState Northridge, a beginning improv class with lots of young (and older) smiling faces, all of us ready to tackle another year of textbooks, tests, lesson plans, and a lot of coffee.  Back to life as we all know it.

The summer abruptly ended this morning, and I have to admit I’ve been grumpy all day but I didn’t realize until later this evening that the two were related.  Most of this past summer to me already seems like a faraway dream, traveling to Hawaii and Asia, playing music with awesome musicians, and getting to meet some interesting people as well.  Getting to perform for the first time in Hawaii for my Aunty who was one of my first piano teachers was a good thing.  Playing for thousands of people at a rock festival in Korea was certainly out of the ordinary for me.  So was being coerced by two very nice but very insistent Korean ladies to buy five pounds of individually packaged kimchee to take back to the states.  Probably the most surreal moment of the summer came after our show with Priscilla Ahn in Singapore, where a very well known local music empresario took me out to a club with an awesome cover band, and before I knew it I was up on stage playing the clav intro to Superstition.  To bad the band didn’t tell me they do that song in E, not Eb like the original.  A recurring bad dream comes true!

Even after coming back from Asia, the eventful summer kept eventing.  In the span of one week (that is, last week) I did these things:

-played cocktail jazz for a wedding
-played original electronic music (someone else’s, not mine) in a flamenco bar
-arranged and played doo-wop covers for an all asian doo-wop singing group and backing band
-recorded a blues album where I played Hammond B-3 for the first time
-dug out a ton of weeds and grass from our backyard and built a mulch patio and a gravel/resin-flagstone patio for the charcoal grill
-hosted a small party in new backyard for Jesslyn’s 2nd birthday

The party was Sunday.  I wish I could say I was in recovery mode, but that was Monday.

Today we are moving on.

Also, today is my birthday.  We’re going to Disneyland!  One last hurrah!

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GF3 This Friday @ Blue Whale, Other Summer Plans

One of the best things about being a teacher is that you get to experience that incredible feeling that you feel when school lets out for the summer.  I enjoyed it when I was a kid, and I have to say I enjoy it even more now, and that feeling keeps getting more and more awesome each successive year.  Take that, corporate America.

My plans for the summer as I can remember them from about six weeks ago involved:

-transforming the office into Jesslyn’s new bedroom

-clearing out all the weeds from the backyard and actually having a decent place to hang out back there

-teaching jazz classes at a summer workshop

-making a recording with my trio

-getting an iPad and learning how to make cool music on Garage Band

So far, I have done exactly none of those things.

Even though it’s only July, I feel the summer slipping away.  Things like car trouble, jury duty, and a sudden onslaught of last minute gigs have derailed my well-laid plans.  But there are other things coming up which I find very exciting and help to make me less bummed about my lack of checks on the to-do list:

This Friday I will be at Blue Whale once again with my faithful trio.  We were supposed to have recorded a ton at this point, and of course we have not done that.  However, we did play last week at a private function and the band sounds better than ever.  All three of us have been doing a lot of other projects and it’s been hard to schedule some rehearsal time, but one of the great things about having a band that’s been together for a number of years is that you can go for a while without playing together and then the next time you play it’s like you just played yesterday.  So here’s to yesterday, or something.  We will be doing some of our older material that we haven’t done in awhile just to keep it sharp for our constantly upcoming recording.  Plus you haven’t heard us for many months either, so I’m sure it will be just as new and exciting for you as it will be for us.

Next week I will be doing my first ever gigs in Hawaii!  My parents are from there, and my wife is as well, so I’ve been going back there regularly ever since I was a little kid, but this is the first time I have ever booked any professional gigs there.  I will be doing a trio show with some great players, Abe Lagrimas on drums, who recently moved to Los Angeles from Hawaii, and Dean Taba on bass, who less recently moved back to Hawaii from Los Angeles.  I got a chance to play with both of them at the Asian American Music festival (opening up for ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro), and it was a lot of fun and they are incredible players.  I’ll also be doing a show with my friend, the extremely talented singer Sharmila Guha, who happens to be visiting Hawaii at the same time.  I’m really looking forward to playing music for some of my friends and family who live in Hawaii.  Aloha!

At the end of the month I will be playing in Korea and Singapore!!!  This is the most recent development and the one that ultimately caused me to shelve some of those other plans for the time being.  I’m going to be backing up an amazing singer/songwriter by the name of Priscilla Ahn, who is signed to Blue Note and has had a number one hit in Korea and has had her songs featured on movies and tv shows.  I feel really blessed to be able to work with Priscilla.  We’re rehearsing right now and I’m blown away by how good she is.  But don’t take my word for it, check out this video:

So there’s my summer in a nutshell.  As I’m going to be gone for most of July I hope you come out to see the Blue Whale show on Friday.  And as for my original summer plans, well I still have the month of August to tackle some of those other things, so I’m not giving up hope that I can do something before summer ends and I have to go back to school…

…oh yeah.  That part still sucks.

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GF3 w/ Matt Otto @ Blue Whale Jam Session

Matt Otto is in town.  He’s here from Kansas City to participate in the LAJC MeMoWee Fest this weekend, and I’m really looking forward to playing with his quintet on Saturday night.

I’m also happy to add that Matt will be joining my trio on Tuesday night for the Blue Whale jam session.  Consider this an informal start to the festival.  I think there will be a number of LAJC members there that night and it should be a lot of fun.

Last time out we were encouraging people to bring tunes to read (emphasis on the word ‘read’ as in ‘readable’).  I think we can try it again, so if you bring a tune, you can jump to the front of the jam session wait list.  How’s that?

As a teaser, here’s a bootleg of a tune from a gig we did last time Matt was in town:

Isfahan (Matt Otto-sax, Gary Fukushima-keys, Ryan McGillicuddy-bass, Ryan Doyle-drums, recorded live at Ye Olde Ship, Santa Ana, CA, January 14, 2011)

GF3 + Matt Otto Blue Whale Jam Session
Tuesday, May 24 9pm
Blue Whale
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka Street Los Angeles, CA 90012-3833

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Japan Relief Recital

Japan Relief Recital
Friday, May 20, 2011 7:30pm
Cypress Recital Hall, California State Northridge
1811 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330
Call 818-677-3181 for more info

With all the recent news of floods, tornadoes, birth certificates and terrorists it’s easy to forget that half a world away there was an incredible tragedy that happened recently, an earthquake and tsunami that continues to make life difficult for tens of thousands of people in Northern Japan.  There are shockwaves, literal and figurative, that contine to reverberate across the country.  Just today there was a report from BBC that Japan has slid back into an economic recession as a direct result from the earthquake.

The unimaginable horror of watching so many houses, cars, boats, and people be washed away like they were little toys is something that I don’t think anyone can properly process.  It looks like it can’t be real, like it’s just another scene in the latest disaster film.  Coupled with the short attention span of the daily news cycle is enough to obscure the true magnitude of the amount of human suffering that continues even now.

It goes without saying that as a Japanese American I have more than a trivial interest in what is going on in Japan regarding the earthquake, and of course having the same name as the damaged nuclear reactor makes it rather hard to ignore the news.  That’s why it has been gnawing at my soul to do something to help the situation over there.  When someone approached me about playing for a student-led fundraiser for Japan, I quickly agreed.

The event will take place this Friday at 7:30pm, in the music recital hall on campus at CalState Northridge, where I teach jazz piano.  There will be a number of very talented students performing, and I am honored that they asked me to play as well.  I am bringing Miles and JP along to play with me, and for that I am truly grateful to them for donating their time.

One of the pieces we will be playing is an older Japanese melody by 19th century composer Rentaro Taki, entitled “Kojo no Tsuki” or “Moon Over the Ruined Castle”.  It was written in homage to the ruins of Oka Castle in southern Japan, but later lyrics were added by Bansui Doi, who was from Sendai, which is in the north.  He wrote his lyrics in honor of the ruins at Aoba Castle in Sendai and Aizuwakamatsu Castle in Fukushima.  It is a fateful irony that Sendai and Fukushima were the regions hit hardest by the 2011 Tsunami.

Flowery feast in spring high up in the castle
Cups were passed around with moonlight reflected on the surface of sake
The moonlight shined through the old pine branches
Where is that old moonlight now?

Encampment in autumn was white covered with frost
A number of geese honked as they flew across the sky
The moonlight shined on the swords thrusted upright into the ground
Where is that old moonlight now?

Now at midnight the moon is right above
For whom does it shine like in the past?
Nothing remains on the rampart but some ivy
Nothing to hear but the rustle of pine branches in the storm

Up in the sky the moon and the stars remain unchanged
But in the earthly life, rises and falls come and go
Does the moon hang there to reflect those changes?
Ah! the midnight moon over the ruined castle

I first recorded this song a decade ago with vocalist Ben Black for his beautiful album remembered faces/private places.  Thelonious Monk of all musicians has an interesting version as well, which you can listen to here.  My arrangement is also Monk-inspired, but my main source of inspiration will be the tens of thousands of people in Sendai, Fukushima, Otsuchi, Ishinomaki, and all the other places so profoundly devastated by the waves.

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