Let’s Try It One More Once

Tuesday, February 15 9pm-1am
Blue Whale, Los Angeles CA

GF3 Hosts the Blue Whale Jam Session

Original Music Night
First part of the session will feature tunes by anyone who brings charts

Half a decade ago on a Tuesday morning I received a call seemingly out of the blue from a Mr. Matsumoto, an elderly man who ran a humble little club in Little Tokyo called 2nd Street Jazz.  His house band had unexpectedly quit and he needed me to come down to the club to play for the Tuesday night jam session.  Having recently graduated from CalArts and without much work, I agreed to do so and showed up that evening.  The first person I met there was a drummer named Miles Senzaki, who had gotten the same call from Mr. Matsumoto that I did.  The place was dark, rather dirty and in disrepair, and the piano was horribly out of tune with a number of broken strings.  There was a woman named Yasuko tending bar who at one time had been married to the owner.  At one point she got out from behind the bar to sing and play a tune on the piano, expertly attacking the piano with her small hands and feet with an enthusiasm bordering on violence, and I began to see how the piano had arrived at its present condition.  Mr. Matsumoto was there and he thanked me and Miles profusely for showing up on short notice to help him out.  He was old and very frail, but he had a keen ear and real love for jazz.  Later I found out he had been a jazz trumpet player back in Japan, and that Yasuko’s father was the leader of big band in Tokyo.  I also found out that Matsumoto-san had severe and terminal cancer, and that he had opened his club after learning about his condition, to live out the remaining years of his life living and breathing jazz every night.

What he hadn’t counted on, however, was his body’s ability to cheat death and continue to live.  Matsumoto-san was given six months to live; 5 years later he was still going strong, relatively.  Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said about the club.  Running a jazz club has to be one of the most difficult business ventures anyone could embark on, and eventually 2nd Street Jazz became a place for  DJ’s and rock bands, with the Tuesday jazz jam session being the only night where Matsumoto could listen to the music he loved.

Miles and I and bassist J.P. Maramba (who joined us after about a year) dutifully played the session every Tuesday for years.  Mr. Matsumoto eventually succumbed to his cancer, and the Tuesday session is an ever more distant memory for us.  But the three of us have continued to play and grow together as musicians, developing an original repertoire and having the opportunity to play in all sorts of interesting settings.  We’ve become close friends and I am excited about the music we have yet to write and perform and record together.  We had a lot of good times at our weekly Tuesday ritual, and many people have asked me if we would ever start another session.  I told them we were open to it, but not to hold their breath, because I didn’t have any forseeable opportunites.

That is, until now.

Joon Lee at the Blue Whale has decided to let different groups rotate in hosting his jam session, which has moved from Mondays to Tuesdays, which seems only fitting.  This Tuesday Miles, J.P. and myself will resume a role that established our existence as a trio, and for my part I can’t wait.  Of course standards will be the usual fare, but we’re adding a twist to the evening in that we are encouraging musicians to bring in charts of their own tunes, in essence making the first part of the session an “Original Music Night”, a chance to share our own music with each other.

If I could see Matsumoto-san again I would thank him over and over again for that phone call, as it has been responsible for much of my musical career for the past half-decade.  Who knows, maybe he will be there, in spirit.  I would hope so.

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Cathy Segal Garcia

GF3 with CSG

Sunday, January 23 7-8:30pm
The Joint, 8771 West Pico Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90035-2212

Saturday January 29 9pm-midnight
The Blue Whale
, 123 Astronaut E S Onizuka Street Los Angeles, CA 90012-3833

cathy me and ryanTo the right is a picture of me and Cathy Segal Garcia performing at a venue in the Valley sometime last year.  I didn’t even know anyone was taking photos that day.  Thanks, Google Image.  It was a classic CSG event, where she manages to bring together musicians who might never see on the same stage otherwise.  In this case it was me and Ryan McGillicuddy on bass and Ryan Doyle on drums, backing up Cathy, trombone vitruoso Bob McChesney, and flute and singing legend Sam Most.  The unusual parings are intentional.  Cathy knows so many musicians and other artists and is always looking for ways to bring people together.

I can’t even remember when I first met Cathy, but I feel like I’ve known her for a long time, mostly as a colleague at CalState LA, where I would accompany her voice students.  It was there watching her teach where I got to know her musicianship, her adventurous artistic spirit, her mastery of vocal technique, but most of all I got to know her giant heart, how she really loved and cared for all her students and treated them with such respect and encouragement no matter how good (or bad) they were.

We have had a number of performances together, a few faculty recitals, a few times in her house band for the jam session she used to host, and some gigs around town, including one at the Left Coast Wine Bar where a smiling young man named Joon Lee sat in on a djembe.  Joon, as many of you know, went on to become the founder of the Blue Whale, perhaps the best jazz club in Los Angeles at this moment.

Recently I played with both Joon and Cathy at the beautiful Alva’s Showroom in San Pedro, and it occured to me that it is no accident that Joon has received universal praise for his openess to all kinds of music and for the unwavering respect he has for the musicians who play at his place.  The fact of the matter is that Joon was a student of Cathy’s for many years, gleaning not only much of her vocal expertise but also how to become an artist and a jazz musician, and how to interact with other jazz musicians.  I believe Cathy was instrumental in shaping Joon’s outlook on the musicians’ community, and without Cathy Segal Garcia, we might not have had Joon Lee and all he has done for us.

I’m thrilled that she has invited me and my trio to play with her for a few gigs next week.  We have a 90-minute set at The Joint this Sunday, where we will be preceding the Ron McCurdy Collective, an interesting group featuring Ron and some outstanding vocalists.  Next Saturday we will be at the club of Cathy’s protogè, the Blue Whale, where we will be joined by famous poet Michael C. Ford, in yet another interesting CSG paring.  Mr. Ford has performed with, among others, the Doors in their heyday, so I’ll have to bone up on my Ray Manzarek licks.  Check out his wikipedia entry, it’s pretty cool.

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Matt Otto Quintet @ Steamer’s, Tuesday, 8pm

Tuesday, January 11 8pm


Matt Otto saxophone,
Steve Cotter guitar,
Gary Fukushima piano/keys,
Ryan McGillicuddy bass,
Jason Harnell drums

Steamers Jazz Club and Cafe
138 West Commonwealth Avenue
Fullerton, CA 92832
RSVP 714-871-8800

otto quintet

The blurry snapshot above is one of the few existing pictures (if not the only picture) of myself playing with this fantastic group.  It’s from a few years ago at the Aroma Spring Festival in Idyllwild, CA., and it was also the first time I had gotten to play as an official member of this hallowed band.  Guitarist Steve Cotter had to cancel at the last minute so it was up to me to take care of all the counter melodies and harmony.  I remember being very excited and a little apprehensive to be invited to join this group of personal heroes.  The gig was really fun and I was looking forward to many more gigs and recordings with these guys.

We did a few more gigs after that, including a show at the Jazz Bakery, and then of course Matt moved to Kansas City.  He’s been back a number of times already but this is the first gig he’s had with his own quintet since he moved.  If you haven’t heard his band, I would strongly recommend you attend.

It really is my favorite music to play, period.  Matt’s writing is exquisite, intricate and challenging, yet very lyrical and even emotional.  It goes without saying Matt’s saxophone playing is quite unbelieveable in his understated mastery of harmony, rhythm, tone and creativity.  Jason Harnell and Ryan McGillicuddy have an uncanny rapport.  Ryan once described it to me as a kind of mind-reading symbiosis, where they can take incredible chances with the time and form of the music, with the security that they can come out of whatever they get into relatively unscathed.  Steve Cotter is a true gem of a guitarist, with an encyclopedic knowledge of harmony and repertoire, and a beautiful melodic sense and a great guitar sound.  I remember playing a gig with Steve where guitar legend Ry Cooder came up to the band and exclaimed, “This sounds really good!”  I thought he was talking about the band, but as it turns out he was talking about Steve’s rig.  Of course he wasn’t talking about the band…
Anyway, this group has a very rare performance on Tuesday.  No one has any idea when we will play again, so I’m going to treat it as the precious moment that it will be.  I guarantee you it’s worth the drive down to Fullerton.

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Feed The Blue Whale

As many of you who get my emails and read this blog already know, I’ve been a pretty strong advocate for Blue Whale, a new club that quietly opened up in Downtown LA about a year ago.  Tucked away in a corner on the 3rd floor of a modest shopping center plaza, this little club has quickly become a focal point for creative music, providing a safe haven for jazz artists and true jazz fans alike.

Slowly, this place is starting to become known to the greater general public.  Blue Whale has gotten some very nice reviews recently, from downtown-focusing Bunker Hill Magazine to the hallowed Los Angeles Times and their excellent music critic, Chris Barton.  But Barton himself acknowledges that the club faces challenges in getting recognition, as he writes in his review that the club is “a cozy and unconventional jazz club that in just 10 months has blossomed into one of the top spots for jazz in the city — although it can be nearly as hard to find in the open seas of downtown L.A. as its namesake.”

So as the club approaches its first year in existence many of the artists who have frequented Joon Lee’s club have decided to do something nice for him.  Feed The Blue Whale is an all-day-and-night festival that will hopefully bring dollars and attention to this little place.  No less than 12 groups will be performing that day, from longtime Los Angeles stalwarts such as John Beasley and Kim Richmond to the more progressive, aggressive sounds of bands like Slumgum and Sigmund Fudge, and even some younger brilliant musicians like Richard Sears and Sam Gendel.  Of course, Kevin Kanner and the Blue Whale Monday Jam Band will play a set.  The evening concludes with what is to be for sure a lights out performance from John Zorn disciples Jim Black on drums, Chris Speed on woodwinds, and Trevor Dunn on bass in the group Endangered Blood, on tour from NYC.

GF3 will also make an appearance, and I am delighted that the organizers of this festival have asked me to perform.  I’ve had several shows there that have been instrumental in the development of our trio and I imagine this next show will continue to help push us along.

It’s pretty rare to find a club where the owner is universally loved by all those who work for him, staff and musicians alike.  If you come by on Saturday you will see what that looks like, as elusive as a Blue Whale sighting.

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GF3 performs at 7th+Fig “Jazz For the Holidays” series Tuesday 12/7 at Noon

We have a rare weekday performance this Tuesday at noon in Downtown LA.  GF3 has been invited to perform in a holiday jazz series sponsored by ArtsBrookfield.  We will be doing a 45-minute set, opening for a great band, NYC-based pianist Helen Sung, with Inga Swearingen on vocals, Hamilton Price on bass and Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums.  Helen is an incredible pianist and I’m really looking forward to hearing her group.

As for us, we’ll be playing music from our upcoming project, which has been put on hold for the holidays but we will resume recording in January when JP gets back from the Phillipines.  We might throw in one of my holiday arrangements as well.  Many thanks to the Jazz Cat, LeRoy Downs, KKJZ radio personality and the best MC in jazz for curating this series and continuing to find new ways to bang the drum loudly for jazz artists in LA and beyond.

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Asian American Music Festival this Saturday

Asian American Music Festival, Movement 2 (Generations)
Saturday, October 16, 1:30pm


Tateuchi Democracy Forum @ Japanese American National Museum, 100 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles (Little Tokyo), 90012

GF3 – Gary Fukushima, piano; Miles Senzaki, drums; JP Maramba, bass

Jon Jang – Solo Piano

Pan Asian Arkestra featuring Jon Jang’s Concerto for Jazz Ensemble and Taiko

Saxophone/Flute:  Hitomi Oba, Ian Vo, Michael Birnbryer

Trumpet, Trombone:  Josh Aguiar, Nick DePinna

Bass, Drums, Piano:  JP Maramba, Miles Senzaki, Gary Fukushima

Taiko:  Yuri Yoshida, Liz Ishida

It’s been a hectic few weeks as I have been preparing for this upcoming show. As I mentioned here last week, there are great shows happening all weekend by a lot of performers from different musical backgrounds coming from different parts of the world.

The Pan Asian Arkestra is my own handpicked group of musicians that I am really excited to play with.  All of the players are tremendous musicians and improvisers and they are really getting a handle on the music.  The Jang piece is very much in the mold of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, a sparse but melodic orchestration and plenty of space for improvisation, and a flair for the dramatic.  Saxophonist and composer Hitomi Oba has written a new piece just for the concert, entitled The Generations Tree, a study in contrast from the Jang piece, with intricate interlocking rhythms and a subtle undulation of texture throughout.  It’s a thoughful, beautiful piece and it is a nice complement to Jang’s more forceful Concerto.

I’m also really looking forward to hearing Jon Jang play solo piano.  The Chicago Sun-Times describes how his performance “instantly conjured up Chinese folk instruments; the rudely harmonized yawp of double-reeds, the shimmering plucked strings of a pipa, the punctuating sweep of a zither…and in the middle of all that he shifted without fanfare into the ringing chords and stately motion of vintage gospel piano.”  Jang is a true master improviser and I can’t wait to hear him.

As for the trio, we have been working hard on preparing some new material for the show.  In fact, we have started to record (finally) and you can hear and download some of the new tracks on my website and at bandcamp.com.  I’m excited to be recording after all these years with Miles and JP and you can expect a lot of music from us over the next year.

For me, this Saturday afternoon performance will be one of the highlights of the year.  All the music and the musicians mean a lot to me personally and I hope that you will come out to see what takes place.

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GF3, Jon Jang, Pan Asian Arkestra w/ Taiko Project @ Asian American Music Festival 2010

It’s hard to believe that almost a whole year has passed since we embarked on what we first thought was to be a little series of shows among friends, only to see it blossom into a beautiful musical event that stirred up among us a cultural resonance many of us didn’t know existed.  I personally came away from last year’s festival with a deeper connection to my identity as an Asian American artist, which is something that I had actually not thought about for a long time.

One of the cool things about having a blog is that it’s pretty easy to go back in time and see what you were thinking then.  Here’s a quote from my blogpost a year ago:

…I think at some point what we were doing this weekend became bigger than us.  Our incedental attempt to just get a bunch of talented Asian and Asian American musicians in the same room ended up being swept up in the long arc of the history behind the Asian American jazz movement.  Who knows, perhaps it was this history that nudged us to this very moment we find ourselves in now.  However it happened, I am energized by the events of this weekend, I have a lot of new friends, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for all of us.

Well, part of what’s in store is happening soon, as the Asian American Jazz Festival ’09 has grown up and become the Asian American Music Festival ’10.

Promoter and Festival Organizer Paul Im has expanded the roster to include Asian American and fielded some impressive talent from many different genres of music that will grace the state of the art performance and lecture space called the Tateuchi Democracy Forum at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.  Two of the acts that I’m especially excited about are the band Milk and Jade led by the amazing cross genre cellist Dana Leong, and the legendary ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro.

Of course, the highlight for me will be on Saturday afternoon, October 16th at 1:30pm when I and my faithful trio get to share a stage with the legendary Jon Jang.  Mr. Jang, a composer and pianist from San Francisco, is a seminal figure in the history of Asian Amerian Jazz.  He was gracious enough to attend last year’s festival and even agreed to speak at one of the shows.  He talked then about the transmission of the legacy of Asian American musicians to a new generation, and in that spirit Paul Im astutely invited Mr. Jang to return this year for a solo piano performance.

What’s more, Paul, with the composer’s blessing, has asked me to put together a group to perform the Jon Jang composition Reparations Now! Concerto for Jazz Ensemble and Taiko.  The band will be named the Pan Asian Arkestra, in honor of the group that Jon Jang had founded in 1988 to play his concerto.  The piece is an important work in Asian American history, as it helped to call attention to the movement for reparations for tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who were interrned during World War II, and one of the first major works to feature the taiko alongside western instruments.  The musicians who have agreed to play this music are all wonderful players and I’m excited to make music with them.  They are:

Saxophone/Flute:  Hitomi Oba, Ian Vo, Michael Birnbryer

Trumpet, Trombone:  Josh Aguiar, Nick DePinna

Bass, Drums, Piano:  JP Maramba, Miles Senzaki, Gary Fukushima

Taiko:  Yuri Yoshida, Liz Ishida

Another exciting development is that the taiko players, Yuri and Liz, have been sent to us courtesy of Los Angeles’s own Taiko Project, which is perhaps the most dynamic and certainly the hippest taiko group in the world.  They have collaborated on so many interesting ventures, from a national Mitsubishi car commercial to performing with Stevie Wonder, and we’re extremely pleased to have them on board for this show.

GF3 is going to start the afternoon off with a set of music.  We’ve been working on a lot of new material and we are excited to present it in such a prestigious setting.  One of the Arkestra members, saxophonist Hitomi Oba, will debut a piece for the band as well.  Hitomi is an exceptional composer and I can’t wait to play her music as well.

Needless to say, this is a tremendous opportunity to see some history being made and to listen to some incredible music.  If you go to the festival website you can by a festival pass or an all day pass (which will get you in to see Jake Shimabukuro that evening), or if you are just planning to see our show you can buy individual tickets buy clicking on this link:

Asian American Music Festival Movement 2: Generations

As the Tateuchi Forum only seats 200, there is a chance the concert will be sold out well before the date of the performance, so buy your tickets now if you intend to go.  Hope to see you at this amazing event.

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Get Your Chops Back Jazz Combo 2010 @ Walt Disney Concert Hall, Thursday 9/23

For the past three months I’ve spent every other Saturday or so working with Active Arts at the Music Center, teaching a series of workshops geared towards adults who played music at one time and are looking to take it up again with the hope of learning how to play jazz and to play jazz with others.  This is the second year I’ve had the pleasure of doing this and it’s been a real treat to see how the participants have gotten better each passing workshop, becoming more confident and enthusiastic about playing.

The series culminates this Thursday with an open house at none other than the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where my ragtag band will share the stage with two of the other Get Your Chops Back groups, a snare drum choir and an Afro-Latin band.  The event is free and open to the public, and it’s a great chance to see this great concert hall up close and personal.  Since it’s general admission you could even sit in the front row if you get there early enough.

For our portion we will do an overview of all that we have done this summer, from crazy free playing to the blues to even some Horace Silver and John Coltrane.  I have to say I am amazed and proud of these self-admitted jazz novices.  If there’s any of you out there who are toying with the idea of learning how to play jazz, these folks will give you inspiration to spare.

Thurs 9/23 7pm Get Your Chops Back Jazz Workshop @ Disney Hall

111 S Grand Ave Los Angeles, California 90012


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GF3 @ Cafe Metropol Friday 9/3

The trio has been blessed this summer with an unusual plethora of playing opportunities.  One of the side effects of that is we are sounding pretty kick-ass as of late, which is a good thing as we plan our debut recording next month.  All the new material is starting to click and I think we’re starting to enter into a new chapter of ensemble playing that has come a long way since our jam session house band days.  We’re back at Cafe Metropol this Friday for what is probably our last public performance until the Asian American Music Festival in October.  If you haven’t seen us yet this is as good a time as any to check it out.

Gary Fukushima Trio @ Cafe Metropol

Friday, September 3 8:30-10:30pm

923 Third Street, Los Angeles CA 90013 www.cafemetropol.com

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

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Tuesday was Jesslyn’s 1st birthday.  For her birthday I got her a flat screen TV.  We actually needed to get the TV because our old one will no longer fit in our living room once my birthday present arrives, in the form of a grand piano that will also be every other present we will be getting for me the rest of my life.  Pika and I are a week apart, and we’re feeling very celebratory.  The only thing that could make this week any better is if you come out to my birthday gig at the Blue Whale on Saturday and wish me a happy birthday. But please, no presents.   With the baby last year and the piano this year I’ve gotten the two best birthday presents I could ever hope for.

…yeah ok, the TV is nice too, but that belongs to Pika.

By the way, I’m also playing with saxophonist and good friend Tony White on Friday at the Left Coast Wine Bar.  Birthday wishes will be accepted there as well.

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