November 19, 2012

Jazzed in Japan

In this week's episodes of The World is A Small Place, we follow Nicky as he heads to Nagoya to hear some familiar tunes.

A few days ago I received an email from my dad letting me know that Dave Grusin, one of his clients, had just arrived in Tokyo to play a few shows. Dave is a world renowned jazz pianist, and I can make that statement with absolute certainty now, as I've seen him play in Spain, England, and Japan.

I was initially disappointed to learn that he had arrived in Tokyo only a few days after I left, but a quick email exchange revealed that he was coming a bit further South to Nagoya, which was an easy train ride form Osaka. I've also been meaning to return to Nagoya (home to what used to be the tallest roller coaster in the world) and my Monday was completely free, so the stars aligned and I packed a day pack!

I've really been enjoying traveling by train. Kurumi's parents seemed to think I was crazy to spend 4 hours traveling for a 90 minute show, but it is such a welcomed change from driving in LA where 4 hours is the amount of time it takes to take the 405 home. The train provides a great atmosphere to read, write, and stare out the window with the hopes that someone will look over and think that I've become a bit of a cliché.

When I arrived at Nagoya, night had fallen and the Christmas lights were lit:

One of the most unique statues I've ever seen

I have discovered one of life's greatest joys:
navigating somewhere using a map written in a foreign language. The website for Blue Note club provided the following map:

Google maps was able to tell me which station to go to (which I assumed was that gray cross-building in the upper right), but from there, I was on my own. I compared the website map with the one placed at the exit of all the subway, and sure enough was able to find where I was in relationship to the club. When the blue doors came into view, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

Extraordinary feeling when I found the place

The show was fantastic even though guitar-driven jazz is not my personal favorite. It's very Downtown Disney in my opinion, but the musicianship was excellent so it was hard not to enjoy. And while the performance was entertaining, the real show was the guy sitting next to me. I tried to sneak a video of him rocking out, but jazz bars are not known for their bright lights. My table-mate came alone, ordered a water (my sort of guy!), and spent the entire evening air drumming, air guitaring, and all around grooving to every piece. This was unusual behavior because Japanese people are not ones to get into a musical performance. As I learned later, while speaking with the drummer and bassist, the biggest change they've seen since they began coming to Japan was how the audiences responded to the music. For many years, audiences were unsure if they should clap after pieces, as this was not customary in Japanese theater. Then it took them some time to warm up to the idea of clapping after solos, and now the struggle seems to be the outward display of pleasure during the performance. I thought it was human nature to move to music, but maybe not?

As always, it's good to see familiar faces in foreign lands. Spent some time after the show talking with Dave and the rest of the musicians about their experiences playing in Japan. As the drummer noted, a lot of young Japanese people mimic Western style, but they don't embrace it. "They've got the walk, but they don't talk the talk" was his observation. It was also a pleasure meeting Abraham Laboriel, who was the bassist in the band. He is easily the most used session bassist; to list his credits would be to list every musician who has ever required a bass player. Really an honor getting to meet him.

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