Check out my latest piece for the Japan Times on the best jazz spots in the Kanto region located outside central Tokyo.
Check out my latest piece for the Japan Times on the best jazz spots in the Kanto region located outside central Tokyo.
2. What was the scene (jazz scene And/Or general music scene) in Bali at that time? I visited Bali in 2007 and was amazed about the jazz scene in Bali. As you couldn't find such venues in Jakarta at that time. They played standard jazz, originals, and compositions from Tania Maria, Bill Evans, etc. That's why I decided to move.
3. How did the Ubud Jazz festival start? What stands out about it (besides the gorgeous physical location!)? It started in 2010 when we held small concerts at Serambi Art Antida (now is Antida Sound Garden) once a month with 50 guests. And when Serambi Art Antida closed due to some differences with the owners' perspective, we lost a place to perform. Then we played in some places around Bali. And it was so packed with guests in 2012, we decided to make a serious and international jazz festival.
4. What are the plans for the future of the festival?
5. Your three favorite albums.
Where are you from and how did you first get into music?
I’m originally from Brighton but lived many years in Manchester before making Madrid my home. I now live somewhere between Madrid, the UK and Doha in Qatar! My wife works in the International School system, so we move around! It seems normal to me as a musician as we are always traveling to do shows!
I originally got into music listening to tapes on my parents AKAI tape machine with its 3 band EQ! Loved listening to anything they had! Dionne Warwick, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Harris, Tim Hardi, Cat Stevens and lots of jazz! My Dad had a fairly decent vinyl collection that I used to plunder and was listening from an early age to Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk…you name it! My Dad actually saw John Coltrane live in London. Something he loves to tell me on a regular basis!
What the jazz scene like in the UK when you started and how is it currently?
I think the current UK jazz scene is great! Really healthy and diverse with lots of great artists of all ages from all over the UK. I think there is a great scene in London right now particularly with new artists like Kamal Washington and Nubya Garcia. Really exciting clubs too that are backing these guys and providing the context for a ‘scene’. And its not all London as you have people like Tony Burkill from Leeds and and Nat Birchall from Manchester.
It’s a very exciting time to be a UK Jazz artist.
You've moved around quite a bit, how has being a nomadic musician changed your approach to composing and playing?
I think it has all contributed to my music. Yes of course. I’m very lucky to be exposed to such different musicians and music constantly. I have taken a lot from my travels. On the album La Sombra I covered a classic Flamenco track called La Leyendo del Tiempo which was a huge track in Spain for Camaron De la Isla. I wanted to bring some of that flamenco sound into my album. That was what I was hearing around me and wanted to use it. Or listen to the beginning of Shamal Wind and you can hear the middle east right there! The harmony and the stylistic approach, the 5/4 time and the use of percussion.
What's the new record Shamal Wind all about?
Shamal Wind is about the change that can blow through your life bringing change and growth. That’s what the Shamal Wind does! It blows across the Persian Gulf bringing huge, beautiful sand storms with great destructive force and eventual renewal.
3 favorite albums:
Only 3!! I guess these ones right now:
Sahib Shihab: Companionship
Harold McNair: Flute & Nut
Timo Lassy: Love Bullet
1. Where are you from and how did you get started in music?
I am from Istanbul, Turkey. As lots of other musician friends I showed my interest in music at a very early age. My family especially my mother was a great listener and music was a very big part of our daily life. They realized my interest and talent and put me in Conservatory exams. So, my music education officially started when I was 7 years old by going to the Istanbul University State Conservatory part time student program. Thereby, all through education until College times, I studied two schools. I was piano performance student at the Conservatory and my early music education was focused on Western Classical Music. Even though my first college education was on Business, I was always serious about music. Frankly, that degree was mainly about convincing my family that I will not starve to death by being musician ☺ I was a bit rusher on education. When I started my first college degree I was only 16. After graduating from Business, I went back to full time music education double majoring on Composition and Piano at Mimar Sinan University Conservatory, Istanbul. Back then I was already playing, singing in Jazz and Rock clubs professionally. I was in love with improvising. After a while I got a bit tired of Classical Music and decided to apply for Berklee College of Music. I got accepted to Jazz Composition major at 1996 in half scholarship, which turned to be a full scholarship in a half year, and I graduated in one and a half year from Berklee in summa cum laude. Then, I had my master’s degree on Contemporary Music Composition in Istanbul, which helped me later a lot on creating my own kind of language in music writing. So it was a long journey of music education.
2. What is the jazz (and over all music scene) like in Turkey?
Jazz has a very old history in Turkey so it has its own tradition. The first examples were from 1940’s but it got more serious after 1950’s with the uprising of bourgeois society. Istanbul Music Festival was an important source for so many of us to be interested and serious about Jazz in Turkey. There I saw Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, John Abercrombie, Charles Lloyd, Mahavishnu Orchestra, James Brown, and so many other great artists live that impossible for me to count their names all together. I saw Oscar Peterson playing solo and then I had decided to be like him, having a lot of fun playing on the stage! Later that festival separate its way with Classical Music and now it is called Istanbul Jazz Festival, which will celebrate its 25th year this summer. Also, Akbank Jazz Festival is another great festival that I should mention. At the starting point was of this festival Sun-Ra Arkestra played a street concert, which was unforgettable for me. It is more of a progressive festival. Other than these some of other major cities have their own jazz and other music festivals. Istanbul was and still is an attention center of the live music. There is a new, promising jazz festival started last year called Zorlu PSM Jazz festival. We played there our new album, KAPI with my Italian musician friends. Everything was very professional. Until 2011, there were more clubs and many more jazz concerts were happening in Istanbul but due to the political situation the seen has been changed. Like lots of other things… Some good clubs are important to mention in Istanbul like Kaset Mitanni, Nardis, Badau, BoVa and bigger places like Salon IKSV, Babylon are still serving for good and original music everyday. Lots of things to talk about music scene in Turkey but I will try to leave it here. Turkey has a very young population and many of them studies in big cities. People love to hang out, drink and eat outside. They love to go to the clubs too but mainly for dancing these days. Like I have said, things are in transition. Lets hope for the good one.
3. How did you first come to Japan and what are your impressions of the music world here?
Before me, my piano trio album Answers came to Japan. Disc Union at 2014 asked that if they can sell Answers in Japan and I connected them with the record company. I didn’t follow what happened after that, and I have no idea why they wanted that specific album which was released at 2010. I have recorded that album with my old time friends, Patrick Zambonin (electric bass, Switzerland) and Jörg Mikula (drums, Austria) at 2006 in Istanbul. After couple of months that my cds arrived in Japan a fan of mine from Turkey shared a photo at instagram showing that my album is on the best selling list, number six in Tokyo disc union! I was surprised and later we got connected with disc union again, I came for couple concerts related to that album, Answers at June 2015. I immediately loved Tokyo. Music world is unique here. Life is around music. There are many clubs with many different music and many different styles of musicians. Though I had many great Japanese musician friends in Berkley, I wasn’t expecting this much of a variety. I am impressed. Especially while even the major jazz clubs around the world is closing one by one. Here I started playing with very different kind of musicians and that makes me incredibly happy. I am interested to play lots of different music including contemporary music, free jazz, free improvisation, written music, and etc… Here I play quartet, trio, duo jazz with trumpet player Issei Igarashi, duo free improvisation with violinist Keisuke Ohta, improvised concert with Keiji Haino… Lots of crazy performances are happening. As a curious musician, to be able to play in this kind of variety I travel around the world since 2003. Finding all this movement in one city is breathtaking!
4. Current projects?
I released two albums last year. One is an electronic/ electro-acoustic/improvisation/ambient album published in Rome, Italy with great Italian musicians Marcello Allulli (tenor sax) and Emanuele de Raymondi (laptop & electric guitar), named KAPI. The other one is a women composers project that I have been leading since 2011, called Women’s matinee (Kadinlar Matinesi), which is released in Turkey. I will be going back and forth between Italy, Turkey and Japan for playing the concerts of these albums. Also, I recently started recording a duo album that includes great Japanese musicians I play together. I am very exited about that album. I have another project called Blue Band, 6 horns + rhythm section jazz combo band. I write music for this combination since 1997. We had a concert last year in Tokyo. I want to keep that band alive and hopefully record with them, too. Just today I had a new offer from a record company for recording a solo album I might have consider. I will go to play Ankara Jazz Festival on May 8, Istanbul Jazz Festival in June 29, another summer festival in Rome July 20. On May also I will go to New York for a recording session and play couple concerts while I am there. Mean while I will continue performing in Japan too.
5. 3 favorite albums?
Hard to say! But maybe if I limit myself as, “life time albums that I can listen forever”:
Bill Evans at the Montreaux Jazz festival (1968) (piano player’s dream)
Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires – Second Sight (changed my perspective in music at the first listening)
Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (every tune is hit and oh, that album cover!)
You can see Selen at Bar Rhodes in Shibuya on March 8th. http://selengulun.com/
For more than half a century, Nihon Onkyo Engineering has designed interior construction for acoustic rooms, recording and broadcast studios, performance halls and public spaces. In October, I was invited by NOE to attend a demonstration at their engineering studio in Chiba, where they would be introducing their Acoustic Grove System (AGS), a sound filtering system now used by various recording studios.
A small group including journalists, DJs, an astronomer(!) and myself were picked up near Tokyo Station and driven about an hour or so out to the lab. There was a short presentation about the history of the AGS, and then we were led into the sound room for some extended demonstration time.
The AGS was designed to "greatly improve indoor sound fields". The genesis of the project stems from the lead engineer's experience with sound acoustics while walking in the forest. As they explain on their website:
At Nihon Onkyo Engineering, our interest in the mysterious sound environment of forests has led us to research focusing on the special behavior of sound waves diffused using mechanisms similar to the trees of a forest. We also believe that everyone feels a certain magical comfortableness when in a forest. Our development of the Acoustic Grove System was a result of our exploration of the connection between the acoustic mechanisms of the forest and this comfortableness.
In conventional acoustic designs for narrow rooms that do not have a particularly large space (such as with concert halls), the combination of reflective surfaces and sound-absorbing surfaces result in unnatural and peculiar characteristics in sound reflections. Moreover, when a loud sound is emitted in a small room, the acoustic energy becomes saturated, resulting in a sound field with poor distortion. To avoid such acoustic disturbances, we devised the AGS as a mechanism to achieve an ideal acoustic space similar to that of a forest.
The presentation explained a bit on the history of NOE and their work with various acoustic systems, then went into the background of the AGS. The AGS system is the result of ten years research, with each individual wooden post requiring precise measuring and placement. What seems to be haphazard and random is the result of a painstaking process to created the perfect sound environment.
The 'feel' of the AGS sound lab hits you instantly upon entering; it's a little hard to describe exactly how but there was something warm and comforting about the space. I'm a non-audiophile music geek and lack the vocabulary for this, so I'll start with: walking into the sound testing room was like getting into a hot-springs bath. We took seats in a semi-circle facing the wall of the AGS wood and the two speakers set in the middle of the room, then three different pieces of music were played for us; an orchestral piece, a church choir, and The Carpenters. (It wouldn't be Japan without an appearance by the Carpenters.)
I couldn't hear anything particularly different with the orchestral piece, but the choir music was immediately striking. It sounded as if the choir was surrounding you, with voices coming at you from all directions. Remarkable! Then The Carpenters...I'll avoid going into my view on them and why they are deities in Japan, and will just say that Karen's voice was lovely, and the production on a song like 'We've Only Just Begun' is revealed in a whole new way via the AGS.
We were then invited to each play a track we had brought with us on CD. A Jakarta-based journalist who was in town doing some music research offered up a track from the album Mad Professor Meets Massive Attack..an inspired choice. The best dub music often sounds like something from another planet; hearing the Mad Professor's imagination via the AGS was intense, beautiful and somewhat frightening. The track "Radiation Ruling The Nation" builds slowly and methodically, until you feel as you're inside it; hearing it on the ASG I feel I know what the inside of a computer would sound like if you could shrink yourself and wander around in one.
For my selection I brought along a copy of McCoy Tyner's album 'Time For Tyner', featuring Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphones and marimba. I was eager to hear the tone of those two instruments in particular on the tune 'African Village'..and they were astounding, far beyond what I had even imagined. Again the sound was washing over us. It was an audio shower. I've never experienced anything like it. And the drums were incredible, the high-hat and bass drum came at you from different directions, making it seem like there were two drummers in the room. Fantastic, propulsive tune on the most common headphones but with the AGS it was truly alive.
The AGS system is primarily a professional product used in studios, etc, though you can buy the smaller individual wooden units for at about ￥200,000 per piece, not cheap but said to be perfect for a smaller room in your home. I can totally understand now why audiophiles obsess they way they do as it it's just a completely different experience to hear music in this way.
Many thanks to NOE for inviting me to the sound lab for this demonstration, I'm ready to spend my next spare ￥200,000 on a home unit. Special thanks to Flora Mitsushima at Kyodo PR for her assistance, as well to translator and sake master Christopher Hughes for providing the fine sake we sampled while listening to the AGS.
All good things have to come to an end, right? (Well, perhaps not, but more on that later..) Two years and three months into the Tokyo Jazz Joints photo project and we're near the finish line as my partner on this adventure, photographer Philip Arneill, is getting ready to leave Japan.
A few weeks back after some back and forth about what to do as we approached our 100th jazz joint visited, we decided to forget any geographical designations about 'Tokyo Jazz Joints' (and to be honest, we've already included some Kansai region joints anyways) and make the trip up north to visit Basie, the mecca of jazz cafe culture in Japan. It seemed like every other cafe owner and customer we'd met on this long jazz project had mentioned Basie, saying we must go visit, that it was the gold standard for jazz kissaten in Japan, etc etc; 縁がある (It was fated) as is said in Japanese.
The Tohoku region is a trek from Tokyo, 460km north to our first stop. We mapped out an ambitious 24 hours aiming to get to at least 5 jazz spots in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, ending the night in Sendai city to reach the 100 mark. With very infrequent local trains in the countryside and far distances, this was going to require pinpoint scheduling.
But Jazz joints don't open until noon at the earliest so I decided to zoom up on the shinkansen very early to go see Chusonji the spectacular 12th century temple in Hiraizumi village. 5am wake up call, 7am train and there I was making the beautiful walk up a lovely tree-lined hill towards Chusonji at 0930.
My buddy Justin lives up in Iwate and came over to Chusonji to meet me; we had a good catch up while walking around the gorgeous temple grounds, then hopped the train back a few stations to Ichinoseki to pick up Philip and start the day. The schedule was tight and I had proposed having an early lunch then getting straight to Basie, but Philip wisely and rightly said since we were here let's try and fit in the Royce Jazz Cafe first, if only for a few minutes. And what a good idea that was!
Royce is one of the more unique spots we've visited, and that's saying a lot. Way far from Ichinoseki station, Royce is a combination small liquor store on the right, jazz cafe on the left. The owner Mr. Gonbei Nanashima was surprised when I rang the bell (surprised would be an understatement, more like astonished..) and asked me 'are you here for the jazz?' Indeed we are, sir. Three tall, lanky foreign guys have taken the bullet train just to come to your fine establishment. Nanashima-san kindly let us in and then explained about his astounding audio system, which includes the same model speakers as used in the famous Abbey Road Studios in London.
Royce itself is really nothing more than a living room with some sofas facing the wall of speakers. It's a joint for serious listening, no doubt, and given that it's in the middle of nowhere you can be sure the customers are no just random walk-ins.
In between the audio talk Nanashima-san peppered us with questions about ourselves, then very curiously asked if we were aware of the left-right brain differences between Westerners and Japanese and how this affects the way we hear music...um, no, not really up to speed on that theory but I'll look it up.
We explained more about our project taking pictures in jazz spots, then said we'd have to zoom to get to Basie, back closer to the station. Nanashima-san insisted on driving us over there, while refusing to take any money for the coffee. What a star, another kind and gracious host in the jazz world, there have been so many over the last several years; never ceases to amaze me.
So we got a lift over to Basie which is a bit closer to Ichinoseki Station, and I started to get excited, nervous, jumpy. Calling ahead to check the opening hours at Basie a few days earlier, my dear Mrs. Jazz had said the owner was quite brusque and unfriendly on the phone...what if he was as intimidating in person? What if the place was a disappointment after all the build up and expectation? The wall of flyers at the entrance was my first hint that, NO, I would not be disappointed here.
Look at the names there! Hank Jones and Peter Brotzmann were coming all the way up north HERE to play gigs in a cafe? We entered Basie and immediately, I was smitten. That feeling you get if a beautiful woman smiles at you? Or when you come up from the subway in New York and get your first look at Manhattan and the skyscrapers and feel all the energy? That's how I get when I enter a gorgeous jazz joint. Look at this:
The vinyl! And that's only the wall behind the bar, there were records lining two other walls around the side where we sat. After ordering some drinks, I went up to talk to Sugawara-san, the legendary owner of Basie. This guy is like a god in the insular world of jazz in Japan, as Basie is now world-famous for its JBL audio system, on top of the decades of great live gigs they've hosted. I nervously went over to introduce myself and explain our project, and that I know many friends of acquaintances of his...and he smiled broadly, told me to sit down, and call my crew over.
Before we could even say another word more drinks arrived at the table, and Sugawara-san asked us about our project, very kindly answering our questions about Basie's incredible history. Was that poster over there, did Elvin Jones and Freddie Hubbard really play here? Oh yes, they did, several times. We drank a lot together. My goodness...and that famous JBL audio system? Oh sure, I get foreign music people coming here every few weeks or so to take pictures and write about it..from the US, Europe..next week J-Wave (Japanese radio broadcaster) will be here to interview me and profile the shop..What's this record playing? Oh that's J.J. Johnson, he never came here but most of his band did when there were in Japan..the casualness with which he talked about all this struck me. If Elvin Jones and Freddie Hubbard played in my bar I would be talking of it constantly.
But it's not just the old days that makes Basie so special. As the flyers out front advertised, it's still a vibrant and functioning live spot in addition to being almost the perfect cafe & bar. Having seen so many gorgeous old jazz cafes close down over the last ten years, it was sincerely a great relief to hear that Basie was still thriving.
Phillip stood up to go take pics all round the joint, including the upstairs space that looks down on the main area, while Justin and I sat at the table drinking and talking with Sugawara-san. Then his very old pal Shimaji-san came in and sat down, receiving a glass of wine within seconds. Take a look at these two bosses:
1pm on a Saturday and they're hitting the wine and cigars, not giving one f#$k about anything. 75 and 76 years old; may we all be living it like that when we get there. (And they kept their sunglasses on the whole time..)
Sugawara-san was kind enough to give me a copy of the Japanese magazine Switch that had a nice photo spread of Basie and interview with him. Even though he's been interviewed many times and visited by people from around the world, I could sense he was impressed by our project, with our effort and dedication so far, and our deep love for these jazz spots. Philip and I debated whether to skip our train and wait for the later one but realized that Basie was so hypnotic and perfect that we'd likely stay all day and miss everywhere else. I explained we had to go and catch the next train, we received an absurdly low bill of only ￥3000 (about US$25, when we easily drank enough to cost three times that) and then the waitress said to come along, she'd drive us to the station. Unreal kindness from everyone up north. I had to snap a pic with Sugawara-san before we left:
Feeling more than a bit tipsy from the early drinking, and in high spirits from the wonderful experience at Basie, we got a lift back to Ichinoseki station and hopped onto the Shinkansen again to head further north to Mizusawa, on our way to visit the Ray Brown cafe, where more unexpected thrills awaited us..
(Part 2 coming soon..)
For the past 5 years or so I've been taking various short trips around Asia, exploring parts of the local music scene in each country (while fitting in some sight-seeing.) Here is the diary recap of my recent visit to Hanoi; a more focused portrait of the jazz & traditional music scene will be up soon.)
The start of my recent, too short visit to Vietnam can be summed up with the following three quotes:
1."We caution that with this level of turbulence, passengers use the aircraft restrooms at their own risk."
2. "You're in KLIA2, you need KLIA terminal 1 for your transfer. Better rush if you want to make it, lines are long there. But don't run in the airport, the police will surely stop you and that would take an hour at least once that happens."
3. And lastly, "Oh, two hours wait for a visa in Hanoi airport is about normal. I guess it would move faster if there were more than one person behind the counter handling things. Not the friendliest lady in the world either."
Ok enough about the rather long, exhausting route to get there; all that fell away as my taxi moved through the Old Quarter of Hanoi, a place I've been wanting to visit for years now.
Hanoi is an old city, with a lot more than just the faded colonial mansions and french influenced coffee culture, though both jump right out at you immediately. After a quick 'refresh' in the very nice La Siesta boutique hotel (++ points for the very nice mango & passion fruit smoothie they bring you while checking in), I headed out into the streets of the Old Quarter at about 2:30pm, immediately jumping into the traffic.
(Street view of traffic)
Reading about the bike culture in Vietnam and experiencing it first hand is a different ballgame yet quickly picked up the technique of how to cross without getting smashed and started my wandering. It's often the best part of a trip, that first initial rush of diving into a neighborhood with only a basic idea of which way you're going, taking in every sight, sound and smell around you. Right away I randomly looked up to see this glorious mystery:
(Radio building)I was too late to snap a pic of the very old guy leaning out the window with a noticeably grumpy face. This had to be an old radio station but from when, and what kind? I made a mental note to come back and investigate. (Note: I never made it back. Stupid..)
The streets of the Old Quarter were enticing; I immediately fell in love with the vibe, even with the seemingly endless number of tourists. Thought not exclusively so, there was still a bit of the system of 'one street, one type of shop' going on. This way fabrics; this way home goods; that way lighting & hardware; this way wet market.
First stop though of course was for some Pho; I strolled over to a street round the corner road where the hotel said were many good Pho shops. #10 was delicious; clean and good quality beef, perfect portion for just about ￥300 (US$2.50). I grabbed a quick espresso at the cafe across the way from Pho 10, looking down into the action below.
If you look at the bottom right of the picture you'll see a local guy in a green army uniform. When I left the cafe and walked by him he smiled at me and gave a wave, and I saw that the 'name tag' on the uniform said 'US Marines' in English...odd and curious for many reasons. But then, every few seconds I was already seeing things in Hanoi that could be interpreted in different ways given Vietnam's history...for example this shop:
Surely not a coincidence, unless there's some brand named Vichy I'm not aware of...? (Note: Looked it up later and found that's a real French company. Shame, that would have been a sick burn by the locals towards the French. Oh well..)
Feeling full and energized I walked further through the Old Quarter and made it to the top of Hoan Kiem Lake, in the heart of the city. Fantastic spot, full of energy but not overwhelming in the least. I spent an enjoyable 10 minutes on a bench by the lake next to two very old aunties who laughed and smiled and chatted to me in Vietnamese non-stop, then I walked round the lake and down into the French Quarter south of the lake. A different universe from the crowded bustle of the Old Quarter, my first stop in the French Quarter was Bar +84. I had been told this was a nice spot for good tunes, both live and on the speakers. With a very indoor/outdoor shape and feeling quite spacious, I was happy to grab a stool and order a Tiger beer (no 333 in Hanoi!) then smiled as The Crusaders 'Street Life' came on, followed in succession by Chaka Khan then some Blue Note trumpet from the 60s...not Lee Morgan but of that style. Bingo! A great start to the evening, and it got me feeling positive that there were some music heads here in town I could certainly hang with.
(bar +84 pic) (Interlude: People ask me again and again WHY do I travel thousands of miles to go find bars that play the same music I can hear anywhere in Tokyo. I always say, it's not the music, it's the people choosing it that I go to find, to hear them talk about the local scene and tell me all about how they started their bar. Sightseeing the famous places is fun, but the best way to learn about a city, especially the music scene, is to talk to staff and musicians in the local music joints. And in doing so you learn a lot about contemporary society, way more than just blindly following a Lonely Plant Walking Map...ok, rant over.)
I drained a couple cold Tigers in bar +84 listening to some superb tunes..and then abruptly at 7pm the grooves stopped and some awful new 'R&B' came on..horrid and annoying. The staff said they have to switch over as the night time customers want 'newer hits'.. (Sigh...) I finished and took a slow stroll around the French Quarter on my way to the Binh Minh Jazz Club, supposedly the only 'real' jazz club in Hanoi. On a side street behind the landmark Hanoi Opera House it's well signposted:
Very nice, with seats outside and wide open windows so you can hear the music...that wasn't playing yet. I was way early for the live sets that start at 9pm, but at 8 there wasn't even any CD on. I ordered a drink anyways and took some pics, then waited for the first set.
Quyen Van Minh is one of the most important figures in creating a jazz scene in Vietnam, and the owner of the club. I went up to speak with him when he arrived right before 9pm; he took my card and said to email him about meeting during the week (never got a reply back from him unfortunately..) As one of the two most important jazz figures in the country, I'm going to have to get back to interview him properly with way advance notice.
The first quartet to play was solid enough, playing some mid-tempo bebop, but the effects of flying and the alcohol began to hit about 10 pm so I paid up and walked back around the lake into the Old Quarter. Even in the light drizzle though I stopped by the lake for a few minutes to enjoy the scene. It's always so so satisfying taking that first nighttime walk back to your hotel in a new city. Got in at around 10:30 and was asleep within minutes.
Couldn't get out of bed; leisurely late breakfast meant I didn't leave the hotel until about 11. I walked west from the OQ to have a look at the Confucian Temple of Literature, site of Vietnam's first university, established almost one thousand years ago. Very impressive as expected, as was sharing the experience with about one thousand other tourists, and about 150 Vietnamese school kids & recent graduates. Despite the crowds, it was interesting to see how the temple is still active; one of the attendants told me that many, if not all, students will come to pray here before and after exams. I was fascinated at the choice of books on sale at the temple gift shop:
I left the temple after an hour and grabbed a baguette sandwich (delicious) from a small cafe, then put my map away and let myself get lost. And as is always the case, I remembered to follow the golden rule of traveling: when you see an interesting looking alleyway, take it.
This was actually 100x more interesting than the temple. Perhaps a bit invasive to take pics and videos right in the middle of people's lives like this, but I was in love with these back alleys with the bird cages, small shops and people just going about things. I went around and around a maze of alleys, everyone smiled at me except for one very grumpy old lady that was yelling and waving a cabbage in my face. I wandered more, took a few turns here and there, and ended up at this wonderful local intersection.
Figured out that I was still fairly near the Temple of Literature in what seemed like an extremely local neighborhood, even with the 'Asean Hotel' right there. This was such a wonderful spot I lingered for ten minutes or so just observing, before popping into another cafe for an espresso.
(Interlude: The cafe culture in Hanoi is epic, monumental, exhilarating. It's something you really want to experience while you are there. I knocked a few years off the life of my kidneys & bladder with all the espresso I drank in three days but it was worth it. And I didn't even stop at these gorgeous joints.)
Was time to head back to the hotel for a quick change before the evening's plans. While at a stop light I was surprised by a man sitting on a stool pointing at my shoe. He pointed and jabbered away then pulled out a small nail-file looking thing and grabbed at my shoe. Ah! This was the old 'fix a non-existing shoe problem and ask for money' scam I had heard about. I pulled away and said No Thanks, then walked away laughing. Surely there are more effective scams than this to reel in the tourists?
I had plans to meet for drinks at the Metropole Hotel at 9m so after a quick nap I left the hotel again at around 5ish to go see Bar Betta and the Pho Nho Bar, two places I was told to visit for good tunes. Both were on the same street not far from the area I was exploring earlier that morning. First Bar Betta, inside a huge, beautiful old colonial house, with funky decor and some okay-ish tunes playing.
Apparently Bar Betta's popular heyday had passed, but it was a very nice vibe inside the huge house, with an open air rooftop as well for when then rain stops. The music got better after awhile but I moved next door to Bar Pho Nho to have a look. Unfortunately the rain picked up again and Bar Pho Nho was completely empty, with no music of any kind. I enjoyed a solitary beer on the balcony, exchanging FBook messages with Pho Nho's manager, who told me there is live jazz there only on Monday nights. Pleasant spot, and one I'd return to for the live music on the next trip for sure.
I left Pho Nho and got immediately lost, then couldn't get a taxi in the rain so ended up walking cross town to the classic, ritzy Metropole Hotel to meet Ms. Hoang Minh Chau for a drink and chat. Chau runs the Hanoi Jazz Lovers Facebook page, and had helped me prepare for my visit in the past weeks. We met at the Bamboo bar at the Metropole, with the sound of vocalist Michele Kaye coming from the inside Le Club bar.
Chau was wonderful to talk with, she gave me so much information on the formation of the jazz scene in Hanoi, the influx of new spots with live music, and a lot of thoughts on where the scene is heading, in addition to helping me understand the current social climate in Hanoi.
(Note: I'm working on an expanded section for the website to be called 'Jazz In Asia' so will save for now all that she told me and simply summarize by saying the jazz scene, while still small, is going to keep growing in Vietnam.)
Unfortunately the schedule didn't work this week to meet with Chau's university contacts, Prof. Luu Quang Minh and Dr. Nguyen Manh, two key figures in the creation of the Hanoi jazz scene over the last 25 years, but I assured here I would be returning to Hanoi as soon as possible; the city already put a spell on me in less than 30 hours. I wanted to linger at the Bamboo Bar at the Metropole; I'd never stay at such a place (even if I could afford it) but have to confess to enjoying the poolside bar very much at the end of a long day of walking.
Last day in Hanoi so wanted to get a lot in. Rose early and did a little shopping, then made a fantastic discovery.
Awesome! This one stringed zither is one of the major instruments in all traditional Vietnamese music. Need to hear more of it, such a cool sound. I looked at everything in the shop, the gongs, the dan ty ba and something very much like a banjo, then told the guy in English I'd come back if possible with someone to translate; he smiled though no idea if we really communicated or not. This shop was such a treat.
I dropped off my shopping and grabbed a taxi up to West Lake, about a 10-minute ride northwest of the Old Quarter. I got dropped off at the Tran Quoc Pagoda,
then got started on a long walk all the way round the lake that I had been really looking forward too..but the weather was being difficult. Fog and drizzle non-stop, so although the embassies and trees and quiet was enjoyable, after about 45 minutes I took shelter in one of the many, many cafes lining the shores of the lake, the wonderfully odd 'October' cafe. Check the decor out in here.
With some kind of ominous sounding acoustic Vietnamese pop playing at loud volume, no one else in the whole building, and the fog over the lake, it was an atmospheric and creepy and absolutely delightful one hour break. I never drank a mango smoothie so slow in my life. (Had to cool it with the espresso, it was starting to make my heart race after awhile.)
After the mango break I zoomed back downtown to get ready for the evening's schedule. First a quick stop to look at this awesome looking shop nearby the hotel:
(Bamboo shop)The evening's main event for me was a performance of north Vietnamese traditional music called 'Ca Tru'. The Ca Tru Thang Long organization was founded and led by Ms. Pham Thi Hue. I met her at about 6 to speak a bit about her work and this kind of music. (All of the notes of our conversation lost due to rain on the way home..I'm such an amateur wannabe journalist...read a brief description about Ca Tru here.)
No videos allowed but found this official one online which gives you an idea:
It was a wonderful and fascinating performance. After the show I talked with some of the performers and also met Jin Hi Kim and Joseph Celli who were in the audience as they did a tour around the country. (Stand by for an interview with Jin Hi Kim soon..)
I walked out into the rain feeling so happy, this was exactly the kind of evening I had been looking forward to when I heard of the Ca Tru Thang Long organization. The surrounding cheap beer joints on Hang Buom road, with their appalling music and throngs of backpackers didn't appeal to me at all (yes, I'm old now..) so I bought a bottle of Trung Mach beer at a shop and made my way through the winding OQ streets back to the La Siesta, deciding not to pop in the Hanoi Music Social Club for a nightcap (I had missed their nightly live set and was looking at a 5am wake up call to get to the airport), or the sleepy looking Mojito Lounge bar.
In Hanoi for a grand total of 65 hours was obviously not enough. Just a small taste of what the city has to offer though made me vow to get back as soon as possible, next time setting up solid interviews with QHM and Dr. Mike beforehand, and also checking out the experimental DJ night I heard about and even making time to visit the coast. Vietnam worked its charm on me.
I'm from Sapporo in Hokkaido, Japan. When I was 16, a good friend of mine started a band that played classic British Rock music like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. He couldn't find a bassist for his band and he asked me. I agreed to join and played bass on rock songs during my high school days. From this experience, I realized that playing music in front of audiences was really exciting.
2. How did you first get into jazz?
My interest in music expanded a lot during my high school days. Back then I listened to many different kinds of music on the radio, like Japanese pop, rhythm & blues, soul, funk, salsa and jazz. At that time, I had a favorite radio show that used a really nice Brazilian song as its introduction theme, and they used a Fender Rhodes keyboard. Its vibrato sound was really amazing and I really liked it. Also, as a bass player, I taught myself by listening to bass legends, and I came to know Jaco Pastorius. His sound on "Teen Town" in Weather Report's "8:30" and on "Dona Lee" in his debut album was amazing. I later learned that "Dona Lee" is a jazz classic written by one of the giants of jazz, Charlie Parker, and after that I started to listen to older styles of jazz. When I became a university student in Sapporo, I met a great tenor saxophone player in town and I eventually switched my instrument from the bass to the sax.
3. What is Transient City? What's the new trio album about?
Transient City is a jazz quartet which mainly plays my compositions. Its members are me (Osamu Inoue) on tenor saxophone, Yasushi Karasawa on the Rhodes, Yosuke Hase on drums, and Yoshimasa Otsuka on bass.
Transient City has released two albums; "Transient City" and "Psychedelic Jazz." The song called "Psychedelic Jazz" was selected as a Readers' Pick in 2012 in Tokyo Jazz Notes. If you want to know more about this album, please check Tokyo Jazz Note's website.
Our new trio, TC Trio, is a jazz group which mainly plays jazz standards instead of original compositions. Also, TC Trio focuses more on improvisation than Transient City. TC Trio’s members are the same as Transient City except that we don’t have a drummer.
4. I heard you are lawyer by day and musician by night: is it hard to balance these two careers?
That's true. I only perform live on weekends and holidays . My frequent frustration has been finding enough time to practice. But I finally renovated half of the garage in my house into a small music studio. I can practice my instrument in there anytime while also being able to spend time with my son, so it’s much better now.
5. Your three favorite albums.
It's a tough question. Obviously, there are so many albums that I admire, but I think my favorites definitely are:
a. Joe Henderson, "Power To The People"
b. Lee Konitz, "At Storyville 1954"
c. Count Basie And His Orchestra Featuring Lester Young, "Lester Leaps In"
You can hear one from TC Trio's latest on OK Jazz Episode 55.
NOTE: This article was written at the end of 2018. Six months later it was announced that Milestone, another classic jazz cafe with a long history in Tokyo, would be closing at the end of July, 2019. Sadly, the center of Tokyo continues to lose much of its jazz feeling with Tom, Jazz Room Stick, Milestone and Noise all shutting their doors within one year of each other.
My latest for the Japan Times on the closing of the old jazz cafe Mary Jane.
This month's Tokyo Jazz Map episode is now streaming on JJazz.Net, very special one as I spend the hour with Ogawa Yusuke, talking about the upcoming Aketa's Discs reissues. The Aketa label started in the 1970s and has put out several hundred albums, becoming one of Japan's most important independent labels. The first of 12 of a planned 23 just came out for first time on CD. Have a listen!
Very pleased to have been interviewed for this BBC radio doc on Jazz In Japan, hosted by good friend Kat Whatley. Have a listen at the Radio 3 homepage.
Tokyo Jazz Joints has a lovely profile at the Neocha website, check it out!
Check out my latest piece for the Japan Times on the best jazz spots in the Kanto region located outside central Tokyo.
Very happy to have the Tokyo Jazz Joints photo project profiled at the It's Psychedelic Baby site, check out this interview with me and Philip about our long adventure photographing jazz cafes around all of Japan.
Here is a great article about the Ethiopian master keyboardist and the renewed interest in his music. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/20/arts/music/hailu-mergia-lala-belu.html