1. Where are you from and how did you first get into jazz/music?
I was born in Tokyo. I come from a family of musicians; my father was pianist Takehiro Honda, my mother vocalist Chiko Honda, and my uncles Sadao Watanabe and drummer Fumio Watanabe. So it was inevitable that I got into music.
2. Why did you choose the drums and who were your first influences?
I was taking piano lessons first, but having to learn how to read sheet music was really frustrating.So, I just picked up some sticks at home, laid out some books, and started hitting them. Then I grew to like doing it.I guess I liked drumming freely even then. I can say that’s the beginning and my roots.
I was first influenced by Mr. Hiroshi Murakami, the drummer of my father’s band “Native Son.”I used to listen to an LP of this band for a long time. I also liked Stevie Wonder’s drumming at the same time.
3. How did you first join the jazz scene in Japan and what were your impressions of it?
I joined the Japanese jazz scene mostly because of my family.I had my debut as a drummer in “Native Son” after Hiroshi Murakami left in 1985.I stayed in the band for 5 years.
It was around 1990 when I really got into playing jazz because my father suggested that I play jazz too.Around the time I started playing in “Native Son,” I was into rock music (I love rock even now too!), so I hesitated a bit when my father said I should play jazz. But it was because the image I had for jazz was like MJQ, the kind you hear in a hotel lounge with much weaker beats and lower volume compared to rock.
But then one day, my father said “You should listen to this!” and played McCoy Tyner’s Real McCoy on LP. The first tune in the LP was “Passion Dance.” After I listened to it, it was like being struck by lightning and I realized that there’s no difference between jazz and rock or John Bonham and Elvin Jones. I felt as if I had a divine revelation.
4. What are your current and upcoming projects; the upcoming shows at the Pit Inn looks great, how did that come about?
I play about 50% straight ahead jazz and other 50% free form. So I’m quite frequently in jam sessions and the free circle.
“Dojo,” a collaboration with koto player Michiyo Yagi, is developing more than ever, and for the last 10 years or so I’ve been playing Led Zeppelin’s music as a piano trio “ZEK3” with pianist Kurumi Shimizu and bassist Yasushi Yonaki. We’re a very unique and rare unit in the world, I’d say.
I also formed a bassless unit called “Gobo” with my wife Miyuki Moriya, alt saxophone player, and a wonderful pianist Mamoru Ishida. We play irregularly, but this might develop into something very distinctive from jazz that we know now.
Each band is developing in an interesting way so check out my performance schedule and come out to the shows! I’d like everyone to feel the music we play.
This year marks my 30th year playing drums. Pit Inn has its 50th year anniversary, and I have a long relationship with Pit Inn, so I wanted to do something special.
On the first day, we’ll have a session with Naruyoshi Kikuchi as the lead. We’ll go for a rhythmic approach from different angles to a 1970’s groove which Miles often had.
On the second day, we’ll have “Dojo” and “Jazz Hijokaidan (literal translation=jazz emergency exit).” Hijokaidan is a legendarily noisy band. They will play with Sakata Akira, a very heavy Japanese free jazz player, and deliver a very heavy session.
On the last day, I’ll play in a duo with famous Terumasa Hino, the world class trumpeter and a leading light of the Japanese jazz world.
I wanted to make my plan as a homage to Masahiko Togashi and Masabumi Kikuchi, the two legends I admire. But unfortunately since Masabumi Kikuchi passed away the other day, I’m planning a little surprise in the second set as a eulogy for him.
5. Three favorite albums
“It’s Great Outside” by Takehiro Honda
The first fusion album in Honda’s career in 1977. He was very popular playing in Sadao Watanabe group. In this album, you can hear the sense of blues or black music in the bottom of this gospel-like simple melody created by a kind touch. Honda was playing more straight forward music back then and this was not flashy or technically too complicated, but because of the simplicity, it makes you want to listen to this repeatedly. Also, don’t miss the perfect rhythm section prosecuted by Steve Jordan and Anthony Jackson.
“Dear, John C” by Elvin Jones
This is from 1965. This is Elvin’s first recording done after he left Coltrane’s group.
You can hear the full range of Elvin, very introspective playing, which is quite opposite from the usual Coltrane group’s long and heavy, almost like a mass of energy type of music.
Everything is perfectly controlled but yet warm-blooded: Very relaxed cymbal legato, well-sung brush work, often extending high-hat cymbal, expressive but moderately rich bass drums. You can enjoy the greatness of Elvin Jones in full. The album to me is a monumental album in the drum world.
And more than anything, Charlie Mariano’s almost cry-like phrases calms me down and speaks to my heart.
In particular, on side B has “This Love of Mine” which I’ll surely request to be played at my funeral. It’s a gem of performance.
“Static Age” by The Misfits
I can’t finish without this legendary punk band “The Misfits” who are from New Jersey. On the contrary to what the name suggests, I’ve never had any band that “fit” me and can’t really think of any other music that I’ve listened to so much while traveling.
In my i-pod, there are 8-hours of “Punk Rock” tunes. I love love Punk Rock and this album is so exciting to me.
Tamaya Honda will be at the Shinjuku Pit Inn Wed July 29th, Thursday July 30th and Friday July 31st.