Free jazz is not as popular as standard jazz in Japan. We were surprised to discover this Dharma Jazz festival which was held in a historical Japanese temple. A two-days event of collective free jazz performances, by famous local musicians such as Hiroshi Minami南博, Masaharu Sato佐藤正治, Jun Fukukawa福川淳, Makigami Koichi 巻上公一, Akira Sakata 坂田明 and Kjetil Jerve from Norway. It’s our honour to interview the pianist Kjetil Jerve and the key organizer Jun Fukukawa.
Is this your first time in Tokyo to perform with Japanese local musicians? How did you connect with this special venue?
Kjetil Jerve: Since 1990s, Scandinavian musicians started visiting Japan to improvise with local musicians, so I got some contacts here. I first came in 2014. Later I came again with “Lana Trio”, a Trio band that played free and Avant-Garde jazz. After the gig, we went to a bar in Roppongi, we met the master of Myozen-ji, Mr. Matoba San. He is a very open-minded person and accepts what nature brings to his life. I told him that our music is not temple music, but he felt it was natural to play in his temple. Then we decided to come back again to collaborate with Jun Fukukawa, whom we met in Kobe before.
(photo by Rieko Nezu)
(photo by ELiza Wong)
You have been travelling from Europe to New York and Japan for recordings and gigs. The style of your album New York Improvisations – featuring Jimmy Halperin (tenor sax) and Drew Gress (bass), and Circumstances – feat. Kjetil Jerve, Tim Thornton & Anders Thorén, Lana Trio; your style is very different. How do you define your music?
KJ: I would call it “improvised music” or “creative music”. They all have different historical references and contexts. When I played with Jimmy Halperin, we were naturally connected to Lennie Tristano and his style. Then when I played with Lana Trio, we wanted to show our passion to expand the medium of an instrument. Me, as a pianist, I don’t want to lock myself with a specific idea of how to play, I want freedom. I want my own format. At Dharma Jazz festival, I would classify my performance with Jun as free jazz. There were a lot of jazz references, but we invented something new, artistically and philosophically. We wanted to surprise audience every time, like a free conversation. At first it was free improvisation, we followed each other’s sound. Then we played with reference to “All Blues”, and later “What is this thing called love” and “Naima” by John Coltrane, but we played in an understated way. Me and Jun love John Coltrane a lot. He has a great influence on us. He is the one who went very deep searching for the ability and virtuosity of music, he developed music like sounds of nature. His music is so intuitive, and is what I want my music to be.
(photo by Rieko Nezu)
Do you only play originals?
KJ: No, I play a lot of American jazz standards too. As long as I like the tune, I will play it. Sometimes, when I hear a tune that I don’t understand, but I get obsessed about, I will keep playing it and enjoy the pure pleasure of knowing the tune.
People are interested about Nordic Jazz, can you recommend a few albums/Jazz festivals for them?
KJ: There is one good music festival in July, called “Motvind” (which means wind against you). It’s a festival about counter culture. You will see high level free jazz performances and creative music collaborations. For music albums, I would recommend the record label “Dugnad Rec”, and my recent album Circumstance.
Interview with Jun Fukukawa 福川淳 (Tenor Sax)
(photo by Jonathan Wong)
Why did you form this band, “Dharma”? What’s your music style like?
Jun: I had difficulties to live an alternative lifestyle in Japan. Japanese don’t have a concept about “individuality”. This affects not only our lifestyle and behavior, but even music and arts. I am both a contemporary artist and a jazz musician, I wanted to create a new wave, a freestyle music scene here, so I formed Dharma.There are 7 of us, most of us are very young. (Yuima Enya 塩谷唯摩 – vocals; Kyotaro Hori 堀京太郎 – trumpet; Shin-ichiro Mochizuki 望月慎一郎 – piano; Jun Fukukawa 福川淳 tenor sax; Tasuku Itsukaichi 五田市扶 – bass; Jumpei Okumura 奥村純平 – drums). I always tell my band that the way of thinking is the key of creation. We don’t have to be well educated to create high quality art.
(photos by Rieko Nezu)
Dharma’s performance is very spontaneous, but at the same time like a dramatic love story, can you share with us your idea about the performance? How do you want the audience to appreciate and understand it?
Norwegian conceptual music inspires us a lot. In our performance, each member inputs his original context, it’s like an art experiment on the spot. It is difficult to make the audience understand free improvisation music. In this event, we mixed with other activities like wine & amp; craft beer tasting, DJ performances; and the temple is in a great location, so we hope this is a good mix, not only music, but culture and audience. My band plays in other venues including jazz bars and art galleries, or even nursing homes. I even play in front of my house often. I want to let people know that good music can be found anywhere.
(photo by Jonathan Wong)
(photos by Rieko Nezu)
How did you have this idea to host a jazz festival in a Japanese temple? The venue is not made for such kind of music events, what were your difficulties?
Same as Kjeti, I met Mr. Matoba San too. I knew many great musicians of freestyle music in Japan, so I think it was Buddha to lead us have this jazz festival in this temple. It’s true that sound and lighting systems are not perfect in a temple, but the unique interior created an unexpected and immersing atmosphere.
How many people attended the festival? Will you organize this event again
About 100 people. Yes, I would love to do it again next year.
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