An espresso with…
Tadataka Unno

January 23, 2019

Tadakata Unno Trio @ Body & Soul Aoyama


Tadataka Unno – 海野雅威 piano
Yutaka Yoshida –
吉田豊 bass
Shunsuke Umino –
海野俊輔 drums

 > Eliza Wong

You started learning jazz when you were 9. What made you want to learn about jazz music?
My father likes jazz. There aren’t any musicians in my family but my father was always playing albums by Oscar Peterson or Art Blakey, etc. And that’s when I fell in love with jazz. He once took me to Blue Note Tokyo so I could listen to these musicians live. I had the most intense memory of Art Blakey’s live show. I was 9 and everybody else in the audience were adults. I found out later that Art Blakey likes talking to kids. On his way to the stage, he spots me, pats me on the head and said “nice boy, thank you for coming”! I was so shy but so happy. Many years later, I looked up who the other band members were. The bassist was Essiet Okon. Essiet and me are now good friends and we’ve even performed together. We were actually playing here (Body & Soul) in 2016!
Which was your favorite jazz record at that time?
Art Blakley – Moanin’.
Your music career was going great in Japan 10 years ago. What made decide to move to the States and start from zero?
One big reason was Hank Jones. My record producer Yasohachi Itoh (nicknamed Mr. 88) knew Hank Jones’ producer from the Hank Jones Trio Album. One day Mr. 88 invited me to the studio when Hank Jones was there recording. At the studio, Mr. 88 said, “Hey Unno-san, why don’t you play with Hank?” To me, Hank is like a God. I was shocked and I said “No, no, no…”. But Hank insisted and so I played (8:04) electric piano and Hank played piano. After that, Hank gave me a letter of recommendation for my visa to the States. At that time, I was thinking about going to New York but I didn’t know what to do and how to start. Hank and Mr. 88 gave me a lot of advice back then.
Your music career has blossomed since you moved to the States. You’ve performed with a lot of jazz legends like Jimmy Cobb, Roy Hargrove, etc. Were there any hard times in your music career?
Yes, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve never thought about playing with Jimmy Cobb. One of the hardest moments though was when my band leader Roy Hargrove passed away. I was shocked. I’m still having a hard time dealing with it. He was amazing at our last gig in Paris, “New Morning”.
We were also very sad to hear about Roy Hargrove passing away so suddenly. How long had you been touring with him?
I’m the newest member. I joined about 2 years ago. It was too short. Ameen Saleem (bass joined about 8 or 9 years ago. Quincy Phillips had been with the group about 7 years and Justin Robinson (sax) joined 18 years ago. We are all very sad. Especially Justin.
Is there a song that you played together that reminds you of him?
Everything we did, every song he taught me. Especially when he sang “Never Let Me Go”……
Which Japanese food do you miss the most when you’re in the States?
Oh, everything…. I miss fresh Nadou (纳豆)!
Are there any jazz competitions or festivals that you recommend Asian jazz musicians to go to in order to know the rising stars of Jazz in the States or Europe?
I joined a jazz program “Betty Carter Jazz Ahead” in 2010. It’s a great program and they accept students from around the world.
Tell us about your next exciting project and tour for 2019?
I am very excited that I will play with Jimmy Cobb at JAZZ STANDARD from 31st Jan to 3rd Feb 2019. It’s his 90th birthday celebration concert. He’s like a father to me. And I am going to perform at Jazz at Lincoln Center Shanghai in March for 2 weeks.
We briefly chat about music albums. Tadataka told me Roy Hargrove once said that no one buys CDs anymore. Everyone just downloads it or streams free music. But Tadataka wants to make one in the near future. We agreed that live music is a completely different experience. The Trio performance in Body & Soul Aoyama was perfect. It’s a cozy place. I was very fortunate to be sitting right in front of the piano. The volume was perfect. And from the arrangement of the song list, the distance between musicians and audience, the emotions, the body movement, the interaction between everyone… It’s a holistic experience, a human art that cannot be replaced by streaming music.
During the concert, Tadataka shared a lot of stories. He said when he first moved to New York, everyone was worried about him. This trio is a reunion concert, Yutaka Yoshida (bass) and Shunsuke Umino (drum) have been playing with him since the early years, they are like brothers to him. This dynamic made the atmosphere hilarious when they played “Girl Talk”.
Tadataka mentioned some fun facts about Roy Hargrove; he once said “rehearsal is boring”, and they didn’t use sheet music when they learned a new song. Tadataka played “Guilty” and “From top of my head” which he said were taught by Roy. At the end, the band played a bluesy “Amazing Grace” and dedicated it to Roy Hargrove.
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