October 31, 2017
The WA-MEETS-JAZZ 2017, held at the Zozoji Temple in Roppongi in mid-October, is the only music festival that combines Japanese traditional performances with jazz music performances.


> 王慧思Eliza Wong


To describe this location, you should use the adjective “classic”. The Buddhist temple of Zozoji was built in 1393; it is located at the foot of the Tokyo Tower and hosts general Tokugawa’s family cemetery. The one-day music festival occupied the whole temple: Koshoden Temple hosted the improvisation shows, while the performances were set by international and Japanese well known jazz musicians and Japanese traditional artists, all improvising an unprecedented and never to be duplicated performance.
Bugakuza Artist Koshiro Minamoto  with  Jazz Trio Samadhi (Yuki Arimasa on piano,  Hisatsugu Suzuki on Sax,  Dairiki Hara on drums).

Created as early as the Edo period (more than 600 years of history), Bugaku is a combination of old martial arts with traditional Samurai culture that has been performed solemnly in the temples to pray for good luck. Bugakuza artist Koshiro Minamoto has devoted himself for over eleven years to the development of this cultural heritage. Japanese jazz pianist Yuki Arimasa started learning piano since he was three. His self-taught jazz piano journey began at the age of 12, later he even became teacher at the Berklee College of Music. Now he teaches at the Senzoku Gakuen College of Music, which is the finest jazz school in Japan. With his astonishing skills and profound knowledge of music, the goal of forming Trio Samadhi is the pursuit of the possibilities of a new music genre.
The superb performance opened my mind; This thirty-minute improvisation with performers from two completely different cultures was amazingly harmonic.During the interview, they told me there was no rehearsal, it was really an extemporary show! I asked how was it possible, since the original music rhythm and jazz rhythm are different, and they said they only needed to mutually watch the other’s performance, and after they could feel interplay. That’s spiritual communication which is the source of all these pleasant surprises, and this is the spirit of jazz music. It is quite difficult to get in close contact to master Arimasa and his band, I asked them where the best jam sessions are, and Dairiki Hara told me he plays every month at a live jazz bar called DONFAN at Otsuka,  and it’s really fun.


Following was the performance of singer Elily and Life Painting master Saori Kanda, from Kagoshima. Life Painting is a new form of art, Saori was following Elily’s sensual singing, letting the brush follow the music like a dance, and the two performers put the audience’s energy into the painting. Without any rehearsal, on an improvisation basis.
During Kaleb James’ interview, he said that to improvise with children is very difficult: the youngest is only aged three years and doesn’t know music; but this is also an advantage, since there are no rules, you can sing at will and this is the spirit of jazz music.I also asked him if you can start studying jazz from a young age, because it seems that everyone starts studying classical music, a very boring way to begin; he answered that to study music is like using a toolbox, classical music is the safer toolbox but the real music is within yourself, if there isn’t your soul in the music, it isn’t music at all. Finally, I asked him where you could see him performing in Tokyo, and he said he often performs with Terumasa Hino’s son at the ALFIE club in Roppongi.
The climax of the show was reached when the very talented Israeli-Japanese singer Geila sang a jazz soul song together with the Doodlebug’s big band.
Geila’s version of One Note Samba, one hundred percent explosive force singing and brilliant scat.
This is my first interview with a Japanese jazz singer; I asked her, since Japan has many excellent jazz players but not so many excellent jazz singers, and since foreigners don’t know them, can you tell us a few names? She answered that Asian people are very proud of Kimiko Itoh. Geila has also been inspired by Billie Holiday, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Marlena Shaw. Showa pop album has just been released and has again changed, it became jazz, she hopes next one might become the jazz theme of a Japanese cartoon. A very brave and creative album we look forward to listen to.
I feel the adaptability of jazz music is really wide. While waiting for the final show, I’ve interviewed the curator of the festival, Miss Yumatonic; she was born in a traditional Japanese family based in the Middle East, so she is interested in finding cultural differences since she was young. She is also a singer, loves jazz, and always wanted to realize some jazz activity dedicated to the families (children generally cannot enter a jazz club).
She said: “Suddenly an idea came to my mind: get out of the boundaries and let the Japanese and jazz cultures communicate: calligraphy, ikebana, nogaku (a traditional music drama with music), kimono and jazz music all together. The title of the festival is “and” (Wa), so Wa meet jazz means “and… meets jazz”, and it refers not only to Japanese culture, but to all different cultures together”.

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