23 July 2016

Post 419: HARUKA KIKUCHI

That great young Japanese trombone player Haruka Kikuchi is very proud as we approach the latter stages of 2016. Why? Because, although she has played on many recordings and with the best bands, she has now - for the first time - become the Producer of a fine new recording; and I think she intends it to be the first of a series. She has called it JAPAN: NEW ORLEANS COLLECTION SERIES Volume One.


The music has been very well recorded, with fine acoustics and balance. Haruka's band comprises five musicians and has a distinctive brassy sound, with trumpet, sousaphone and trombone and no reeds. On trumpet is Naho Ishimura, yet another brilliant young Japanese musician, whose playing is nimble and lyrical. Steven Glenn makes a solid and melodic contribution on sousaphone; and who better to provide the chords and drumming than Albanie Falletta (guitar) and the highly-experienced Gerald French on drums (and vocals)? So for the link to some fresh performances of old favourites, CLICK HERE.

You will even hear (and be able to learn) the vocals to Struttin' With Some Barbecue and Muskrat Ramble. That's something that doesn't often happen! 

Haruka Kikuchi -
about to play with The Audacity Brass Band
at The French Quarter Festival, 2016

When I visited New Orleans in April 2016, a great pleasure was meeting and hearing Haruka Kikuchi again. This young lady, though slight of build, is one of the best and most powerful trombone players in the world. She is also one of the most versatile. Haruka was very kind and helpful during my visit, giving me a warm welcome and also supplying me with tips about bands and gigs that I might enjoy.

In April of the previous year, I met her for the first time - when I came across her playing with The Shotgun Jazz Band. In 2015, she was also playing regularly with Kermit Ruffins and the BBQ Swingers and with The Swamp Donkeys.

Haruka toured with The Swamp Donkeys in England, Scotland, France, Holland and Spain during July and August 2015.


Since the  start of 2016, she has become much more independent and freelance. She now plays from time to time with even more bands but she has also started running a band of her own. Her diary is so full: it seemed to me that she was averaging seven gigs a week - sometimes with seven different bands.

In May 2016, Haruka toured in Japan, where she was the guest star in a series of jazz concerts with Japanese bands. CLICK HERE to watch one of her performances during that tour.

Haruka grew up in Chiba - a few miles east of Tokyo - and settled happily in New Orleans at the end of 2013.

During my 2015 visit, I heard her playing a couple of times with the dynamic and energetic Shotgun Jazz Band. Haruka seemed to have become rapidly integrated into Marla Dixon's very happy Shotgun family.

The Shotgun Jazz Band
What a team they were - driving each other to ever greater heights. Haruka's powerful, creative playing - remarkable from a young woman of her stature - was a mainstay of the band's success.
Haruka started learning to play the piano, violin and cornet from an early age. But when she was 15 she was bowled over by discovering the early recordings of New Orleans jazz. She decided the 'tailgate trombone' was for her, her hero being Kid Ory. She studied at Tokyo University of the Arts, graduating in 2010 with a degree in Music Science.

Earlier, Haruka had formed a dixieland jazz band with school friends. And she set about serious study of New Orleans jazz from the earliest times up to the Revival. On YouTube there is some good evidence of the music she was playing with her teenage friends in those days: CLICK HERE.

During a visit to a New Orleans Mardi Gras, she was stunned by the atmosphere and enthusiasm for the music in the City. This led to her organising a Mardi Gras event in Matsue City, Japan, complete with Big Parade, Second Line, and all the usual beads and brollies. Quite an achievement for a young woman.

Today Haruka is one of the best and most exciting trombonists in the world of traditional jazz. If you want to understand how traditional jazz works or if you are learning to play in a traditional jazz band, you could hardly do better than study Haruka's playing. Just notice the line she takes - how well it supports the melody. Notice how she phrases the music and where she takes a breath. Notice how she drives the band along, both in her ensemble work and in her exciting solos. Start with this video, which shows her in close-up: CLICK HERE TO VIEW.

At the 2016 French Quarter Festival, she even appeared with the veterans in an old-style New Orleans Brass Band. I did my best (despite difficult filming conditions) to make a video of them playing Bugle Boy March and hope you may care to watch it. You can do so BY CLICKING HERE.

How lucky I have been to meet Haruka! On top of all her other achievements, she has also mastered English, so I was able to have most enjoyable conversations with her.

My privilege: April 2015
Meeting Haruka at The Spotted Cat, New Orleans,
just before she played a storming concert with
The Shotgun Jazz Band.

I was very pleased to meet Haruka again and to hear her band play in New Orleans on 20 October 2016, when I took this picture of her and also informed her that I am adopting her as my grand-daughter!
Finally, have a look at this well-made video to appreciate Haruka's versatile and venturesome approach to music making: CLICK HERE.