I have never been to Japan and I know very little about traditional jazz in that country. But we all know there has long been - albeit on a small scale - a strong tradition of New Orleans-style jazz played particularly in Tokyo and Osaka.
Later, it seems that a group of enthusiastic young musicians from about 1955 were hugely influenced by the New Orleans Jazz Revival, notably by such musicians as George Lewis, Jim Robinson and Bunk Johnson. The Band called The New Orleans Rascals was formed in 1961. And it still performs today, mainly, I think, in Osaka. Those young musicians started making records early in their career. And they enjoyed a terrific boost when George Lewis visited Japan with his band in 1963.
|The New Orleans Rascals|
Correspondent David Withers in New Zealand has told me the late Mike Durham, best known as the leader of The West Jesmond Rhythm Kings, lived in Japan in the 1980s, playing with a band called The Kobe Stompers.
One of my readers - Lou in the USA - strongly recommended to me a video is which Makiko Tamura and Kensuke Shintani duet on clarinets in I've Found a New Baby. It was quite something. But, alas, it seems to have been recently removed from YouTube.
Kensuke Shintani (already mentioned) is a superb clarinet player on the current Japanese scene. Also in Tokyo is Tomomitsu Maruyama who plays the banjo. You saw both these men in the video I recommended at the top of this article. Haruka Kikuchi considers Tomomitsu the best traditional banjo player in the world.
As far as I can tell, a gentleman called Giichi Oya has been extremely important in supporting and publicising the work of young traditional jazz musicians in Japan. We owe him a great debt of gratitude.
Some of the younger Japanese musicians, such as Haruka, are by no means stuck in the past but are absorbing the many influences that have infiltrated traditional jazz in New Orleans itself during recent years. I am referring to such influences as those of Baltic brass band music, Caribbean rhythms and calypsos, and even Mardi Gras Indian 'funky' music. Haruka Kikuchi, the great trombonist, set up home in New Orleans at the end of 2013, and has played with pretty well all the great bands there, even forming one herself, and she has happily toured as a member of the Mardi Gras Indian Funk Band called Cha Wa. Here she is in the centre of the band:
And have a look at this video - click on to view. It is a distinctive Japanese group playing In The Mood and The Kentucky Waltz. Robert Wendorf (resident in Japan) drew it to my attention.
I have received this message from Tokyo: