Hi everyone! I’m back from my trip to Japan and have two special concerts I’m playing on September 21 and 22 at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I’m co-leading the Berklee Monterey Sextet with alto saxophonist Erena Terakubo. The other band members are Nick Frenay, John Egizi, Hoo Kim and Anthony Fung. We’re all friends from Berklee. It’s going to be a big deal. Check it out here.
Special trips deserve special blogs, and my trip to Japan last week was one of the best trips I’ve ever had. I played four sold-out concerts in western Japan with two amazing Japanese sidemen (Shota Ishikawa on bass and Tatsuhiko Takeda on drums). And I also did a lot of sightseeing in between. I was in Japan for a total of nine days… nine very fun days.
As everyone knows, getting to Japan is an adventure in itself. I took the brand-new (as of 2012) 13-hour direct flight from Boston to Tokyo. Then I took a 1-hour flight from Tokyo to Osaka. Because of the rotation of the earth, there was daylight the entire time! So I was very tired at the end…
I met my Berklee friend Shota Ishikawa (who is from Kobe) at the Osaka airport. He was with his friend Dai Murata, who promoted the tour. Together, the three of us embarked on many awesome adventures.
When I woke up after the first night in Osaka, we went right to the rehearsal space, where we met Tatsuhiko Takeda, the drummer for the tour. We rehearsed over two dozen tunes in one long afternoon. By the end of the rehearsal, we knew it was going to be a fun and musically great tour.
That night, Dai and I went to a concert given by one of my other Berklee friends, alto saxophonist Erena Terakubo. Erena is very famous in Japan and has Ron Carter, Kenny Barron and other legendary musicians on her albums. She’ll be performing with me at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The jazz club where she played was a hidden place called the Green Note, in Higashiosaka (East Osaka). The place is almost impossible to find. It’s about 2/3 of the way down a residential side street, 10 minutes’ walk from the train and almost 1 hour from the city! But it’s a very fun and intimate venue. Erena’s sidemen were Takeshi Ohbayashi, Yasushi Nakamura, and Mark Whitfield Jr. (Takeshi and Mark are from Berklee). I saw the band backstage between the sets. The members of her band are some of the funniest people on the planet.
For the next two nights, Shota, Tatsuhiko and I played gigs at Mrs. Dolphin in Osaka. Mrs. Dolphin is located in the vast underground city under Osaka’s central Umeda district. And when I say “vast,” I mean vast. You might have seen underground mall cities in Canada, but the ones in Japan are even bigger and can extend for 10 blocks or more. And in the middle of that, there’s Yodobashi Camera, which is like Best Buy, but it’s 10 stories tall and has a jingle based off of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I love Japan…
Okay, back to Mrs. Dolphin. Mrs. Dolphin is an upscale jazz club, with a great piano and a great crowd. We played two long concerts and really got to develop our sound. And some friends were in the audience as well. So it was fun.
September 1 was Kobe day. In the morning, Dai and I took a high-speed train to Kobe and I checked in at the hotel (which is literally above the train station and has amazing views of Kobe’s equivalent of Times Square). Then we went to Chuka-Hall, a 200-seat concert hall located on the 7th and highest floor of a building. Our concert that day was part of Dai Murata’s twice-yearly “Kobe Modern Jazz Club” series. Dai is from Kobe and has a coffee shop there, so it was exciting to get to see Kobe and to play a concert in Dai’s and Shota’s home city. The concert was literally overbooked; we squeezed 264 people into a hall with approximately 200 seats! And many of the people at Mrs. Dolphin wanted Kobe tickets as well, but we couldn’t sell any because Kobe was sold out. So it was madness. The concert’s theme was “The Matt Savage Trio Plays Innovation,” so we played exclusively my original compositions. The first set ended up being really upbeat, and the second set a lot darker. So the three of us got to expand our sound at that gig.
Our last concert was in Kizu, Kyoto Prefecture, at Yagi Tei. We took a bus to Kizu that took us through the longest road tunnel I have ever seen (seriously, it’s about 3-5 times as long as any of the longest tunnels in the US, and it’s only a medium-size tunnel in Japan). Then we arrived in Kizu, which is a suburb in the countryside. Yagi Tei is a large and old house that is owned by a very important person in Japan. This concert was a special event; tickets for the concert were 5000 yen (about $65), and the 51 tickets sold out in June! So we were all very excited. Before the concert, the owner made sukiyaki (beef dipped in egg) for the band and for Dai and his friends. It was very delicious and we thanked him immensely for the meal. And the mayor of Kizugawa (a new city formed by the merger of Kizu and two other cities) was at the concert as well. In short, it was a very special day. The only part that wasn’t so great was that we had to say goodbye to Tatsuhiko, who had to go back to Osaka after the concert.
For the next two days, Dai and Shota and I and the Kizu owner and many other people went sightseeing around the Kyoto area. Basically, we went everywhere. We met Dai’s friend and his father, and visited their house on the top of a hill. We ate at this amazing seafood restaurant located a couple of miles down the craziest and narrowest country road I have ever seen. We shopped at a Japanese record store and found my album Hot Ticket (the Kizu owner actually bought it!)
And, during the last day, we tried on geisha costumes. Yes, Shota, Dai and I are all male, and we tried on maiko (geisha-in-training) costumes and put on the makeup. It was a really silly afternoon. You have no idea how heavy the costumes are. They look so light and pretty, but they are painful! It was all in good fun though.
The next day, I woke up at 5 in the morning to meet Dai and his girlfriend and catch a 5:50 bus to the airport. We thought the bus would be at one end of the enormous station, but it was actually at the other end, and so we arrived at the bus at about 5:51 (but they still let us depart). Musician life is crazy sometimes… But the flights went perfectly.
So now I have to thank Dai-chan Murata (everyone calls him “Dai-chan”) and Shota Ishikawa and Tatsuhiko Takeda for all the awesome things that happened. It was one of the most amazing tours I’ve ever done, and I definitely want to come back to Japan in the future.