I’m so excited to have started the fall music season already. There are all sorts of new teaching and performance opportunities already, including a few club dates in Boston and New York (first stop: Cambridge, MA’s Lilypad on Monday, September 28). But all I can think about right now is how amazing my Japan tour was at the beginning of this month. This was my second trip to that country, and the tour included my very first show in Tokyo. And I recorded a new album…
I started by taking a 6 AM flight from Boston to catch a 9:30 AM flight from New York to Tokyo. It was a long flight, but that meant that I had lots of time to relax and catch up to some basic Japanese. Then I met Dai Murata (the promoter of my Japan tours) at Tokyo’s airport and took a train with him to the hotel. There’s a big surprise that always happens when one first arrives in Tokyo… Tokyo Narita airport is actually quite far from the city and in a beautiful rural area. So you can see lots of sights from the trains.
Of course, Tokyo is every bit the large and crowded city everyone knows it to be. There’s no room to put your bag anywhere in the subway as rush hour trains are packed from wall to wall with people. However, there’s often a lot of space on non-rush-hour trains, even in the center of the city. So you have to plan your travel carefully, but it’s all worth it as the culture, architecture, and nightlife in Tokyo (not to mention the food of course) is some of the most spectacular in the world.
The Tokyo show was at Half Moon Hall in the great nightlife area of Shimokitazawa, a neighborhood with narrow streets, many restaurants and a location away from downtown. I met drummer Kazumi Ikenaga (a Berklee College of Music alumnus from Tokyo who once taught in Iowa) for the first time, and said hello to my bassist friend Shota Ishikawa (we went to Berklee in Boston together) for the first time in years. The venue was really well hidden… I would call it a “loft” space in a house, except it’s a basement.
We were very short on time in Tokyo, but we managed to get in one last late-night dinner before our early morning Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kobe. It took only 2 1/2 hours to go from east Japan to west Japan, and the speed of the train really has to be felt to be believed. American trains often take a long time to get up to speed, but the Shinkansen gets to almost 200 mph right away for a truly incredible and quick trip.
That same day, the trio from the first Japan tour and the A Live Celebration album (Shota Ishikawa, drummer Tatsuhiko Takeda and myself) rehearsed for the rest of the tour. And that night, Shota and I recorded a live duo album (at Kobe’s Bar Request) under Shota’s name; this album will be released in the near future. The new album is very different from my releases as a leader; I’ve never done a duo album or one with a lot of standard ballads before. So this will be a very exciting change of pace and I’m proud to be a part of this project.
The rest of the tour was more relaxing after the hectic Shinkansen/trio rehearsal/duo show day. We played three trio shows in the Kansai area (Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto), and I discovered two great new venues for the first time… Osaka’s upscale jazz club Azul and Kizu’s modern Kabuki theater called Izumi Hall.
I stayed four whole nights in Kobe during this tour (unlike the last tour), so I really got to see the home city of Shota Ishikawa and Dai Murata. It’s a beautiful and modern city, and it felt like home when I was there. The entertainment districts can be overwhelming, with restaurants stacked eight stories high in the center of town… but each place has a homey feel and Dai’s coffee shop Voice, with its hi-fi vinyl system that’s always playing jazz, is definitely a treat.
I hope to come back as soon as possible. And I want to wish a big thank you to Shota, Dai, Tatsu, Kazumi and everyone on both sides of Japan.