When I Was a Child
I started playing the piano when I was in the third grade of elementary school. My father was a company employee, and my mother was a beautician. Since there were no musicians in my family, the lessons were taken lightly. Our home was a beauty salon, so there was always music playing on the radio. In the rooms of the live-in staff, there were stereos, and they had many of the latest trendy records.
I didn't practice much and was always catching crayfish in the rice fields, arriving at my lessons with muddy hands, which would cause my teacher to smile wryly. Back then, my special skill was playing the piano while blowing a whistle. I only took piano lessons for three years, up until I was in the sixth grade of elementary school.
When I fell in love with music
The Rock Boy
From around the time I was in junior high school, I started listening to rock music like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. I desperately wanted a drum set and begged my parents for one, but they wouldn't buy it for me. Back then, rock was considered "rebel music." Just before I got into rock, I had seen a live performance by The Tigers (formerly known as The Funnies) at the Mino-o Kogen Pool (now the Mino-o Onsen Spa Garden/ Oedo-Onsen Monogatari) along with my mother and the shop's staff. They were performing several covers of The Rolling Stones. It's an experience I'll never forget. At the time, the lead singer, Kenji Sawada, kept repeating, "We want to do rock in a family-friendly atmosphere," as if declaring, "We are not rebels." Otherwise, they could never have been accepted as rock musicians. Forbidden to play "rebel music," I bought drumsticks and drummed on tin cans and pots instead. Eventually, I was taught guitar by a home tutor, and I became absorbed in it. Although my teacher was a classical guitarist, I, influenced by Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, played mostly rock and Japanese pop music.
When I entered high school, I formed a band. Rock, which had been opposed in junior high, became popular after The Funnies became The Tigers, dispelling the image of "rock = delinquency," so my parents didn't oppose it. We copied songs by bands like The Rolling Stones, performed them, and played guitar at cultural festivals. These band activities continued until my first year of college. One day, a friend's sister told me while I was playing the piano at a bandmate's house, "You are suited for jazz piano," but I didn't pay attention to it at the time.
Jazz Research Club
In my second year of college, wanting to continue music, I decided to join the light music club. I thought that if I joined, I could freely play rock drums and guitar. When I told my intention to a friend who had already joined the club, he suggested a visit first, but following him turned out to be a twist of fate. He was indeed a member of the light music club but was playing the alto saxophone in the jazz division. What I was led to was not rock, but the jazz division. "We're short on pianists," he said, having already spoken to the seniors, and in front of me was a keyboard. Without fully understanding the situation, I joined the seniors' session and became the jazz division's pianist. Having known only rock before that, I had to learn jazz from scratch. Struggling to keep up with my seniors, I spent every day practicing and attending live houses and concerts to listen to professional performances. It finally took shape after about a year, but since I was playing by feeling alone without understanding the theory, I had become quite arrogant.
When I was going back and forth between Japan and America
Deciding to Study Abroad
Just before graduating from college, my girlfriend, who was an artist and had won prizes at major art exhibitions, suggested that studying jazz in an American school might help my talent grow in a positive direction. She gave me a directory of American music schools. I decided to go to Berklee College of Music. Without any particular objections from my parents, I found myself walking through Berklee's gates.
Berklee College of Music (First Term)
When I arrived in Boston, I moved into a dormitory. There, I found many talented students gathered from all over the world, and my arrogance was quickly shattered. However, the rational music education at Berklee fascinated me. Not only the music theory known as the "Berklee System," but also the broad educational philosophy had a great impact on me.
In elementary, junior, and high school, I was a poor student and a dropout. My elementary school report cards always said I was "restless," and in second grade, my reluctance to go to school led my teacher to scare me by saying, "If you keep this up, you'll have to repeat the grade," finally getting me to attend school. Even then, I just attended, never taking notes, never doing homework. Being bad at rote memorization, I had no interest in studying, where I was forced to memorize things I didn't understand without knowing why.
But at Berklee, I was taught not just to memorize but to understand the structure of what I was learning. I was evaluated not for what I had memorized but for what I had created using it, and suddenly studying became interesting. I, who had always hated studying, started to face the piano for more than five hours a day, immersing myself in practice and research. However, since I had started music late, I needed many times more practice to absorb what I had learned at Berklee. I took a leave of absence from Berklee before graduating, went to New York, and while working as a jazz pianist, I devoted myself to practice.
Activities in New York
In New York, I attended the "Brooklyn Conservatory of Music." As I was the top student there, I was scouted by the saxophone player and instructor Charles Haines and joined his band, performing together for nearly a year. It was during this time that I won the gold prize in the Baccas Music Contest. The judges told me to stay in New York and continue playing with Charlie, so I stayed there for a while. But one day, I received a call from a fellow Berklee student from Japan, Hisao Tanoshiro, inviting me to his band, so I returned to Japan.
Back in Japan, I spent every day practicing and performing with Mr. Tanoshiro's band. Later, I moved to Tokyo, set up residence in Jiyugaoka, and played daily at piano bars and live houses in Roppongi and Aoyama. I was sometimes praised, and sometimes complaints were made. Aside from work, I would go out to Shibuya, Ginza, or Shinjuku and perform as a street musician with Mr. Sanshiro (sax). Street musicians are not uncommon now, but back then in Japan, the idea of playing music on the street was unheard of. We would go and play after stores had closed their shutters. There was no piano, so I would sing. I performed almost every day, racing around the bubble-economy-fueled Tokyo, sometimes playing in two places in one day. I also started taking students and teaching around this time. Eventually, I collapsed from overwork and had to return to my family home in Hyogo for rest. After resting enough, I decided to go to Berklee again.
Graduation from Berklee College of Music and New York
Having mastered what I learned during my first time at Berklee, the second time I was neither bewildered nor struggled and was able to study with a scholarship. This was not just because of good grades, but also because of my activity with Charles Haines (sax) and Fernando Blanco (drums), who played in the same band in New York. I earned the remaining credits and graduated from Berklee. In the graduation photo, I'm shaking hands with George Benson. I then went to New York again. The second time in New York, my main goal was to collect music materials, so it was somewhat like sightseeing.
When I returned to Japan, I put my activities as a pianist on hold and embarked on a life of research, analyzing jazz and conducting experiments using the materials I brought back and those I acquired in Japan. Feeling that all I needed was to eat and sleep, I returned to my family home in Inami River Town, Hyogo Prefecture. Nestled in the mountains, rich with nature, it was a place where I could fully immerse myself in practice. I was learning theory and performance techniques through recorded tape exchanges with a teacher named Charlie Banacos in Boston, and that was my only connection to other people. Being of marriageable age and merely playing the piano at home, I had to battle not only loneliness but also societal judgments. I couldn't venture out during the daytime when people might see me, and walking at night was my only respite. Even so, I wanted to be able to play the piano, and the piano was all I had, so I continued to play. After living this way for several years and establishing my own theories, I decided to take students and teach jazz.
Initially, I taught piano and vocals at a cultural center in front of Nissei Chuo Station, then in my room at my family home, before moving on to open "SPOONFUL MUSIC" in Osaka. Although I had intended to open the school temporarily to eventually resume my activities as a jazz pianist, I became enthralled with watching students grow, discovering new theories, and realizing that music is not solely reliant on theory. I became more and more unable to quit, which further prevented me from performing live. But it wasn't just that; I was also captivated by watching my students flourish. The students, who encountered jazz and freely expressed various personalities, became my motivation. They truly taught me many things.
As a Performer
I really started to enjoy performing around the end of 2012. At first, I only played at gigs I was invited to, but I wanted to try a solo live show. I made an impromptu request to Bar Bonanza, located a 5-minute walk from my school, and was graciously granted a Christmas Live on December 24th. So, I started performing there every Wednesday night at midnight, hosting sessions, and playing live with students and alumni. Through my performing activities, I met many wonderful musicians and reconnected with many old friends on Facebook. I am now in the phase of materializing the results of my research so far. I have particularly focused on recording and was involved in the production of four albums from February 2017 to February 2018. I intend to keep increasing the pace. Meeting new people and reconnecting with others, I was reminded once again that music is a "language." It enables communication, whether separated for years or meeting someone for the first time. And I realized that I had been teaching a "language" for dialoguing with others through something other than words by teaching jazz. I now want to communicate with that "language" and share it with as many people as possible. To this end, I am currently distributing beginner-friendly introductory videos on YouTube titled "What is Jazz?"