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Tokyo Blues: Jazz and Blues in Japan

By Murray Bourne, 28 Apr 2006

I enjoyed the short film "Tokyo Blues", about the popularity of jazz music in Japan.

The film was made by my friend Craig McTurk. Craig lived in Japan while making the movie in the late 1990s.

The movie traces the development of jazz through its introduction from the US in the 1920s (when Tokyo and Shanghai were entertainment capitals of the East) to its prohibition in the War years. With the influx of Americans into Japan in the 1950s came a resurgence of interest in jazz.

Peppered throughout are interviews with prominent jazz musicians in Japan, both resident Americans and Japanese.

One of the interviewees wonders why jazz is so popular, since Japan is a country oriented around group consensus and where individual thoughts and freedoms are discouraged. An essential element of jazz is its freedom to innovate and to improvise and there appears to be a contradiction.

I also wondered about the popularity of jazz when I lived in Japan, especially as there is little love lost between (many) Japanese and African-Americans.

My favourite moments in the movie were:

  • The impressive 8 year-old harmonica player - that kid just oozed the blues - a real prodigy
  • The shakuhachi-playing world music jazz fusion performer - I love that stuff

See the 13 Comments below.

13 Comments on “Tokyo Blues: Jazz and Blues in Japan”

  1. Nicole Pruett says:

    I went to the Blues festival this weekend at the House of Blues and down by the Marina in Atlantic City this weekend. Anyway, there was this cool band out there promoting and I checked out the website and the music is really good. I was surprised and deeply satisfied with there take on the blues. Here is the link I know there upcoming and just started their web-site but its worth checking out.

    scottyldemonpigtrio [no longer available]

  2. Murray says:

    Thanks for the link, Nicole. I enjoyed what I heard!

  3. Nicole Pruett says:

    I'm glad you liked it. I hope more people enjoy their music. I like to support new bands and check out new perspectives on different styles of music. I think these guys will be big some day, but it only happens when people like us spread the word. I like to say that I was into an artist before everyone else is just because they are getting commercial air time due to big record companies overly pushing them on the public. I think people should like artists like this because their good not because big business tells us we should.

    Pass it on if you feel the same way I do. Talent and determination should make you famous not money.

  4. Sleepygirl says:

    Hi, was just doing some research on Blues in Japan and stumbled across your blog. I love hearing that there are people out there interested in supporting bands for their talent rather than the big bucks behind them. I work with a Florida Blues singer/songwriter who just released her independent debut CD in Jan 07 and has been doing very well with it....she's played on radio stations around the world and has even gotten into regular rotation on XM and Sirius satellite radio! It's being released this month in Japan too.

  5. Murray says:

    Thanks for the link, Sleepygirl.

    Why your interest in Japan blues?

  6. TJ says:

    Hey guys, about 5-8 years ago while flicking through radio stations i heard the most amazing sounding music. It was a Japanese man singing this deeply emotional blues song in Japanese. It sounded almost like a mantra and I have never been able to find out who he was. For some reason I have been compelled to find this sound and was wondering if anyone could point me in the right direction.

  7. Bird Jensen says:

    Hi Zac,

    I work with a young Aussie blues/country musician who is coming to Japan (for his fourth tour there) in July. Would love some networking suggestions re: blues in Japan!



  8. Murray says:

    Hi Bird

    I enjoyed the tracks on your site.

    Sorry, but I don't have any suggestions for you - I left Japan a long time ago, now!

  9. roberto ciotti says:

    hi, I am Roberto Ciotti, italian bluesman with quite a long history behind me.
    I have played everywhere in the world but never been to Japan.
    As a collegue, i am here to ask you a favour: please suggest me a way to present myself at a blues festival in Japan.
    my secretary, Takeko Yagami ([email protected]) will help me for that!
    you can see my website and leave a comment. thanks, i appreciate.
    Roberto Ciotti, Roma-Italy.

  10. Murray says:

    Hi Roberto

    As I said to Bird, I can't really help you.


  11. Sergio says:

    Jon Cleary Coming to JAPAN!!!

    Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen play Oct. 14 at Thumbs Up, Yokohama (8 p.m.; [045] 314-8705); Oct. 15 at Shibuya Club Quattro, Tokyo (7:30 p.m.; [03] 3477-8750); Oct. 16 at Bottom Line, Nagoya (7:30 p.m.; [052] 741-1620); and Oct. 17 at Big Cat, Osaka (7:30 p.m.; [06] 6258-5008). All shows Γ‚Β₯5,000 in advance, Γ‚Β₯6,000 on the door.

  12. Pj says:

    Greetings from Kobe! I really enjoy the blues and play a little harmonica. There isn't really a big blues scene here but would love to see that change! Great site!

  13. Tesar King says:

    how i want to jamm with japanese blues band...that my dream

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