Photo from The Japan Times
JAZZ JOURNALIST KYOSHI KOYAMA
This week I read of the passing of Kiyoshi Koyama. Kiyoshi Koyama isn’t a name that will jump off the page in our country. In Japan he was regarded as the nation’s preeminent jazz journalist. In the U.S. he was a friend to a lot of our best jazz musicians. He had a passion for jazz, and he filled his life with a search to find all he could about the artists who have created music out of perseverance, grit, hard work and freedom of spirit. In his lifetime he accumulated over 30,000 jazz CDs and vinyl albums. He also recorded hundreds of interviews with the best jazz musicians in the States and in Japan. He had a peculiar interest in getting to know the person as well as the musician. It was so important to him to somehow figure out what made jazz artists tick. He travelled back and forth from Japan to the US to Japan all the while bringing the music and the artist’s stories to his jazz loving island. He was the editor of Swing magazine and was a keen writer and critic. Kiyoshi produced many archival albums that were compilations from his huge personal collection. From the jolly photo above he appears to have had a pretty good life immersed in jazz.
WHERE WE FIND JAZZ WE ALSO FIND HOPE
Jazz was banned in Japan during World War II, along with other music from the West. After the war, however, Japanese jazz musicians took up their instruments again and began playing bebop, a new style of jazz coming out of the U.S.
Following the war, Kiyoshi Koyama was introduced to jazz music through the US’s Far East Radio Network which was run in part by our military. The music was intended for our troops stationed in Japan. It changed the course of Kyoshi’s life. In 1952 he heard his first live jazz played by by one of our country’s most important diplomats, Louis Armstrong. Louis was a symbol of all that was right about America at a time when the world needed an upbeat message. The world could relate to the jazz that Louis Armstrong played that came out of shared pain and struggle. Louis was living evidence that jazz might just help bring us back to life. Good times might be back again. Music has a way of straightening things out. The world welcomed and embraced jazz. Jazz brought the honest goodness and inclusiveness of the best of America into full view. Jazz was an American export. It was democratic, forgiving and expansive. It was very appealing to think that anyone can tell their story and vision and be heard and seen. The jazz artists that broke new barriers were seen as giants in recently oppressed nations.
Kiyoshi wanted to know everything about the new cats who were bringing all the fresh energy to jazz He wanted to meet and write about the new wave of free thinking jazz musicians. He got his chance.
He was asked to fly to New York to write an article about the city’s avant garde jazz scene. There he met saxophonist Ornette Coleman.
Kyoshi arrived at a time when Ornette Coleman was playing “free jazz”. He also was starting a free spirited way of life in NYC when he created one of the first “jazz lofts”.
Artists sometimes have to make do with just having music in their lives, and not much else. Sacrificing the good life for a life filled with music isn’t for everyone. Jazz lofts supplied an affordable place to crash, share costs and create.
Kiyoshi liked to interview artists in their homes. Koyama explained, “My style is to meet a musician and see his home, and find out how they live. That shows me another side of the musician. That’s interesting to me. That’s why I visited Ornette’s place. You can find a different side of a musician from the one on stage.”
Ornette Coleman’s home was over his studio space in his large loft on Prince Street. Ornette’s loft became a venue for free jazz and an art gallery. It was quickly replicated in dingy affordable spaces that dotted New York. The first journalist to tell us about the energy in these lofts was not local, it was Kyoshi. Since then there has been much written about the goings on in these spaces where artists could crash and learn. Cheap rent, freedom of expression and sharing of creative ideas can still be found in lofts in cities around the world, at least until success intervenes and rents go up.
Kyoshi and Ornette became friends and visited each other many times. Kyoshi’s interest in what makes jazz tick is shared by fans and musicians around the world.
Here is Richard William’s description of a solo concert in the Prince Street loft by South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim that Ornette had arranged for journalists. It may explain the international appeal of jazz.
“Calmly, the South African seated himself at grand piano in the middle of the light, spacious loft while the visitors drew up their chairs in a semi-circle around him. He placed his hands together, bowed his head for a moment, and then he began. Perhaps he played for ten minutes, or perhaps it was half an hour. Nobody in that room would have been able to say which.
He began with a hymn tune direct from the African Methodist Episcopal Church in which he worshipped and sang as a child: a slow, wise tune, its melody moving with a graceful inevitability, supported by simple harmonics that resonated with the richness of entire choirs. Then he changed gear, into dance tune that moved to a swaying, sinuous beat and gathered momentum until it sounded like a whole township stepping out. Changing up again, his hands began to hammer great tremolos at both ends of the keyboard, the air in the room seeming to shimmer and the floor to shudder as his big fingers rolled harder and harder in a gigantic crescendo until suddenly bright treble splashes fell across the dark patterns, like sudden bursts of sunlight piercing a storm. Now pure energy took over, the melodies broken into angular abstract figures which leaped, tumbled and fought with a ferocious intensity, bypassing the logic centers of the brain to reach some place that responds only to kinetic stimuli. Just when it seemed that the intensity might burst the windows, Ibrahim came off the throttle, returned to the doubled-handed tremolos, rewound slowly and with infinite care through the dance tune and the hymn, and deposited us back where he had found us, in silence — except that the silence now sounded completely different. As each listener raised his head, he saw something in the others’ eyes: an emotion that linked the German, the Brazilian, the Japanese and the Englishman to the most profound recesses of what Hoagy Carmichael called jazz’s “deep, dark blue centre.” Thanks to a South African pianist in a New York loft, they had touched the core.”
ARTISTS LOFTS IN DETROIT
This past Saturday I spent time in an artist’s loft in Detroit. Luis Resto has a space in Eastern Market on the third floor of DeVries Cheese building. Luis is one of Detroit’s overly modest musicians that seem to be important to everybody but themselves. He has earned his place at the top of his profession. He also is a Detroiter and a loft guy. so he listens to others. On Saturdays he opens up his magical space for anyone who wants to to have their moment in his world. Lofts like all common places can sometimes be restricting to the free expression that you have when noone is hearing or seeing your efforts. Ornette and Luis make it clear that free expression is OK.
I have a space next to Luis’s music loft where I can store canvases and paint. I am not sure what kind of magnetic pull lofts have for bringing in interesting people but it seems they find themselves sucked in. Free jazz and freely done art continues to bring in the best people. In Detroit at this moment that means people from all over the world are likely to show up. Not much has changed since Kyoshi first told us about it.
COMING TO THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
February 27 – March 2
Gerald Gibbs loves what he does. He plays the Hammond B3 organ, and plays it, and plays some more.
Here is what James Carter said about Gerald: “Gerard is basically a continuation of the organ tradition. Playing with him is like getting together with family. He is an individual that is always looking for new things in the music,” When Carter assembles an organ trio, Gerald is the organist he wants.
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