Purely as a musical genre/style, "Japanese Jazz" is not worth talking about, the same way "Smooth Jazz" is not. It holds as much weight or importance as selecting the best high school or collegiate performer of the year. Japan does however, offer the numbers, in clubs, gigs and musicians, which makes it fun and worthwhile.
Japanese Jazz musicians have a much bigger problem than Jazz, one of the human cultural sort, that they need to engage in. With others and among themselves. Yet that does not seem to be a part of the culture. It's a stand still; while there is an obvious underlying prejudice against the people of other Asian descent, it somehow is never considered to be a problem but rather, just a standard modus operandi. And no one is supposed to talk about it openly. I don't particularly enjoy talking about it either but I'd much rather see some signs of the problem dissolving than staying in the same pendulum, swinging from uncomfortable silence of denial on one end of the spectrum and on the other, endless condescension and patronizing(as some form of an apology(?) in some cases).
So can good music come from this kind of place in the heart?
Some favorite Jazz musicians of mine whose music that ARE worth talking about are Benny Carter, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, Shirley Horn, etc. That's real music. Straight from the heart.
And the answer to the question is, sure, you can find a formulaic approach to create something similar that's still very much enjoyable. And sure, that's also good enough for me for the most part. But once again, it's not really worth talking about as a serious subject matter. We're just volleying and having fun, right? So how ridiculous is it trying bringing in national pride into something like that?
One common response to comments like this has been a kind of dare for me to prove myself through playing on stage. Based on the performance evaluation of which I shall be judged accordingly and fairly, supposedly. Firstly, "fairness" seems to be very much a relative and loose term around this neck of the woods. But it doesn't take a genius' mind to see the fault in the logic behind this dare. And yet, no one seems to wanna use that part of the brain in the least bit. It's a dare that says, "put up or shut up". It's also a dare that can only be made by those that only appreciate Jazz as a sporting event and nothing more. There is absolutely no room for art or its appreciation there. But in reality, it is yet another form of evasion from the main cultural issue. Yet another attempt at silencing any voice outside of subordination. Yet another form of passive-aggressive manipulation game. And this is exactly the big cultural issue I've been so reluctantly yapping about the whole time and the exact reason for the stand still. But I've said my piece. The ball is in your court. I'm most definitely not asking anyone to prove it on stage. That's moronic but moreover, counterproductive; I believe Jazz is meant to help, not hinder our growth. (When you wield it as a mighty sword, what do you think the effects will be?) So what am I really asking? If you're here reading these words, you should figure it out. It's a miracle how many just go on living "happy" lives without ever thinking about what it means to be human, taking comfort in the messages of social indoctrination they've been fed on blind faith. It's worth figuring it out because that's the only place real music even has the possibility of coming from. But anything that has any value takes time, effort & patience. So I wouldn't callously challenge anyone to prove it on stage as a whimsical dare. To me, Jazz is holy ground and it also represents pure fun. I wouldn't fuck around with it so carelessly.
Can you call it Japanese Jazz to her face? How about Japanese Female Jazz?
(The real joke is she actually got such followers.) Truth is she probably has her own sense of pride & duty in her nationality/ethnicity as well as womanhood. But when you put her work under those labels, it is a major disservice in every angle imaginable. And the very sad fact that people(including, and especially, the Jazz musicians themselves) just don't, or refuse to, get that is a seriously destructive affair all around. It eats away at the value and morale of the art form. Jazz musicians cannot afford to be that ignorant, especially when considering the relatively short history of the music. At the same time, being ignorant of anything outside, and that gets in the way, of getting the next gig/tour is itself, the name of the game for many, if not most, of these musicians so. Eh. Already a dying music anyway, right?
But of course, Hiromi's music is not even Jazz to some.
The point is shit gets/is more nuanced than anyone would prefer and that's just life. But for many cats, it seems to function as a blockage. Life, that is. But I get it, we all have different ideas about it. Good luck, living the simple life then,
A friend told me recently, "live free or die". Kinda crude even by my standard. But it's true. It seems too obvious now the gap in our ideas about Jazz is too far apart. All I'm doing now is buying more hate, which is not good for anyone.
Well, here are some words of comfort for both our sakes;
while I don't intend on closing the business altogether, I will be dismantling the Jazz events from the calendar incrementally to bare minimum(1x/week or less) over the next few months and on. It also suits the current COVID prevention policies, upon the ending of which, the venue will focus more towards non-jazz events.
My sincere apologies go out to those I've offended over the years- it was not my intention as I'm sure wasn't yours either. Otherwise, thanks for all your patronage and support. Regards,
Donald Hoffman, Rupert Sheldrake, Bernardo Kastrup, panpsychism/animism. Exciting times. Something Japan can totally relate to; Ghibli. Zen. Ah, but of course, you're not supposed to talk about that last one(while vile gossiping on the backsides is totally fine; is this a contest in how backwards can you get?). Thank heavens for physicists then. Hoffman supposedly has been practicing 3 hours of meditation per day for decades, w/no affiliation to any tradition, i.e., self-taught. Superman discipline.
This is a very dumb idea for a Jazz club in Tokyo(or anywhere else for that matter, including Korea) and obviously a joke. You may not share my sense of humor, but if anyone thinks it's not dumb, then that's even dumber than this dumb page. The fact that I feel the need to iterate that last sentence is quite revealing already.
Jazz is holy ground. No serious practitioners of Jazz in their right minds are thinking about the glory of their nation while they're blowing over the changes of 'Giant Steps'. Jazz is mentally and viscerally challenging work. You have to stay present in the moment or you risk missing a beat or the form. But the best part about it is that it taps into the fundamental and universal mind in each of its practitioner. And that's what's conveyed in their works when successful.
Japanese Jazz musicians, like most any other types of musicians, often express their distaste for politics, simultaneously implying their purist ideals which are often laudable and noble. Yet most of them seem not to hesitate for a second, labelling their greatest players and their works as being 'Japanese Jazz', immediately inciting, injecting and instigating nationalist politics into an otherwise friendly Jazz hang at the bar that happens to be run by a foreigner. So which is it? Say what you mean, mean what you say. Or are you utterly incapable of being straight? And all of this got nothing to do with those great players or their actual music at all. Once again, no one in their right mind engages in Jazz playing in order to bring glory to their nation. But it's the act of calling and projecting onto it the label, 'Japanese Jazz', after the fact, of years of hard work by these musicians engaged in the creative high mind, that brings down Jazz from the status of a universal art form to the level of trash politics. (And of course I'm not calling Japan trash; do not take things out of context, these are very specific sets of erratic and illogical behavior within the very specific community of Jazz in Japan. And 100% of the great host musicians I hire are Japanese currently.) Hey, if you need to boost your own insecure morales by encouraging nationalism amongst each other and instigating yet another small version of an empirical wet dream, do it in your own time and space that's devoid of any foreigners. What, Jazz isn't good enough a medium to build camaraderie, is that it? Or do you just "naturally" feel the need to alienate all foreigners? Often the common sentiment goes something like, 'if you got so much problem with Japan, then get out'. Among many counter arguments that can be made for this truly idiotic puke of a statement, I'll stick to the one most relevant at the moment; if you're so married to nationalism, quit Jazz and get into politics.
Jazz happens to be my business at the moment, quite literally. Don't bring it down to the gutter. It truly speaks volumes on the overall culture that absolutely will not allow its people to see the egregious inappropriateness of antagonizing/alienating the owner at his own venue on the basis of nationality/ethnicity.
Just because nationalism and its sentiments are the norm in Korea and Japan, it doesn’t make them right nor good nor acceptable. Until the pandemic issue of nationalism is properly addressed, understood and prevented, the proud folks of these countries are in no position whatsoever to pass any kind of judgement or criticism on anything or anyone else. That is just hypocritical. Of course, the standard behavior is just to deny that it even exists, which is near comical.
For jazz musicians, this is actually a part of the job description. The all-important and commonly shared goal and philosophy of ‘finding one’s own voice’ in jazz, dictates that the artist liberates him/herself from false ideological identities. The creators who forged this music that we enjoy today did precisely that; Bird, Diz, Monk, Miles, etc. They stood amidst an ugly world and were capable of speaking and creating a voice that’s not part of it, but that transcends it.
Jazz without philosophy is a table with a missing leg. It’s sushi without wasabi, watered-down kimchi. Even in Korea or Japan, they don’t feed the infants wasabi or kimchi right away, but slowly have them learn to appreciate it, i.e., they are an acquired taste. If you think about it, there aren’t too many things in life that are not. There’s sleeping, eating, fucking and self-defense(?). And pretty much all else are either intentionally or unintentionally acquired, trained & learned, whether self-motivated or impinged/imprinted upon from outside. (Maybe some exceptions can be made for bio-/neurological anomalies such as savants.) But claiming to be a jazz musician and then ignoring, or resisting to acquire the taste for, its most important aspect, the philosophy, is to stubbornly insist on only having sushi without wasabi or kimchi that’s sweetened and watered down. It’s a kid refusing to grow up. Get your shit together. It’s hard- no one said it’s gonna be easy. But on the bright side, shit could be so much worse. After all, today’s jazz population is mainly comprised of middle- to upper class. Success or failure is not nearly as important as giving it a fair go. There’s no respect in not even trying. That’s just cowardly.
If EVERYONE's doing it, I guess you'll never see. You'd be crazy to. After all, it's all about "us". So go ahead, be a Smith. It doesn't take ANY effort, it only does so the other way around.
Closing bit from Norm Macdonald's latest special, currently on Netflix(with subtitles!).
Dogs can love and be loyal. What separates humans?
Sure, there's no problem enjoying this impeccable 5-minute comedy routine purely on the surface-level. After all, what is this world worth living for without humor? But as is the case for any genuine work of art, the level of appreciation is exponentially increased when its multi-layered meaning and hidden messages are known.
NM delivers by first acknowledging the absurdity and shallow nature of his own act, then setting out to demonstrate the same symptoms found in today's general populace; we immortalize the idea and virtues of love and unconditional love to be the ultimate grand truth of all truths and yet, they are totally vulnerable to annihilation via the mere observation skills and logic of a five-year-old..? (Once again, the out-of-context absurdity is fully acknowledged from the beginning and is in play. You can consider that a disclaimer of sorts.)
Aside from the pure comic genius, there are deeper implications here pointing to the fallacies of postmodernism and its style of thought/philosophy. The ending of the enlightenment(circa 19th C.) signals the end of the age-old tradition of reason in philosophy(and/or its dominance)*, which was finally shown its own limitations and thus was abandoned and replaced(at least in part and when convenient) with legitimization and interpretation of emotions, faith, etc., as part of the guiding principles, ultimately rendering the whole subject itself as absurd as this comedy routine. Only, it wasn't considered absurd back then and it isn't funny now since it's historically traceable that these series of events are in no small part responsible for what consequently led to WW1 & 2. NM didn't name the special what he did for no reason. (Read between the lines when he says, "I didn't like him before it was 'cool' not to like him".) Sure, there are simpler and more conventional ways of saying the same message, e.g., "grow up"(?) or "pay attention"(?). But where has that gotten us so far? At the very least, Norm provides plenty of laughter, and for the discerning few, another glorious window of opportunity to rethink things.
If anyone thinks I'm reading too much into the bit, or seeing things that are not there, I'd be happy to share some of the evidence to prove otherwise. In fact, much of the earlier portion of this very special is consisted of bits leading up to the ending, suggesting and hinting at the same theme.
*Correction: Although logic itself has a long history going back to ancient times in various cultures, it had not been the dominant part of philosophy in the west for too long (revived during the 18th C.) and is still considered "modern", as opposed to "postmodern"(from 19th C. strictly speaking; "after" modern).
Countries like the two Koreas, China, Japan as well as many others in the Middle East and around the world, where there exist high doses of conflict with their neighboring states, typically fall in the category of what is called “hyper-nationalist state” in political science. From these nations' political points of view, it(embracing and propagating nationalism) often seems to be an inevitable and understandable defensive measure and a natural consequence of the respective state’s geopolitical quagmire. In these countries, the interests of the ‘individual’ is placed behind the ‘national’ and this is evident in nearly every aspect of their cultures and policies. Don't get me wrong, there are just as many, if not more, ego-driven narcissists found in many of these countries but the idea of prioritizing the "greater good" of the nation/society/company over the individual runs in the background as a default, inalienable right by all members of the society, to be wielded at will when it is convenient, and/or serves their exclusively collective interests. So when I typically hear a Japanese or a Korean person stress the importance of “human relations”(人間関係/인간 관계), as I often do, it immediately poses multiple layers of meaning and irony. It is just highly unlikely to be able to build a genuine, one-on-one, “human relationship” with those who put higher importance on their national identity prior to the actual individual. The idea of ‘nation state’ is a powerful and an enduring one but it still is an idea and not a living being. So prioritizing the national identity before the individual equates to celebrating death over life. How do you build a relationship with that? Why should anyone want to?
For the great majority that find it impossible to see themselves separate from their nationality, I guess it would be natural to assume that I am comparing country by country to determine which is better. And that would be a perfect example of purely nationalist style of thinking. Non-nationalism means non-nationalism. It's one thing to renew one's passport at, and pay taxes to, the appropriate authority but quite another to identify oneself as part of that ideological entity called the nation state.
Even in the case of a very much "individual rights"-oriented and liberal state like the US, there's plenty of blind nationalism to go around as there has always been. This is an entire human species issue, not a national one, although there's no doubt it is more dense and pronounced in some countries than others; thus the term, "hyper-nationalist state". Regardless of what country, it is up to the individual to observe these tendencies in self and find a way out of its blinding and socially paralyzing grip, that is, if anyone chooses any level of truth or true meaning in their lives.
A classic. What happens when talking to a completely brainwashed folk, or as Peterson puts it, "the pathology of ideological possession"; Might as well pass on any attempt at communication with a possessed robot/company man/agent.
"I see there are two different realms; there's a realm of values and a realm of facts. And in the realm of facts, science rules supreme, but it doesn't in the realm of values. You have to look elsewhere. That was what the humanities were for, before they got hijacked by ideologues. And the idea that something should be consistent, you were talking about the necessity for consistency in ideology, it's like, I'm not hearing what YOU think, I'm hearing how you're able to represent the ideology you were taught. And it's not that interesting because I don't know anything about you. I can replace you with someone else who thinks the same way. And that means you are not here. That's what it means. It's not pleasant. You're not drawing/integrating the specifics of your personal experience with what you've been taught, to synthesize something that's genuine and surprising- and engaging in a narrative sense as a consequence. And that's the pathology of ideological possession." - Jordan Peterson.
Not a huge fan of Peterson's- just didn't find his books to be too engaging personally- but many of his interviews and debates(most notably with Sam Harris) are fascinating and he makes very sharp points on ideological identities/identity politics, issues with postmodernism, etc. For the truly weary however, no amount of intellectual theories & arguments will do any good. But then again, most people aren't even interested to begin with so... may be there is room for some noisy thoughts after all...
What started the hostility(in part). Another great showcase of the utter impossibility of communication with a thoroughly prejudiced individual.
Speaking of relevance, this one's right on the money. Absolute favorite political theorist/philosopher. Pat yourselves on the back; you are on the winning side! I just wonder how that fits with artistic discipline of any kind.
Any books, talks, interviews by Mearsheimer are pure gold.
I had to learn and pay attention to what was going on in politics and to the history a bit in order to be apolitical or non-political in the proper sense of the word(s), although it is technically an impossibility to be completely so; we are all political to a degree for our own survival and regardless of our choice/will. But survival is one thing, greed/vanity is another. (How much of "creating a harmonious society", small or large, a matter of survival by the way? Are there ulterior motives? I'm sure it's a case-by-case thing but something to think about.) Likewise with nationalism, I used to be a pretty hardcore, ignorant nationalist for the longest time. But if anyone had pointed that out at that time, I would've completely disregarded it. All without understanding what it really is or even being interested in finding out.
Korean and Japanese societies are insanely political, with so many intricate social codes of acceptable and non-acceptable speech and behavior. And that does not exclude the Jazz circles either, regardless of how their constituents think or believe. For instance, talking politics is generally a big no-no(and I wouldn't do it if I had an inkling of desire to be a professional musician). And when musicians express their distaste for the subject, it is often reminiscent of the local mob boss character in The Godfather II that says, "I don't like violence" as he walks away from a street theater performance. Sure, there are worse things to be than a naive and ignorant hypocrite. 'Naive' and 'ignorant' are guilt-free concepts after all. But if anyone wants to stop being the hypocrite, one thing that can be done is to educate oneself to understand a little bit(doesn't require a degree), the meaning and/or history of some of these concepts such as nationalism, identity politics, and ideological identities, etc. so that one can make a conscious choice.
A much better alternative in my opinion however, would be to find a form of philosophy, spirituality or religion that is suitable and that one can devote oneself to. Ideally speaking, this kind of info is what the artistic discipline is also supposed to cover but apparently, when it is approached as no more than an acrobatic or mental sport of some sort, it will fall short. But hey, I am guilty of being a walking contradiction myself, mostly thanks to the alcohol-dependance. But one thing I can say with confidence is that I'm not a nationalist and that presence is what I offer at Cafe52; it's somewhat of a rare quality and especially around this neck of the woods. The jury's still out on whether that is at all desirable; not according to my life but a proper study/verdict will require a bigger pool. (Actually, when I'm feeling politics-savvy, my views tend to fall in line with those of the 'libertarian', and the verdict IS kinda out on that one. There you go, it's the opposite of win-win. Thus, not a recommended path for success-driven psycho/sociopaths..?)
What all this means for the patrons/participants/musicians at Cafe52 is that they can expect a non-judgemental, equal-opportunity jam session system with a slight lean towards competence. What they should not expect is that everything will be in accordance and harmony with the Japanese norm, outside of the legally binding. It's a privately owned business by a foreigner and not a democratic congress of the people. Also I'm not here to "learn" and adopt the customs and culture of the land; in fact, for reasons of professional efficiency, I am more inclined to do so at the minimum required level, to just be efficient enough to serve the real purpose of the Jazz music. And I've met so many musicians that express disbelief when I say I'm in Japan for Jazz but seriously, there's no other place with this high a level of density in Jazz musicians. And that gives me some much needed wiggle room. So where's the mystery? The only real unbelievable mystery I see is the level of self-conceit/deceit and blind intolerance for "others/outsiders" that is accepted and sustained as a norm. And for the fascistically inclined that think I should "adapt or get out", I'd recommend reading this essay again from the top(or do us both a huge favor by not showing your face at/around the bar).
CJ Kim- Owner/Manager at Cafe52.