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.
CJ Kim- Owner/Manager at Cafe52.