Berklee highlights East-West jazz connection
Tokyo — THE Gary Burton Berklee Allstars have just reconfirmed the strength of that now famous jazz link between Japan and the United States. Berklee stands for the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where no fewer than 140 of the school's annual contingent of 700 students from 75 countries overseas come from Japan to study, as the school's catalog says, ``the music of our time.''
The Burton band for the Tokyo trip (Gary Burton is the renowned four-mallet vibraphone virtuoso and dean of curriculum at the college) consisted of faculty members Jeff Stout (trumpet); Larry Monroe (alto sax); Billy Pierce (tenor sax); Jim Kelly (guitar); Orville Wright (piano); Bruce Gertz (bass); and Tommy Campbell (drums). During eight days here in July they performed virtually nonstop in classes, ensemble workshops, a club date, a jazz festival, a recording session, and assorted other ``sitting-in' ' sessions. Burton himself has taught and performed frequently in Japan since his first visit in 1963.
Between Tokyo engagements this summer, Burton recalled that the Japanese took to jazz easily after World War II because ``it was the first thing they could relate to without prejudice. It wasn't nationalistic. It wasn't political.''
He noted also that the US State Department has consistently promoted jazz on goodwill tours because of its ``Americanness.'' Burton's trips to the Soviet Union, on well-received State Department tours, underscore his point.
Shig Fujita, a jazz aficionado and Tokyo correspondent for Billboard magazine, recalls that at the close of the war the Japanese ``embraced everything American. Of course jazz was good music and it was happy music, too. People needed something like that. They were depressed.''
Having been founded in 1945, Berklee was ready to welcome Japanese musicians and to shepherd talent toward performance professionalism, and in some cases, world-class notice. The greats of Japanese jazz -- alto saxophonist Sadao Watanabe; fluegelhorn player Terumasa Hino; composer-arranger Toshiko Akiyoshi; trumpeter Tiger Okoshi, leader of the jazz fusion band Tiger's Baku; and Japan's newest rising star, pianist Makoto Ozone, who has performed with Gary Burton's quartet, with Dizzy Gillespie, and with
Art Blakey -- all have more than nationality in common. They all trained at Berklee College of Music.
Fujita is unequivocal about the influence the Boston school has had on Japanese jazz musicians: ``Most of the top ones went to Berklee. After Akiyoshi and Watanabe went, everyone was in a panic to go. Berklee has a big presence here.''
Could he particularize Berklee's influence?
``There are a lot of good Japanese musicians -- technically. The same is true of singers and dancers, but they have no rhythm. They don't feel. They play the notes,'' as Fujita sees it, ``but they don't mooove,'' he coos. ``When Hino came back from the United States, he was moving. He learned that moving was important.''
Thus, when the Burton/Berklee Allstars came to Japan in July for an inaugural week-long ``Berklee in Japan Summer School,'' the Berklee alumni reunion it warranted attracted some of Japan's foremost jazz musicians.
Berklee president Lee Berk (with a flip of his name, the school was named after him 40 years ago by his father, Lawrence, now chancellor of the college) traveled with the band this summer as ``band boy.'' Amplifying Shig Fujita's observations, Mr. Berk praises the Japanese for being ``very attuned to Western musical styles and jazz in particular. Berklee has always been a jazz mecca, and there is a lot of credibility in going to the home of an art form.''
And to underscore Berklee's affection for Japanese talent (both Akiyoshi and Watanabe sit on Berklee's alumni advisory board), 24 students, whose audition and clinic performances during a grueling week particularly impressed the visiting faculty musicians, were granted scholarships of from $1,000 to $2,500 each toward studies at Berklee.
The school has grown to the point where some 2,500 students every year combine studies of theoretical and technical basics with intensive ensemble performance and composing-arranging workshops. They may choose a full-scale bachelor-of-music degree program or a four-year performance diploma program.
Berklee's impressive growth in numbers of students and proliferation of curricula are not without critics, however, who worry that the school's founding commitment to close teaching relationships and encouragement of individual creativity may be in jeopardy. And the proliferation these days of electric guitars and hard rock music intimidates some young musicians whose priorities lie elsewhere in the spectrum of ``the music of our time.''
But such concerns were certainly not evident here this summer. Students and audiences alike enthusiastically received the innovative jazz brought to Tokyo by the Berklee faculty contingent. In addition to teaching and auditioning, the Allstars played at the Pit Inn, a Tokyo jazz spot, and at the TDK Jazz Festival in the city's Derby Square. Then they taped an album at the JVC studios. It is scheduled for release in Japan in the fall.
Burton, with 40 albums and several Grammys to his credit, has been coming to Japan for the past 20 years with his own quartet, with Chick Corea, and most recently for special performances with Ozone. He calls the country ``a wonderful jazz market,'' and his welcome this summer -- his fourth trip in the past 15 months -- attests to his popularity here.
Slipping away from autographing the shirted backs of his Japanese fans, a ritual unique to this country, Burton said the name to watch in Japanese jazz is Makoto Ozone. Ozone, just 24, vivacious and personable, recently released his first album, ``Makoto Ozone.'' He is the first Japanese to start out on a major US label, CBS, and among the first to launch careers from the US. He has played, either with Burton or alone, at all of the major jazz festivals of the world.
Ozone went to Berklee from the city of Kobe, where his father is a locally known pianist. Although his roots are here and he wants to return someday, he feels neither he nor Japan is ready just now. July performances at the TDK Jazz Festival and at two other engagements brought him home for the third time this year but, he said, ``I don't want to live here yet. There's so much happening and there's less chance to go out from here. I'll establish myself outside and then come back to Japan.''
Burton, Ozone's soft-spoken mentor, recalls that at their first meeting, the young pianist ``was stylistically light-years away'' from jazz eminence. However, after playing together in office tutorials, Burton was struck by the newcomer's talent. After graduation from Berklee in 1983, Ozone was invited to become the Burton quartet's pianist. Burton also does backup for Ozone's performances. Burton, however, shrugs off the idea of being Ozone's ``discoverer,'' saying ``if it hadn't been me, it woul d have been someone else.''
But the Burton/Berklee Allstars were not shrugging off the excitement for them of their week of jazz this summer in Tokyo. As they left, they were calling it nothing less than one of the greatest jazz times they'd ever had.
Sarah R. Brickman in Tokyo contributed major portions of this report.