A sax player catering to many musical tastes

Sadao Watanabe smiles a lot. And why not?

He's a superpopular musician in Japan, with 60 albums and a weekly radio program to his credit - and he loves his work.

Mr. Watanabe, who plays alto saxophone and composes, has crossed the line between pop and jazz to create a relaxing brand of music he calls ``my kind of jazz.''

In an interview at the NHK Hall here in Tokyo, home of Japan's state broadcasting system, Watanabe took time out from the taping of a tribute to Japanese jazz musicians to speak about his life and music.

``In Japan, right after World War II, I was 13, and we heard American Service Radio,'' he recalled.

``We heard Western music, many different types of music - hillbilly, Hawaiian, jazz.

``My generation - we had never heard that kind of music before. We heard only Japanese pop songs, school songs, folk songs, heavy German classical music, and army songs.

``After the war, everybody from my generation was shocked by the music from the radio!

``In my case, I would run home from school to listen to the radio every day. I listened to everything. I wanted to play some instrument, but I could not buy. Very expensive.

``First I bought a ukelele, because it was very cheap, and I started playing Hawaiian music. But soon I got tired and started listening to JAPT [``Jazz at the Philharmonic''] every day.

``During high school, on the weekends, I started playing dance halls. At that time, anybody who had an instrument could get a job. I bought a clarinet, and I got a job one month later.

``I could play only a couple of tunes, like `Sentimental Journey' and `La Cumparsita!' After high school, I came to Tokyo and started playing jazz.''

He played traditional jazz until rock-and-roll started to take center stage. Now he combines elements of several styles.

``Fusion music is today's jazz,'' says Watanabe, who combines jazz with pop melodies and rock rhythms to create a smooth sound that has pushed him to the forefront not just in Japan but all over the world.

Today he tours regularly and is a major recording artist in Japan and also in the United States, where he has some 15 albums out.

``The young generation right now listens to many kinds of music. It's hard to say who is a jazz fan,'' he notes.

He appreciates his popularity, but remarks, ``First I have to like the music myself, and the musicians I play with have to like it.

``If they don't like it, they don't play well.''

Who are his fans?

``All kinds of people,'' he says, ``right up to age 70.''

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