I recently pulled out my lp copy of Nippon Soul, the first live concert by American jazzmen in Tokyo, recorded there July 14 & 15th, 1963 in Sankei Hall. This is second post I’m doing on the lp–something rare for me–but the album is so great I have to mention it again. It’s also a good live recording, much better than the Capitol live sides that came later, and it’s still available on vinyl too, always a plus. Try discogs.com for it. What is also rare on this album is that you get to watch Joe Zawinul play acoustic piano, which he stopped doing after founding Weather Report in 1974. Watch his hands dance on the keyboard; he had lots of classical training, amazing technique, and always great ideas. And great admiration and respect for jazz piano masters like Errol Garner and Art Tatum, who inspired and influenced his playing.
The Japanese had lost the war, Tokyo and other cities had been destroyed by relentless U.S. firebombing, add to this the devastating humiliation of being the only country to suffer two atomic bombs. In 1963 Japan was just beginning to wake up from the awful experience of World War II. It had given us the transistor radio that you could take to the beach, but “made in Japan” was still a stigma. The arrival of Japanese cars from Datsun and Toyota, the Honda 50 motorcycle (the classic 1963 ad went “You meet the nicest people on a Honda”) helped change that perception and sales for Japanese motorcycles and cars increased. Cameras and stereo components were next to become popular in the U.S.
Japan really opened up to the world a year later, when the Summer Olympic Games were held in Tokyo. It was the first time Japan hosted a major world event after World War II. There is a magnificent film documentary of it too:
Going back to the 1963 show, Cannonball’s band on the tour included little brother Nat on cornet, Yusef Lateef on sax, flute and oboe, the great Joe Zawinul on piano, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes on bass and drums. The band was cohesive and tight. And whereas Japanese audiences are typically known for being reserved, super-quiet and attentive (Keith Jarrett loves that), the audience was obviously having a great time and eating it all up. The ever-congenial Cannonball’s warm introductions certainly helped. Audience members were clapping out time on the title cut, “Nippon Soul”, having the time of their lives. They were feeling good those two nights. The freedom sound of the music helped them loosen up the grip and formality that is part and parcel of Japanese politesse and decorum.
The most important thing for me is that jazz is and always has been America’s great musical ambassador, erasing language barriers and cultural differences. Everybody was one with each other on these two nights. Thank goodness it was recorded. This is a 5-star record all the way through.
Here is a clip of the song “Brother John” from Nippon Soul (Riverside, 1963). Yusef Lateef wrote this song and dedicated it to John Coltrane.