Deems the Author

North American Post Listing of Deems' articles written
for the North American Post
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Beauty In The Background December 15, 2016
Hangin' Out December 1, 2016
The Reason Why November 17, 2016
Michael Sasaki November 3, 2016
Dissonance October 6, 2016
Whidbey Island September 22, 2016
Bass Solo September 8, 2016
City Country City August 25, 2016
George and Mitsuo July 28, 2016
Abalone July 14, 2016
The Enlightened June 30, 2016
WEA June 2, 2016
Lenny May 19, 2016
Baker's Dozen May 5, 2016
Mel April 21, 2016
Shobo April 7, 2016
Bobby March 17, 2016
Nakajo March 3, 2016
Hotels February 18, 2016
Laughter February 4, 2016
The Art of Music January 21, 2016
KP January 14, 2016

Beauty In The Background

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Dec 15, 2016

In order to survive in the music business one must be versatile to say the least. Besides being a booking agent, marketing director, promotional coordinator, and record company owner, I have had the honor and pleasure of playing Blues, Soul music, straight ahead jazz, top forty dance tunes, backing various singers, playing shopping malls, and doing lounge piano engagements spanning several decades now. As a pianist, there is actually a fair amount of work doing background music. Although sometimes unflattering, doing the background piano music for restaurants malls, conventions, and private parties can translate to steady work. Oftentimes the pianist is required to wear a suit and tie but more often than not there will be a decent grand piano on site. It is very convenient to have an instrument waiting for you rather than having to bring an 88 key digital piano and sound system to various functions.

Over the years I have heard some odd comments tossed my way. One time an event planner asked my band to turn the volume down but to please do it in a way so that the luncheon audience would not notice. If they don’t notice then why should we turn down?

Last year I played a fundraiser downtown and hired sax man, Steve Yamasaki, to play background jazz with me during the silent auction. We have done so many times and it’s always easy and fun. The event was in a huge banquet room with seating for well over six hundred people. As the attendees were drinking, mulling over the auction items, talking, and bidding Steve and I went ahead and played a variety of cool and funky jazz selections. As we never rehearse for these types of gigs I usually call out a tune and the key signature immediately before we start a song. In the middle of the set there was a small mis-communication and we ended up playing in different keys. This went on for several minutes and the result was a very dissonant sounding song. Later on Steve said apologetically that he thought it sounded out of tune to which I replied that the audience never really noticed and I loved the ambient effect as it was quite avant-garde.

Hangin' Out

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Dec 1, 2016

In the 60's as a teenager I worked at the original Seattle Uwajimaya Store. FYI MR Moriguchi opened his first retail foods outlet in Tacoma and relocated here in town after being released from the Tule Lake internment camp during WW2. His wife Sadako actually introduced my mom and dad during their unfortunate and unfair incarceration when my father was on leave from the US Army. In the early days of Waji’s there were only 3 Sansei stock boys, Randy Furuta, Tommie Oiye, and myself. Besides pricing and stocking foods we did packaging of imported delicacies, ran deliveries, cashiered, and unloaded 100 LB bags of rice from the loading dock.

Needless to say Randy, Tommie, and I became fast friends and would hang out after work and on weekends. It was an inner city type of hang shooting pool, playing cards, drinking, basketball, and tennis. As I got to know Randy he introduced me to his posse of hi school friends whom were all a year older than me at Franklin High. It was real cool to run the streets and go to the games with the 'older crowd' as I was the only younger dude that they would invite. Apparently his buddies figured that I was cool enough.

In the decade of the 80's I produced and released a CD called Stay Close To Me on my J-Town Record Label featuring the great San Francisco vocalist Colette Ikemi. She came to Seattle along with the executive producer Ron Kanzaki and we recorded the album at the old Kaye Smith Studios downtown on 4th Avenue. All the greatest national acts recorded there, it was the top studio in the Northwest. I used my Seattle band of Marcus Tsutakawa, Stan White, Paul Anderson, Dean Mochizuki, and Steve Banks and the music was fantastic.

The album set Colette up for gig opening for Hiroshima at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco and she brought me down to play the show with her Bay Area band. Needless to say it was entirely too much fun. After the concert I had the pleasure of hanging out with the top shakers and movers of the San Francisco Asian American community who put on the concert. As we were running the streets and partying I was once again the young buck who was invited to hang with 'the cool fellas.'

The Reason Why

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Nov 17, 2016

There is a wonderful documentary by Ken Burns called 'Jazz' which was originally released on DVD in 2001 and also aired on PBS many times over the last decade and a half. It is a ten disc 19 hours long story of the history of our great American musical art form. The video takes the viewer back over 100 years to the beginnings of jazz and up to the current day of jazz musicians and styles. Having played and studied jazz my entire life I personally found it to be quite in depth and well done. The documentary touches on most of the all-time greats like Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie. One piece of history that surprised me was the fact that the amazing and incomparable Duke Ellington worked right up until his passing not only writing music but touring with his orchestra. He had enough success to retire but instead continued to play concerts, Elks clubs, and even high school proms in small towns across the country. He just loved his work.

A good friend of mine Scott Spain was asked one time "Why do musicians continue to play late in life?" It should be noted that Scott was at one time one of the premier recording engineers in the music business and recorded a mountain of albums featuring many legendary bands. He posted a rhetorical quote on FaceBook to address this question: "Musicians bring comfort and confidence and hard won smiles and laughter to people, the thought of losing this part of their soul is far too painful to even consider." That my friends is 'the reason why.'

Michael Sasaki

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Nov 3, 2016

My first encounter with the San Francisco Bay Area guitarist, Michael Sasaki, is etched in my mind like it was last week. Around the time I was first introduced to the Japanese American guitar playing legend, my music was hot on both KKSF and KBLX, two of northern California's best FM stations for several decades back in the day. We met at the Nihon Machi Street Fair in the heart of San Francisco's Japantown near Post and Buchanan streets.

I was walking with friends and here comes Sasaki headed right for us wearing a powerful red Japanese Happi jacket. When my pals introduced us, Michael immediately drops to the ground on all fours and starts bowing to me. I had to implore him to stand up and behave normally as I am just an ordinary guy that just happens to get on the radio. It should be noted that Michael Sasaki has performed and or recorded with Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, Hiroshima, Bill Summers, Donny Hathaway, Norton Buffalo, Carlos Santana, and Steve Cropper to name a few. He was also a member of George Yoshida's J-Town Big Band in the Bay Area. His father was born in Seattle and Michael was actually born in Raymond, Washington.

Turned out that drummer George Yoshida was leading a jazz sextet at a wedding reception in downtown San Francisco which my wife and I attended. Sasaki was on guitar to go along with two horn players, a keyboardist, and a bassist. Being who I am, I just had to ask the band if I could play a tune with them and happily for me they were very obliging. All the musicians were quite excellent at their craft. When one of the horn players pulled out some sheet music of a jazz standard for us to read down I thought it looked very boring and yelled out, "Let's play some Blues!" I turned up the piano volume and kicked into some swingin' 12 bar jazz blues and the bandstand totally lit up. George and Michael were grinning ear to ear and playing their butts off as were the rest of the players. Sometimes the music is so spirited I just hate it when the song is over.

Dissonance

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Oct 6, 2016

Having a career playing jazz piano leads to many engagements of doing background music as a means to making ends meet. A large percentage of my gigs are at restaurants, shopping malls, parties, and fundraisers wherein people are eating, drinking, and talking while I am pounding out tunes. It is a very small number of gigs that are actually concert type settings with an attentive audience. As they say-it comes with the turf.

On a recent fundraiser for The Japan America Society which was held at The Bell Harbor Conference Center, Steve Yamasaki and I played our style of cool jazz while the attendees bid on silent auction items. FYI-there is actually a lot of freedom to play music that we just love to play at these gigs so it is always fun to do these engagements. Another item of note is that we usually don't rehearse for these performances as it is background music that we are providing that sets the atmosphere for the room.

In the middle of our set, I noticed that the saxophone solo that Steve was playing seemed to be in a different key than the piano chords that I was playing at the time and being off key was creating an unusual edge to the song. When we finished that set, Steve said to me that he couldn't quite hear the key I announced during the song's intro. The cool thing was that it didn't bother me and, as a matter of fact, I actually loved the sound.

There is a biography of the legendary sax man Ornette Coleman wherein he talks about his musical concepts. One of his famous quotes was the following: "If the bass and piano are playing a song in the key of A I am going to play the entire song in the key of A#." There is a certain organic beauty in the dissonance of this type of music as opposed to being all smooth all the time.

Whidbey Island

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Sep 22, 2016

Early on in my recording career I booked a jazz duo gig at a night club in the small town of Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. It was located near the naval base and frequented by many military personnel as well as the general public. My good friend, Dave Yamasaki, joined me to form the classic piano guitar duet for the weekend engagements. The gig provided our hotel accommodations as well as food, drinks, and paychecks, a very amicable arrangement for sure.

Although the music was, in my opinion, quite satisfactory, we actually never had a packed house. It seems that the regular clientele were typically what some folks refer to as 'rednecks' and they wanted country rock as opposed to cool jazz. My feeling is that the owner, management, and booking agent brought in the jazz to try to get a more sophisticated upscale vibe to the room. There were many occasions wherein people would come in, take a look at the band, frown, and simply turn around and walk out without giving a listen. I can laugh about it now but at the time it was rather disappointing that these folks would not even consider listening to a few selections.

We had fun though as one weekend Dean Mochizuki, Tim Horiuchi, Susan Horiuchi, and Tom McElroy drove up to visit and hang out with us. We went to Fort Casey State Park to see the old buildings from past wars and had a great picnic lunch. Dean brought a basketball and we played a memorable game of two on two. Dean was on crutches at the time so he had to sit and watch. When it came to picking teams I said out loud, "Me and the white guy will play Tim and Dave." My old buddy, Tom, gives me a funny look but we went on to beat a very tough team. After the game I said to my basketball partner, "I announced the teams that way to get your dander up and hoped you would take it out on the court." My strategy worked and we all laughed.

Bass Solo

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Sep 8, 2016

Over the last four and a half decades I have had the distinct pleasure to work with some of the finest bassists in the Seattle area, California, Hawaii, and many other US destinations. My younger brother Marcus is an excellent 'pocket' player who never over plays. I think of him as a Ron Carter type musician on bass guitar. Dan Benson, the bassist for my current band Side B, is a great all around musician and is one of the happiest guys on the planet when he is playing either bass guitar or upright string bass. Steve Kim is a hard hitting straight ahead fretless bass player that is demanding and uncompromising when it comes to his brand of music. Another former Seattle bassist, Owen Matsui, who now resides in Hilo Hawaii, developed a very funky bass concept using his thumb to slap the bass strings. This thumb slapping technique is synonymous with the funk music of our generation and is quite popular with the dance crowd as well.

Larry Graham who gained notoriety as the bassist for Sly and The Family Stone is generally credited with inventing the slapping technique which radically expanded the tonal palette of the instrument. Graham actually refers to the style as "thumpin' and plunkin'". If you stop to think about it, LG's impact on the application of his instrument is quite similar to what Jimi Hendrix did for the electric guitar. Both of these innovators showed the world a whole new way to use their prospective instruments and forever changed the sounds that we take for granted today.

Although Stevie Wonder is world renown for his songwriting abilities which produced some of the biggest all-time hits like, You Are The Sunshine of My Life and Superstitious, one item that is overlooked is the fact that before he came on the scene electronic synthesizers were only used for symphony music. Stevie brought the keyboard synths into pop, soul, rock, and jazz and forever changed the audio landscape of our generation as well.

City Country City

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Aug 25, 2016

It goes without saying that people who reside in the great Pacific Northwest have relatively easy access to both urban activities and cool outdoor recreational endeavors. Unbeknownst to most Americans, it has actually been only a few decades since most US residents reside in an urban setting. It was not that long ago when almost fifty percent of our nation’s population lived in rural areas. In many of the rural towns you will not have the cultural diversity with the international foods, music, languages, and values that make our country great. The term “culturally deprived” comes to mind. I met a girl, who is now middle-aged, who told me that she grew up in a small town in Ohio and never saw an Asian American in-person until she went to college. It seemed astounding to me at the time and, what’s more, this is probably still true for tens of thousands of US citizens.

The wonderful thing about growing up in Seattle is that one can choose to attend the symphony, shop at the Pike Place Market, listen to cool jazz, or just go downtown and look at stuff. We also have the opportunity to do salt water fishing, clamming, and crabbing. One can hunt for matsutake in the Cascades, check out fields of brightly colored tulips, and enjoy hiking in great forests filled with old growth trees. I’ve met many Japanese and Hawaiians that love the large amount of land available to us. Many big cities like Tokyo, New York, or Beijing don’t afford the local inhabitants a chance to have a big grassy backyard for BBQ parties, pets, and gardening as they are filled with high rise apartments and condos.

There is a song by the California band, War, that is called City Country City. It has a lazy relaxed groove that alternates with a funky upbeat section and then back to the laid back groove. Although I don’t know what their original inspiration was when it was first composed, to me it has an obvious reference to our fabulous environmental situation.

George and Mitsuo

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, July 28, 2016

My wife's auntie Lily, who as of this writing is still with us, had a brother-in-law named George Ogishima. George was one of the many Japanese Americans that were stranded in Japan when WW2 started. He ended up staying in Japan after the war to marry and raise a family. When Jean and I visited Tokyo in the eighties George picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the best Unagi Restaurant in the city. It was very impressive in that I would never drive a car in Japan and George was quite elderly at the time. We were so honored and fortunate to have that meal and I'll always remember it.

One year when they were visiting the USA, we had George, his son Mitsuo, and Lily over for dinner and it was also a memorable night. Mitsuo Ogishima was the reigning All-Japan 9 Ball Champion and he won every game of pool we played that night; it wasn't even close but rather a pool lesson. If he didn't run the table he left me without any possible shot and this is in my own house.

George had some interesting true stories about his life. At some point during World War 2 the Japanese Government found out that he was an expert Ham Radio operator. They ordered him to string a wire for 1 ˝ miles along the Pacific Coast of Japan for use as a radio antennae. The Japanese Army wanted to see if he could pick up American radio stations to study and gather information. To his amazement the wire radio antennae was a success as he could clearly hear the Seattle stations KOMO and KIRO of his youth. Bear in mind that these AM stations are out of reach right down the road in Portland OR but he managed to receive their signals some 5,000 miles away with 1940's technology.

Abalone

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, July 14, 2016

There was a time when one could down to a 'greasy spoon café' in the International District of Seattle and upon ordering a plate of ginger beef with some Chinese broccoli you would get a free bowl of soup that contained several large pieces of abalone. The tasty mollusks are a true delicacy enjoyed by people around the world and were traditionally plentiful along the Pacific Coast of both North and South Americas. As it was given away for free, we didn't realize how special of a treat we were enjoying at the time. Although abalone farming has been practiced for several decades, it is only recently that high quality, low cost manufacturing has come about.

The coastal town of San Pedro gained notoriety for being the largest fishing port on the west coast during the 30's, 40's, and 50's. There is' in fact' a bronze fisherman and memorial wall located on the harbor to preserve the rich history. One year, Jean and I drove from Los Angeles to San Pedro only to find that the largest, most famous seafood restaurant was closed that day. On the way back to our hotel at the Terranea Resort we found a small family-owned Mexican Restaurant named Pina's. As good fortune would have it, we ordered the abalone cocktail made with fresh tomatoes, limes, spices, and lots of the fresh mollusks. Please note that our server did not let me order anything else which surprised me at first. That food orgy turned out to be a meal unto itself with more abalone than I have ever seen before in my entire seafood eating life.

We had to catch a flight home out of LAX the next day and although San Pedro was in the wrong direction we hit it up again before heading home.

The Enlightened

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, June 30, 2016

People that have visited some of the poorest countries in the world often times tell me that, for the most part, the majority of the inhabitants seem relatively happy. The stories of Cubans, West Africans, and South Americans being economically poor but culturally rich are told over and over again. It is said that in these countries there is live music everywhere and the children learn to play music from the earliest age. It should be noted that the indigenous peoples of these locales always play the music with ultimate level of intensity; no half-hearted musical forays are ever heard.

When I hear these tales it makes me feel that we Americans, although economically rich, are culturally deprived. One must admit that there is a large segment of our society that eats to the point of obesity, covets material possessions that, for the most part, are never used, and stresses about money until we are ill.

In Zen Buddhism, Enlightenment is the state of being with no mind. It is viewed as the freedom from beliefs, opinions, desires, and concepts. One thing I have noticed is that for the millions of people that own pets one of the great attractions of owning a dog is that they are not materialistic. A Labrador retriever only wants food and love and, in return, gives us unconditional love. It is said that human babies are actually born enlightened and only want love. One must surmise that during the process of 'growing up' we learn greed, dishonesty, meanness, and whatever good or bad the local society has to offer. Personally, I like to think that most people in the world are basically good, intelligent, and kind. Technology is evolving faster than all get up, let's all hope that we are moving forward spiritually as well.

WEA

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, June 2, 2016

My first full length vinyl LP entitled, "Deems," was recorded over a two year period starting in 1980 and was released in December of 1982 which was also the year Jean and I were married. All of the tracks were recorded live at the old Kaye Smith Studios in Seattle to 2 inch 24 track analog tape at 30 IPS or inches per second. The studio had state of the art equipment and was very expensive. The tape alone was almost $200.00 for a single roll plus hiring an engineer and renting the studio. Based on this high overhead I would rent out the studio about once every two months and then save up my money for the next session.

The following year, after much fanfare and a plethora of promotional engagements, my album was selling like hot cakes at all the local record stores. We received good reviews and got airplay on stations coast to coast. It was around that time when I first met Mr. Jack Shue who was the head of WEA International of the Pacific Northwest. WEA is the acronym for Warner Brothers, Elektra, and Atlantic Records. Jack happened to have dinner and drinks at a nightclub where I played and when he told me who he was my response was, "What is WEA?"

So naturally I gave Jack a record and proudly told him that it had sold over 1,000 copies at the Tower Records Store on Mercer Street. Of course he didn't believe me and the next day Mr. Shue called the store and asked them if they ever heard of me and Tower told him Deems is one of the best-selling albums out right now.

Jack was very surprised and so happy he called me up and took me to lunch. When I went to his office down in Tukwila I saw dozens of Gold and Platinum Records lining the walls. All of them said, "Thank you Jack Shue." This blew my mind. Jack told me that he would try to get me a record deal with one of the major labels and that if I got signed he wanted to be my personal manager. Over the next few weeks Jean and I had dinner at his house, met his wife and kids, and had lots of great food too. Although I never got the contract with one of the WEA companies and never made a ton of dough from that record I have no regrets, just many great memories.

Lenny

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, May 19, 2016

I am, of course, a sports fan but in particular an absolute hoops junkie. During the hey day of the Seattle Supersonics, I would have dreams of playing basketball with the likes of Gary Peyton, Shawn Kemp, and Downtown Fred Brown. Although we no longer have an NBA team, I enjoy and follow professional ball on a daily basis during the regular season and playoffs with great joy.

That being said, when the opportunity came up to meet the great Lenny Wilkins, who has won NBA titles as both a coach and a player, I did not hesitate for one second. Besides being a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Wilkins is an active supporter of various charity organizations. Upon approaching Lenny at a wedding reception I put out my hand and announced that I am a fan of his. Mr. Wilkins' immediate reply was "Deems, I am a fan of yours and love your music". Quite a compliment for an ordinary jazz musician from one that has seen the top of his profession.

A few months after meeting Lenny, I got a call to play piano for a fundraiser to benefit Mr. Wilkins' favorite charity, The Odessa Brown Children's Clinic of Seattle. The party was held at a huge house in the very exclusive Hunts Point/Bellevue neighborhood. The owner had a beautiful 7 foot Yamaha grand piano and hired a sound company to mic it so as to be heard throughout the lakefront property. After receiving a generous honorarium for my performance, the host asked me how many CDs I had on hand to sell. I said about 40 or so and his reply was, "I'll purchase all of them to give to my guests". It was a cash transaction and made for a pleasant drive home.

Baker's Dozen

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, May 5, 2016

During the early years of my music career I went through a plethora of different endeavors to make ends meet. Besides cooking fish cakes by the ton, I sold grand pianos for Sherman Clay, painted houses, cut and ground bronze for dad's sculptures, and was a box boy at Uwajimaya along with Tommie Oiye and Randy Furuta. All of these jobs were actually really great at the time as I forged friendships, developed trade skills, and learned an appreciation for hard work. It seems that I was better suited for the 'Blue Collar' type jobs as opposed to retail sales like pianos and organs. I never really minded getting my 'hands dirty' as the saying goes.

Although I am not great at sales per say, I do enjoy marketing and promotion when it comes to records and musical engagements. My office skills have become sufficient for the invoicing, contracting, scheduling, and coordinating of the various nightclubs, concerts, parties, and fundraisers that come my way. I apparently have learned to be task oriented in order to stay on top of having some 175 plus gigs per year. This amount of work used to stress me out but over time it is now viewed much more as a blessing and an honor and I am thankful to be able to make a living at my chosen field.

Another seasonal job that I held for about eight years each December was the making of Mochi at the old Sagamiya on Main street in the International District. It was a retail and wholesale Japanese confectionary store which sold handmade goods, very labor intensive. Mochi is a must on New Year's Day for all the Japanese people here and abroad and the demand was enormous. During the two weeks leading up to January 1st I had the task of washing and cooking over five thousand pounds of sweet rice or mochigome per week. Sagamiya had a machine to pound and then cut the vast quantities of rice into individual size ‘cakes'. We then manually put the mochi on small pallets for cooling. Sometimes it was best to round off the numbers as counting could get arduous and I would always toss in the quip "it's about 6 ˝ on one pallet or half of a Baker's Dozen", BTW-a Baker's dozen is famously 13 units.

Mel

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Apr 21, 2016

The late great Cedric James was a dear friend and colleague. His real name was Mel Odom but he changed his moniker to mark his career as a lifetime disc jockey. Mel was also a dynamic Master of Ceremonies for concerts, a promoter, and a music aficionado to the max. Cedric the DJ was extremely talented as an ‘on the air personality’ and had an incredible sense of how to smoothly sequence the song order to make a flowing transition between the music selections. At times he was also his own worst enemy. Cedric was very strong minded and seemed to make a habit of telling his bosses at the various radio stations what they should be playing. There were actually times when he would deviate from the corporately controlled pre-determined play lists and play whatever he thought was cool. This was, of course, deemed un-cool by his superiors.

I met Mel before the rise of the Smooth Jazz format and hired him to do national radio promotion for my company, J-Town Records. Before the Internet was built, the ‘bible’ of the music advertising industry was a printed book called Standard Rate and Data. It was the size of a large telephone book and listed every radio station in the USA. The SRDS book is only available online now. Along with the address and phone numbers they stated the musical format of each station. Mel and I would meticulously go through the book and find all the jazz stations. We would then physically package 33 1/3 vinyl albums complete with photos, cover letters, and promotional materials and mail them to all the jazz stations coast to coast which numbered in the hundreds. We would then call each and every station and send follow up letters to the program directors and music directors. It was an arduous task but being young and full of spit and vinegar we were determined to change the world.

Amazingly it turned out that just about every station we contacted loved the sound of my records and invariably ended up playing my music. The so-called ‘Wall Street Journal’ of the music industry was a company and publication called R & R or Records and Radio. The fact of my records attaining national airplay led to my albums charting well on R & R. Records & Radio has since been bought out by a global firm called VNU.

Mel had the gift of gab and would always tell the radio people “you should be playing Deems” and they always responded to him. It was an exciting time for us and I’ll always remember Mel for his boundless energy, enthusiasm, and salesmanship.

Shobo

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Apr 7, 2016

Although I started playing jazz engagements in the 60’s at high school functions, nightclubs and parties, these gigs were all ensemble settings. We would always have a bassist and a drummer, and on occasion add a saxophone player, a guitarist, and percussionist too, very similar to the same band configuration that I carry today. Like most businesses, economics plays a major role in deciding how big the jazz ensemble will be on any given day. Fortunately for me, pianists can do a lot of solo work and I love having work.

In 1974 I landed my first solo grand piano job in downtown Seattle at The Benihana of Tokyo in the cocktail lounge. The gig lasted a solid seven months and was a great learning experience for me. Being a solo artist gives one great freedom but has big responsibilities. The first thing I noticed was that there was no bass and drums to back me up and make me look good. It was a fortunate situation as I could cut my teeth, as they say, and get paid to do so. Although my playing was weak and I had very little repertoire, the GM was very nice to me.

The reason, of course, was that Frank Fuji knew him well and insisted that he hire me. Frank Shobo Fuji has been and will always be this type of person, the kind that is bent on helping people to get going on the creative arts like music and especially the visual arts such as graphics. He was an art professor and basketball coach at Franklin High School before moving on to eventually become the head of the board of directors at Seattle Central College. Frank has always been into cool music and plays all the legendary jazz greats on his stereo whether at home or at work. Without question the man has been a formidable influence on my life and many others as well. Thank you Shobo.

Bobby

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Mar 17, 2016

I have resided in Seattle for most of my life and living in the area presents the good fortune of staying in touch with many dear old friends. Whenever I play music, golf, tennis, poker, and attend night clubs, restaurants, or special occasions I invariably run into people from my childhood days. It is a wonderful life indeed as there is nothing like old friends. There are literally a plethora of folks that I have known since grade school days at John Muir Elementary. During the years I went to John Muir it was somewhat diverse but my middle school Asa Mercer was in fact 1/3 Asian American, 1/3 Black American, and 1/3 Caucasian and this blew my mind. It always seemed to me to be a ‘Perfect blend’ so to speak. For some amazing reason we all got along pretty darn good too.

Franklin High School in the sixties was also about 1/3 of each of these ethnic groups and I personally cherish the days. The exposure to the various cultural groups was unparalleled compared to most places in the world. As a matter of fact the zip code for the Rainier Valley area is reputedly the most diverse zip code in the USA today.

Bobby Sumaoang and I along with Guy Mamiya, Paul Turner, and the late Ron Hanada were yell leaders for our high school. It was always very fashionable to go to all the sporting events in our cool outfits with the cute cheer leaders in tow and we had a blast. The sixties is known for being the transition years for many urban schools and FHS was no exception. We had the traditional marching band, choir, and faculty but we also had jazz music, African Drum Ensemble, and hot dancing to Soul Music. The hippest yell leading squad of course was the girls and guys from Franklin High. Our ‘director’ was MR Bobby Sumaoang and he knew all the current steps like the Funky Broadway, The Shingaling, The Boogaloo, the Pearl, and the Twine. We were classy and steppin’ in style, no other high school cheer leading team could touch us.

Nakajo

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Mar 3, 2016

Through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and into the new millennium there was a plethora of great jazz and smooth jazz stations coast to coast. It seems that most of them have fallen by the wayside except for the cool colleges that still play the format. One of the all-time greats on the west coast, besides KWJZ here in Seattle, was the legendary KKSF out of the Bay Area, otherwise known as northern California. KKSF as well as the great KBLX in the east bay, played my music in heavy rotation for years which spawned many engagements in San Francisco, Oakland, and the greater Bay Area. My Seattle band played several gigs at Kanzaki Lounge, The Cherry Blossom Festival, The Oakland Museum, Foot Hill College, and The Palace of Fine Arts, to name a few.

It was at Kanzaki Lounge where I met and worked with the fine San Francisco vocalist Colette Ikemi. Eventually she flew to Seattle, stayed at my house for a week, and we recorded her CD ‘Stay Close To Me’ which came out on my label J-Town Records. Ron Kanzaki and his brother Kenny owned and worked at Kanzaki Lounge down in J-Town and introduced me to Mr. Steve Nakajo. Steve is the executive director and co-founder of Kimochi Homes in San Francisco. He is also currently the president of the fire commission for the city and county of San Francisco. Besides booking me for the outdoor festivals and college concerts, he flew me down to play at his wedding, quite an honor for sure.

One of my all-time favorites in The Bay Area is The Nihon Machi Street Fair in Japantown. The event is usually held in early August and takes over a large swath of the famous neighborhood. Steve Nakajo was traditionally the master of ceremonies for the street fair and has a booming voice indeed. When we would finish our concert set, Steve would take the mic and literally yell at the crowd, “Come on San Francisco, give it up for Deems and his band”. His presence would always shake the audience up and stimulate great applause. We enjoyed his efforts immensely.

Hotels

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Feb 18, 2016

Over the last few years my trio of Tim Horiuchi on percussion, Dan Benson on upright bass, and myself on grand piano have had several nice engagements one of which was being a regular at the legendary Sorrento Hotel on 9th and Madison. The bandstand is situated in an elegant and classy room of vintage architecture with the Yamaha grand right in the lobby next to the reception desk and restaurant. Whenever we played there it was always totally packed out with old and new friends, fans of cool jazz, and a smattering of hotel guests where they could fit in. We invariably had the time of our lives enjoying the ‘luxury’ of playing whatever music came to mind. Sometimes we would play Swing or Latin standards, other times it was popular Smooth Jazz, and my favorite to perform was doing the original compositions from my previously released albums.

Another late and great hotel gig that has come to pass was the old University Plaza Hotel on 45th NE and I-5. My quartet of Owen Matsui on bass, Steve Banks drums, and various singers or horn players held down the Friday Saturday house band gig for about a year until the management decided to cancel the music all together. The thing that struck me as rather odd is the fact that it was always an SRO (standing room only) crowd up there. We had our fans hanging from the rafters so to speak and it was entirely too much fun.

Having music as my livelihood for the last four plus decades it has finally sunk in as to how hotel owners view live music and nightclub style entertainment. For 99.9% of all venues that cater to overnight guests the large bulk of their monies come from just that-the overnight guests, the exception being large casinos of course. For a Red Lion, Four Seasons, or a Hilton Hotel having foods, beverages, and possibly entertainment is merely an amenity for the patrons of these establishments. It is simply a plain fact that no matter how many scotch rocks, red wines, and micro brews they pour the bar revenue will never equal the amount of money that comes with a 100% hotel capacity. When I think about it, if I was in the hotel business I would certainly share this same view.

Laughter

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Feb 4, 2016

There are times when I miss hanging out with my old friend and superb conga drummer Stan White. FYI-he moved to Atlanta a few years ago. Stan’s father owned a record store in the south side of Chicago where he grew up and he has been playing hand drums his whole life. MR White also played drums and percussion on several of my albums. Besides Afro-Cuban, Jazz, and Rhythm & Blues Stan is a master at Bata’ drumming which uses an hourglass shaped two headed drum. The very popular Afro Cuban drumming style as well as Bata’ drumming originated in West Africa and was transported across the ocean many centuries ago. Unbeknownst to most people West African drumming was originally very religious in its participation and societal function. In modern times many people play these styles for enjoyment too. For some reason drumming has always moved me in a deep and spiritual way. In the past I would have my band ‘break it down’ to where the other musicians would stop playing and only piano and congas were still jamming. In the nights following these jams I would have beautiful dreams of visiting far off places like the Caribbean Islands and other tropical places.

Stan and I would also just hang out, drink, shoot pool, and see live music at various venues like Jazz Alley and the like. I remember picking him up and heading downtown to see some cool jazz and on the way we would just talk silliness and rather unimportant things and we would laugh. Did I say laugh? Man we would bust a gut. I’ve read many science articles which clearly state that laughter is the best of all medicines for many ailments. People of all ages and walks of life get great benefit from laughter. Stan told me that when he was growing up he would get in trouble from his mom for laughing too much to which I said “wow, the same thing happened to me”. As a matter of fact I was told that I wouldn’t have any friends if I continued to laugh out loud. Perhaps it is somewhat ‘un Japanese’ to indulge in loud and boisterous laughter but as they say here in the good old USA: ‘if the spirit moves you then go for it’ and that is how I like to roll.

The Art of Music

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Jan 21, 2016

There is a book by A. B. Spellman called Four Lives in the Bebop Business which is an in-depth look at the lives of jazz musicians Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Nichols, and Jackie McLean. I personally found the story of the late great Ornette Coleman to be of particular interest. Having seen MR Coleman perform live and having also listened to many of his recordings I found it prudent to read up on the legendary sax player extraordinaire. Ornette’s style of cutting edge Avant Garde jazz had me baffled for years until I read the excellent writings of MR Spellman. His insight clarified what the ‘outside’ sax musician was trying to say. To describe Coleman’s music as harsh and frantic could easily be construed as an understatement. Although I don’t subscribe to this particular musical genre or buy these types of albums anymore there is definitely a lot of respect for his accomplishments.

Over the past few decades of performing my style of piano music I have on many occasions found it both meaningful and a ‘luxury’ to get paid to play original off beat funky music. It seems that most of the good paying piano jobs on the market require that the musician play songs that are popular and recognizable to the masses. Professional pianists in my shoes hone their craft of providing quality sounds that everyday folks can relate to while incorporating their own style of phrasing, rhythms, and melodic phrases. These types of performances can be very gratifying in that I always play the famous songs in my own way with my personal spin on every tune. In the final analysis the ultimate joy to me is playing my own original compositions as the great Isamu Noguchi once said “true art rejuvenates the spirit”. The more I play the more I find this to be absolutely ideal.

KP

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Jan 14, 2016

Golf like many sports is a funny game. In baseball the symbol for a strikeout is the letter K even though the term strikeout starts with an S. When playing tennis you win one point and your score is 15, two points is 30, three points is 45, and zero is called love. Go figure. There is a side bet game in golf called ‘KP’ wherein on a short hole par three the player that hits their ball closest to the hole wins. The odd thing about KP is that word ‘closest’ starts with the letter C. Upon consulting the internet on this subject I found that there is no legitimate or solid explanation for this other than it is a colloquialism of the sport.

In 2002 we had a big and fun Tsutakawa Family Reunion in Sunnyvale California near San Jose. Over one hundred and fifty relatives came from all over the US and many from Japan too. It was during the summer, great weather, sightseeing, foods, wines, swimming, and golf. My uncle Richard is an expert on The Napa Valley Wineries. We rented two busses with drivers for us to spend the day exploring the legendary vineyards and taste the nectar of the Gods. It was a wonderful experience and I hope to do it again sometime.

At the two golf tournaments we had about twenty players for each day and one KP competition for each golf course. On the 2nd day my wife Jean won the closest to the pin event beating out all the men and other female golfers on a 125 yard par three. Her straight on tee shot ended up just nine feet from the hole and she received a sleeve of golf balls for her accomplishment. The other tourney held at a different course had a 160 yard par three. I pulled my tee shot far left but it just managed to stay on the green. I told my cousins “don’t bother to measure how close it is” but they decided to walk it off anyways. Now when it comes to KP’s the winner is almost always within ten feet of the hole and never more than twenty. My ball was almost 100 feet from the flagstick and I never considered that it had a chance. That evening at the dinner banquet my uncle announces that on the KP event only one player hit the green today. I still have the golf towel with course logo that was my big prize.