Deems the Author

North American Post Listing of Deems' articles written
for the North American Post
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Busker August 16, 2017
Herbie August 3, 2017
Whatever You Want July 13, 2017
Voyager July 6, 2017
Making It Personal June 22, 2017
Exact Double June 15, 2017
Outer Space June 1, 2017
Fine Verses Folk May 25, 2017
Cultural Blend May 18, 2017
Wild West May 4, 2017
Call Letters April 27, 2017
A Day In The Life April 20, 2017
Penny for your Thoughts March 30, 2017
Sonics March 16, 2017
Prime Real-Estate February 16, 2017
Every Act January 19, 2017

Busker

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, August 16, 2017

There is a large segment of society that looks down upon musicians, actors, and poets especially if they have not made it to the national stage and are rich. To carve out an existence as an entertainer and an artist can be a daunting and formidable task for sure. The culture of street performers dates back many centuries and has been found in every corner of the world. Places such as China, India, Africa, and Europe have long been known for their roadside performers. Besides the musicians there have been many a court jester, a juggler, and magicians to boot. Of course there are also the perks of being your own boss. One can wake up anytime, set their own hours, and take time off whenever they feel like it. I personally find it to be more respectable than simply asking for loose change from strangers.

In the USA it seems that this type of livelihood goes against Asian culture. It is not kosher to be a starving artist. We are totally consumed with being middle class or rich and need the security of a stable income. Having a middle class life style in America is quite a high standard of living compared to large swaths of Asia, Africa, and South America indeed. I like it and am very thankful for the life I have.

The term "busker" or "busking" is the act of performing in public places for gratuities. Most of the time the rewards are in the form of money but other gratuities may be given such as food, drink, or gifts. This gratuity concept has spilled over into the restaurants and night clubs as many places like to feed the band as well as pay the players. I like this concept a lot, especially the places with really good food. Although I don't play my music on the streets I have a certain respect for the people that choose to do it. I have played a lot of gigs wherein people are simply passing by and never really even notice me. Some of my steady work doing background music at the casinos and shopping malls is akin to the alternative life style of the venerable busker. My tennis and golf buddies have always said that I have an alternative life style which is all so true.

Herbie

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, August 3, 2017

Learning to play jazz is like golf in that no matter how good you are there are always areas for improvement. The best golfers in the world all wish they could putt better or hit farther. Jazz musicians spend decades honing their art, dexterity, and velocity and there is never an end in sight. Classical musicians also strive for perfection and technical virtuosity to no end. When we study the greatest pianists of the last century the accomplishments are truly staggering. I have the deepest respect for the likes of Oscar Peterson, McCoy Tyner, Cecil Taylor, and Chucho Valdez, to name a few. These men are innovators, stylists, & true virtuosos on the 88's and I have spent countless hours listening to their music. We go about learning jazz by trying to absorb the feel, energy, and concepts as well as the techniques that are required to make this type of music. To be free spirited and to improvise one must eventually put away the sheet music and just create on your instrument. Playing by ear and memory are a must for jazz performers.

Although I play some progressive jazz from time to time my true style is a Blues-based jazz with a lot of Soul and Rhythm concepts. I also use some popular titles from time to time to help the audience relate, however, these songs are always done in my own style. I read an interview with the great Herbie Hancock wherein he was telling the story of touring with guitarist Wah Wah Watson. Herbie said that he tries to play something different every night and that Watson seemed to play the exact same music day in and day out. The thing that astounded Hancock was the fact that although Wah Wah was quite repetitive in his nightly performance-he always sounded great. It seems to me that perhaps we musicians could actually have the best of both worlds; you just have to find what works the best for you and embrace it.

Whatever You Want

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, July 13, 2017

It goes without saying that across the USA we can experience an incredible amount of variety when it comes to foods, fashions, and, of course, musical styles. Musicians of all walks of life are known to stay up late at night to debate the merits of great song writers as well as the vast number of commercial bands that aren't worth a darn. Besides discussing the concepts of certain music styles being palatable or not, we like to put down recording artists that we find uninspiring and uninteresting. Some of this pro and con talk can have cultural bias and I've noticed that everybody seems to be an expert when it comes to live or recorded music. It's also fun to share music with friends. The expression we used when playing a new album for someone was "let me turn you on to this." This jargon has multiple uses. You can also turn on a friend to certain foods, movies, or marijuana for that matter.

After playing a recent outdoor concert, my band of Dave Yamasaki, Dan Benson, Merwin Kato, and Gordon Uchima hung out to shoot the breeze. At one point I mentioned the fact that when I listen to certain Avant Garde musicians jam there seems to be a lot of anger and hostility in their music. Dave said that it might be related to their cultural history and perhaps the music is a statement that reflects centuries of oppression. I believe this to be a valid idea.

Some musical lyrics are actually quite corny. Yellow Submarine, Walter Wart The Freaky Frog, and Winchester Cathedral come to mind. They were big hits though and I do admire the business accomplishments of being famous and generating revenue. Musical styles like these seem to tell us that if a musician or band becomes famous enough they can virtually play whatever they want to and that, my friends, can definitely be construed as a wonderful situation to be in.

Voyager

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, July 6, 2017

When I was growing up, that is, assuming that I am grown up of course, most of the boys of my generation used to read Superman comics. Although the characters and stories were one hundred percent pure fiction the Sci-fi fantasies actually had some real science to it. The ideas of time travel by going the speed of light, the wind chill effect when Superman blew on a lake to make it freeze, and the fact that he couldn't see through on object made of lead, all have some basis in theoretical physics. The X-Men series which, like Superman & Batman became movie franchises, feature humans that have evolved to a point wherein they have super powers.

There is also a TV special about how Star Trek has actually influenced many real life scientists to develop devices that were merely fantasy during the original television series. During the documentary, many inventors stated outright that the Star Trek show inspired them to create the new technologies.

In our lifetimes most of us want to make a difference in our community and beyond. Many of us dream of making the world a little bit better in a wide variety of ways whether it's the environment, technology, or the basic human condition.

The beauty of Sci-fi is that deep in outer space you can make anything happen. As a matter of scientific theory if you travel far enough and long enough you will eventually see everything that is possible to see. Recently, while watching an episode of Star Trek Voyager, the story line told of a female humanoid crew member that discovered she had intense mental powers. She developed the ability to make plants grow large and bloom by concentrating on them at the sub atomic level. As Kess was standing in the hydroponics bay aboard the futuristic star ship she could magically make the room come alive with fantastic warmth and energy. It was a beautiful moment in fiction and I love the fantasy of having the power to make a room come alive with a wonderful and magical feeling. It can be very inspiring and fun as well.

Making It Personal

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, June 22, 2017

Social gatherings are generally associated with good friends, foods, and beverages. It is also a given that special occasions require these elements and more. Quite often music and entertainment get to go along for the ride. When there is something special on the menu humans like to share the consumables and this is a wonderful thing. Although other animal species are social, such as dolphins, felines, and monkeys, humans take social interaction to the ultimate level above and beyond what other mammals and fish can ever accomplish.

There is another perspective on eating that might seem a bit decadent but America is the "bread basket of the world" and we take our food quite seriously. I'm not talking about diabetics or high blood pressure but the enjoyment of truly scrumptious foods like rare prime rib that melts in your mouth, oysters Rockefeller, or double dark chocolate cake with ice cream. It seems that there are times when we want to devour these items whether with company or all alone. The taste sensations can be more than sufficient to make it a good day for many. It can be noted that one does not have to mind their manners when eating alone either. Some people claim that messy foods are the best and best eaten alone.

When it comes to music, we usually think of it as a social experience like at a concert hall, night club, or dance party. However, in my experience, there are some musical styles that are very socially oriented and there are some songs that are quite meaningful to perhaps only a few individuals. If you think about it, music can be quite versatile in its application. When we find a song that really fits our mood we usually don't care if anyone else out there wants to hear it. Like a main course, a book, or a poem, music can be very adaptable and I find there are times when you need it to soothe your soul.

Exact Double

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, June 15, 2017

There are several articles that have appeared over the years in Scientific American Magazine about the concept of infinity. Some deal with the ability to wrap one's mind around the idea while others are simply trying to define what the word actually means. Seems like most people take the word for granted and use it very casually but amongst mathematicians there are differing opinions on the true definition of the term. It gets rather technical so we won't go there, however the connotation or widely accepted use of the word means something like 'goes on forever & ever.' When you try to conceptualize this idea it might drive you a little crazy. Can we really visualize something that has no end?

The current theoretical physics and cosmological community says that our universe is just one of infinite universes that might look like an ocean of bubbles spread out for eternity. If we could go to the edge of our universe they say there is no sign there stating "that's it." Of course, no one knows what and where our universe ends and we'll never see it as it is physically impossible to go that far so we can only imagine what it's like. The infinite multi-verse theory and the idea of infinity are just theories even though they are based on the best scientific information available. Any idea or concept that is un-testable will always remain a theory as true science requires hard evidence to become fact.

Although the ideas of infinite universes that go on forever are untestable it is fun to think about because these concepts raise infinite possibilities. These ideas can be viewed as a type of Star Trek philosophy. It is said that if you travel long enough and far enough you will eventually meet yourself. To date, based on the current thinking, scientists have actually calculated the distance to the nearest universe wherein there is a humanoid life form located there with the exact same amount of atoms and molecules structured the exact same form as each one of us. Apparently if I searched long enough I would find another piano player out there somewhere that looks and sounds just like me.

Outer Space

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, June 1, 2017

Television recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the original TV series Star Trek and those that know me well know that I am a Trekkie. I have been going to other galaxies, distant star systems, and planets to seek out new life forms via all the Trek spinoffs for over 50 years now and it's been a fun adventure, as Spock would say, "quite fascinating indeed."

On the real side of science, scientists have now discovered some 3,500 planets orbiting other nearby stars which is 'Star Trek' technology coming to pass. They can even tell the size, density, whether rocky or gas giant, and the atmospheric composition of these planets. When the TV series says 'scan the area for an M class planet,' this is the information requested and now it's a reality. It should also be noted that in our Milky Way galaxy alone there are over 200 billion stars. The known observable universe contains over two trillion galaxies. This means that there are most likely hundreds of billions of potentially habitable planets for life to form and evolve on. There are also a high number of red dwarf stars which have a much longer life span than our sun.

If you have an earth-like planet revolving around a red sun the potential life forms on those planets would have over 100 billion years to evolve as opposed to the 5-10 billion years that we have here on our beautiful blue world. Granted we are hundreds or even thousands of years from actual star travel as we need some major breakthroughs in technology to get there but it is an exciting proposition. If we are to go where no one has gone before we will definitely need to bring a lot of food, water, oxygen, and some very groovy music to sustain us for the journey.

Fine Verses Folk

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, May 25, 2017

Since early childhood I have had the great honor and luxury of being exposed to high quality art, music, foods, and cultural endeavors. This is a natural occurrence when your father is an art professor and your mother plays classical Japanese music, dances, and does Ikebana. We went to museums, the symphony, and learned to cook the cuisine of my parents' tastes. At eighteen years of age I moved out to rent my own house and quickly noticed that there were no paintings on my walls or sculptures on the mantle. Nor were there any large colorful architecture and art books to view.

It was during these days that I went through a plethora of what musicians call 'day jobs.' I was a professional cook, a sheet metal fabricator, residential house painter, and sold pianos at Sherman Clay all to make ends meet. These jobs gave me a good appreciation for the nice piano jobs that currently consume my life.

Art is reflection of our lives in that just as we have a wide variety of life styles we concurrently have a wide variety of art forms. It should be noted that all the various forms of art, music, literature, and dance have validity assuming the artists are sincere in their endeavors.

Growing up in an art environment I spent many hours trying to philosophically reconcile the difference between what is considered fine art verses what we call the folk arts. A work of fine art like Picasso or a George Tsutakawa is usually easy to recognize wherein a ceramic plate or soup bowl would generally be thought of as utilitarian or folk art. However there are in fact many ceramic pieces that are totally spontaneous and technically advanced which makes them truly fine and sophisticated. The funny thing is that like music, foods, dancing, and writing we now find that all these concepts overlap on a daily basis. It is the sincerity of the potter, songwriter, and chef that brings us the meaning to what would otherwise be a very mundane existence.

Cultural Blend

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, May 18, 2017

In the fifties and early sixties I attended John Muir Elementary School which was a K-through 6th grade facility with about a thousand students. Muir School is located on the cusp of Rainier Avenue South which is the edge of what we used to call 'garlic gulch.' This moniker came from the high Italian American population that was concentrated in Rainier Valley specifically along what was then called Empire Way South. Empire Way has of course been renamed Martin Luther King JR Way South on honor of the slain civil rights leader. Although John Muir Elementary is very diverse these days it was over 90% Caucasian when we were growing up. It was a fun time for most of us and to this day I am still in touch with many of my childhood friends.

Upon entering Asa Mercer Jr. High up on Beacon Hill the demographics changed dramatically as the ethnic breakdown at that time was approximately 33% Asian American, 33% White American, and 33% African American. I personally found this blend of different ethnic groups to be quite fantastic and it actually changed my life in ways that I have come to fully appreciate. Up until that time my music education was essentially all classical European. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms piano pieces were all that I studied. It was upon entering a richer more diverse cultural setting that I became exposed to jazz, soul, pop, blues, and rock music. I immediately fell in love with the more modern music stylings and have pursued them ever since.

Franklin High School, which just happens to be very close to John Muir School is actually on Rainier Avenue South, also had a similar ethnic breakdown of 1/3, 1/3, & 1/3 at the time of my enrollment. Naturally the musicianship took another jump up as the players were more advanced, the jazz lab was getting under way, the choir was the best in the state, and we had an African Drum Ensemble to boot. It has become clear to me that had I attended a middle school and high school out in the suburbs I would most likely, for better or worse, have a very different sound on the 88s than what I am playing these days.

Wild West

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, May 4, 2017

Growing up in the good old USA during the fifties and sixties we witnessed the new era of television taking control of the mass media. Toothpaste, cigarettes, cars, and breakfast cereal ads dominated the tubed boxes. To this day I still know all the jingles and catch lines by heart. Although the pictures were just black, white, and gray to be able to see the comedy shows, movies, and sporting events in your own home was a total revolution in family home entertainment. It should be noted that although we could enjoy The Olympic Games, heavy weight boxing, and the evening news in real time corporations were equally thrilled to have the opportunity to come into our homes and program us with their brand names.

Before the popularity of sci-fi and police shows, the big thing was westerns like Gun Smoke, Wagon Train, Bonanza, and The Wild Wild West. On occasion, while playing piano at an establishment like El Gaucho Seattle or The Edgewater Inn on Puget Sound, I can picture in my mind the classic saloon scenes from past westerns. Quite often they would have a piano set up on far side of the bar with the pianist pounding out funky tunes while folks ate, drank, and gambled. The piano music always gave the room a lively atmosphere even if it was just background music.

The funny coincidence is that many of the piano gigs now in the new millennium are actually the same. The only differences are that instead of coming to the restaurants and nightclubs riding horses the patrons come in fancy cars with valet parking. There are also the suits verses cowboy boots, no hats or spurs, and most places have grand pianos as opposed to an upright eighty eight. There are also hotel accommodations upstairs that now have room service and the gambling is usually done in casinos these days. These differences may look dramatic but are very superficial in their essence. Sometimes it seems like the more things change the more they stay the same.

Call Letters

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Apr 27, 2017

Hearing your own music on the radio never gets old no matter how many times it happens. It's not only the fact that you wrote, recorded, and performed the songs but also the idea that hundreds or perhaps thousands of people are listening to your tunes as well. The experience is actually somewhat electrifying and gratifying at the same time. One of my basic operating premises has always been 'the media dictates to the public who is good and worthy of airplay.' The fact of the matter is that radio, television, newspapers, and the internet program the masses with names and sounds. This premise is one of the dominant reasons I have spent so much time and effort making and promoting records and compact discs. Not only to make quality music but to get my name out into the public's minds and ears.

Having spent the last several decades dealing with radio stations coast to coast, one of the fun things one will notice is the regional use of the station's call letters. In the west all the station call names start with the letter K and back east they start with a W. Seattle's late, great KWJZ was an acronym for Washington Jazz. The new KNKX in Tacoma stands for 'connects' while KBCS in Bellevue is for Bellevue Community College. In San Francisco they had KKSF and in Oakland there is KBLX which to me means, 'Bay Area Luxury.'

Vancouver Canada had a station called CJAZ, Detroit Michigan has WDET, and Ketchikan Alaska had KNIK. Some of my all-time favorites are KYOT in Arizona as in coyote, KHIH for 'high altitude' in Denver, and the legendary love radio WLVE FM in Miami. There is an old saying that goes 'what's in a name?' I say there is quite a bit if you just look close enough.

A Day In The Life

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Apr 20, 2017

In my business I have had the distinct pleasure of socializing, meeting, and working with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of great people. Music lovers, jazz fans, event planners, club owners, bartenders, and conference attendees, to name a few. The sheer number of engagements that I've played over the last five decades is actually somewhat staggering when you think about it. However, there have been some unpleasant customers and bar managers from time to time as well. Although the jerks of the trade are small in number, the incidents are easy to remember, kind of like the guy that rear-ended you in traffic. You most likely have driven for years and seen good drivers but the one that hits you sticks out in your mind.

One New Year's Eve, while doing party music at a private golf and country club with my six piece band, an unruly guest got drunk and yelled in my face to make the songs shorter in length. All the other guests were very nice and enjoying themselves but not this guy. After a few more drinks he went behind the stage and unplugged the main power. The vocals, guitar, bass, and keyboards all went silent; the only sound coming from the stage was my drummer as he is acoustic. Although I wanted to punch his lights out it was not a good day to go to jail and I needed the paycheck. The club manager apologized for the incident and told me he had done it last year to another band. No class indeed.

One time a booking agent contracted me to play solo grand piano at The Westin Grand Ballroom for a party of over two thousand people. The weird thing was that there was no microphone for the piano and the conversation volume totally drowned out any sound that came from the piano; I could not hear a single note that was played. Window dressing if you will. Last month while playing the Steinway at Lincoln Square a couple of girls stopped to listen to my version of Europa. It is a hauntingly beautiful melody and halfway through the tune they both started crying. The music was affecting them and it's like the old saying "there are good days and there are really good days."

Penny For Your Thoughts

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Mar 30, 2017

America has been called "the land of milk and honey" and it has also been said to have streets that are "paved with gold." As a matter of fact, we do have vast quantities of milk, milk products, and honey. The precious metal called gold is abundant in Fort Knox although I've never seen a street made of it. Growing up around here, the goal for many Americans was to become a millionaire and if you did that you were considered a successful individual. It seems to me that these days a million dollars just doesn't go as far as it used to. It would be easy to spend that amount on a house with virtually nothing left over.

Speaking of the magic number one million, I read a story about a guy in Kent, Washington that has over a million pennies which is actually valued at just over ten thousand dollars. Apparently the guy just loves pennies and that quantity must weigh literally thousands of pounds. They say that there is more than one cent worth of copper in each penny so his "fortune" could be worth more than the face value. One year, while on the road playing dance music in Lewiston, Idaho, I noticed that the parking meters on the downtown streets accepted pennies; this was a pleasant surprise as I had never seen that in Seattle.

My personal superstition is to carry a lucky penny with me whenever I leave the house. Most of us grew up with the advice to carry a dime or a quarter in case you needed to make an emergency phone call. Those days are obsolete, of course, as we all now have the convenient hand held pocket device that has a clock, calendar, calculator, internet search engine, camera, computer, entertainment center, and by the way, we can make emergency calls with free long distance which used to cost an arm and a leg, if you know what I mean.

Sonics

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Mar 16, 2017

Being an avid sports fan is a big part of our lives here and around the world. It is quite amazing that we are so compelled to cheer, wear team colors, attend games, and nervously watch the home team incessantly throughout the year. Seahawks fans are far and wide from Alaska to Montana and well beyond. We are also quite knowledgeable about the players, coaches, rules, strategy, and schedule. Someone from Tumwater could have a great conversation with a fan from Spokane about Russell Wilson even though they just met. This sense of comradery and community is my favorite part of the sports nation-the excitement we share when the home team wins.

Having the Seattle Supersonics leave town in 2008 was not really like losing your girlfriend or boyfriend. If a GF wants to go then so be it. The best thing to do is move on and find another. Not so easy to do with a professional sports team. The way we lost the Sonics is more like having someone steal your car. A sports team is like a vehicle for a city and county to get to a certain place. That place being the sense of community that we grow to love together rather than a bunch of uninterested strangers that happen to be in a similar locale.

When the Sonics won the world championship in 1979, the town was unified like we had never been before. It wasn't until the Seahawks won it all in the 2014 Super Bowl XLVIII that we had that feeling again. I believe we will get another NBA team someday and I think the Seattle Mariners will also win the World Series too. I just hope it will be in my lifetime.

Prime Real-Estate

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Feb 16, 2017

The baby boomers of my generation had the great pleasure of growing up during what I call 'The Golden Age of Records and Radio.' Although the radio became very popular well before the 1950's, it wasn't until 1958 that The Recording Industry Association of America or RIAA actually established the parameters for a Certified Gold Record. During that era the music industry was promoting and selling vinyl record albums at an astonishing rate and together with massive radio support these two media companions influenced an entire generation. There is a good movie called 'All Things Must Pass' that came out in 2015. It is the true story of the rise and fall of the legendary Tower Records. I found the movie to be a 'sound track' so to speak of the baby boomer generation.

Throughout the decades of the 60's to the 90's radio stations, records albums, cassettes, and CDS were an integral part of our culture not only in the USA but worldwide. Every generation has its heroes and idols. The radio made it possible, even mandatory for the big stars like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and Miles Davis to come into our homes, go on our car trips, and make us buy their records.

It is interesting to note that radio stations are a lot like combination of real estate and a mom and pop store. There was a time when radio and television stations were mostly locally owned and operated. Nowadays there are just a few large corporations that own over 90% of all radio stations coast to coast. It is a very tough industry though, as most young people these days do not listen to the radio anymore. Buying an FM frequency is somewhat akin to buying property in that you won't get your money back right away but hope the value goes up incrementally over the years.

Every Act

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Jan 19, 2017

My old friend Rick Fisher is an excellent sound engineer and businessman. We met back in 1980 when he was the manager of the legendary recording studio, Kaye-Smith, which was located in downtown Seattle on 4th Avenue. Kaye-Smith Enterprises owned several radio stations, a national concert promotion division, as well as the music and film production company here in town. When I decided to put out my first full-length album I wanted to use the best facility in the state and Kaye-Smith was it. The list of national acts that recorded there includes The Steve Miller Band, The Temptations, Tower of Power, and Heart, to name a few.

Rick Fisher also did stints as Steve Miller's stage manager and as the concert production manager at The Gorge before starting his own company called RFI CD Mastering. CD mastering is the process wherein you take the final mix of a recording and prepare it for CD manufacturing. When the artist or record company leaves the mastering studio he or she will have in their hands a master CD to send to the manufacturing plant. Besides the music, there is other basic information on the master such as song order, song length in minutes and seconds, the amount of time between songs, and set up info. Over the last decade or so RFI has mastered thousands of albums of all genres including jazz, blues, pop, grunge, country, blue grass, and symphony, to name a few.

RFI also employs another great sound technician named Ed Brooks. Ed and Rick go way back and have a great deal of respect and knowledge in the field. The last time I saw Ed Brooks at the mastering facility he mentioned something that has become a reoccurring theme amongst the various artists that have hired them. He told me that every act that comes through our door all say the same thing, "If we could just make enough dough to be able to quit our day jobs that would be great." Personally, I feel them, and hearing this makes me feel thankful for my modest career.