What they're saying about Deems...
|From The Asian Reporter,
V20, #9 (March 9, 2010), page 13
Highline Community College News
Volume 45 Issue 17, Page 6
February 16, 2006
“Growing up, besides jazz I always liked R&B and soul, so some of the DJs in the area dubbed me with the moniker ‘contemporary soul jazz’,” said Tsutakawa. “A lot of my music is kind of like R&B grooves – it’s not harsh and frantic. I write a lot of stuff that is sweet and soulful.”
His music, which can be heard on radio stations like 98.9 KWJZ, is smooth jazz, but with a funky Motown-like beat, and is unlike most anything else out there. “If you were to take the blindfold test and listen to several different albums without looking at them, you would be able to tell which artist is which by listening to their style,” said Tsutakawa.
“When you hear my albums you can say ‘That’s Deems’.” Even when he plays covers of other artists, including the Beatles, he arranges the music to fit his style.
He has played with such artists as Kenny G and Julian Priester, as well as opened for Spiro Gyra, Hiroshima, and Maynard Ferguson.
Tsutakawa began taking piano lessons when he was 5 years old. He plunked on his neighbor’s piano until his mother bought one for their home. He started out playing classical music until he was about 14 years old, when he started to play blues, jazz, and R&B. He began to play professionally at the age of 18.
“I guess it’s the passion for the art form and the performance,” said Tsutakawa about why he has played for so long. “In my middle age I’ve become grateful for being able to do something that I love.”
Tsutakawa has nine albums out right now, including a Greatest Hits and a DVD. “I have achieved airplay with many of my albums worldwide. The biggest hit I’ve had is a song called Tough Tofu which is still heard on international radio stations,” said Tsutakawa.
He spends a lot of time writing and composing music. He says he gets much of his inspiration from life experience.
“Music is kind of a reflection of life, so I get inspiration at a lot of different places,” said Tsutakawa.
Some of this life experience and inspiration comes from his family life. He is the second son and third child of world-famous sculptor George Tsutakawa and koto (a Japanese stringed instrument, similar to a zither) player Ayame Tsutakawa.
“Growing up there was a lot of art and artists around the house,” said Tsutakawa. “I took it for granted until I moved out on my own. I think myself and my siblings learned a love for art through osmosis – just having it around.
“Mom and dad never told us to love art or go into it, it was just a culturally rich environment, and artistically rich.”
His dad took him and his three other siblings to art museums in big cities whenever they went on family trips. They had always thought that was normal, and that every kid did that.
“Now I cherish the experience,” said Tsutakawa. “I look back and think ‘wow – we were lucky’.”
All four of the Tsutakawa children went into an artistic field. His oldest brother, Gerard, became a sculptor like his father, and made The Mitt standing outside of Safeco Field. His older sister, Mayumi, became an art organizer and is on the Washington State Arts Commission, and his youngest brother, Marcus, became a composer and the band teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle. Under his direction that band has placed first place 13 out of 15 times in (NW schools band competition and has gone international)
Besides writing and performing, Deems Tsutakawa also owns his own record label, J-Town records, and he gets heavily involved in the business side of his art. It wasn’t what he wanted to do, but he says it comes with the territory.
“Most artists don’t want to deal with the business part, but I am heavily involved. I do booking and managing besides playing,” said Tsutakawa.
“I started J-Town records about 30 years ago, and released some 45 records as EPs. To date I have released nine albums of my own material and produced some other albums of other people on my label,” said Tsutakawa.
While he records about 80 percent original material, what he plays in concert all depends on the venue.
“I’m a stylist, not a virtuoso. I don’t aspire to do that,” said Tsutakawa.
More information on Deems Tsutakawa can be found on his website www.deemsmusic.com.
|International Examiner, Volume 32 No. 20
Tsutakawa re-Deems his favorite tunes
by Dean Wong
Deems’ versions of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “That’s the way of the
world,” and the Beatles “Here, there, everywhere,” and Rogers and
Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things,” show off his diverse musical pallet.
It’s on these classic soul, pop and orchestral songs that Deems shows off his ability to add his brand of soul to any tune.
“When I do other people’s material, I do it in my style, rather than clone the record,” said Deems.
This year has been a busy one for Deems with six concerts a week in night clubs around the Northwest. “I’ve carved my niche. People know my sound,” Deems said.
|Photo by Dean Wong|
Deems can be heard at Alexandria’s on 2nd where his shows are looser. “We play some good funky smooth jazz, a throw down style, cutting the groove,” Deems said.
With a reputation as a jazz musician in the Asian American community going back to the mid-70s, Deems provides opportunities for Asian jazz musicians to show off their talent. His bands, however, are multi-cultural.
“Asian players find me. They show up at gigs, bring their ax and sit in,” said Deems.
Tsutakawa, the leader of the award winning Garfield High School
Orchestra, has been playing with Deems
since both were teens.
Their first public performances were at the old Mikado's restaurant during jam sessions.
During a performance at IKEA earlier this year, Marcus joined the band on bass guitar.
Deems' father was the late George Tsutakawa, a renowned artist whose fountains, sculptures and paintings are Northwest treasures.
Photo by Dean Wong
His other brother Gerard Tsutakawa is a sculptor who created "The Glove" sculpture at Safeco Field.
Sister Mayumi Tsutakawa is a longtime arts organizer and an administrator for the Washington State Arts Commission. Mother Ayame Tsutakawa is an accomplished koto player.
The success of smooth jazz in the Northwest has been beneficial to Deems. He plays many clubs outside of the Seattle area.
Deems went to Spokane for a series of concerts, not knowing what to expect in an area with few Asian Americans. The reception he received was warm. He packed a mall and nightclub for two shows.
"People appreciate funky soulful tunes," he said.
Deems has 20 to 30 songs being played on radio stations in the United States and countries like Japan, Hong Kong and Great Britain.
He has traveled to Florida, New Orleans, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles and Hawaii to play.
Deems is always meeting new musicians in each city he goes to. "There are guys who can play, but are not that famous. I network and meet them," he said.
One such player is saxophonist Clarence Johnson from New Orleans. Deems went to see the movie "Ray," about the life of Ray Charles and was surprised to see Johnson in the film as a member of the band.
In 1984, Deems visited Japan and hung out at six nightclubs. "I learned how to say 'Can I play?'" he said.
After being invited on the stage, Japanese players remarked on how different his sound was.
Deems has worked with Kenny G, Roy Ayers, Tony Gable, Julian Priester, as well as opening for Spyro Gyra, Hiroshima and Maynard Ferguson.
When jazz pianist George Duke came to Seattle awhile back, Deems stood in line to get his autograph.
Deems gave Duke a copy of his CD "My Music Loves Christmas." The next morning Duke appeared on a morning television program and played Deems' arrangement of Jingle Bells," much to his delight.
Deems is not only familiar with the business side of playing jazz, he started his own label J-Town Records.
Running his own company was not what he wanted to do, but he says it comes with the territory. He juggles phone calls with booking agents, in-between dropping off CDs at record stores like Silver Platters and Tower Records.
He prefers small intimate rooms, versus larger concert halls and favors playing a grand piano.
"I've been playing for myself a lot more. If the music is good, the reward is playing it. In middle age, I'm more thankful for the life I have. I have become more grateful," said Deems.
Releasing the "Greatest Hits" CD inspired Deems to get focused on his music again.
"It's a statement of who I am," said Deems.
Future projects Deems is considering include a CD of jazz standards like "Misty" and "Fly Me To The Moon." A straight ahead jazz recording is also a possibility.
"To make a living playing music, that is a great honor," said Deems.
Other Deems recordings include, "Living Deems," "The Planet Deems," "Deems Plays for Lovers," "Seattle Groove," "Love West" and "L.A. Live."
To find Deems' CDs, visit any Silver Platters or log onto www.deemsmusic.com where a list of upcoming concerts can also be found. Also visit www.iexaminer.org for information on Deems performance at "Arts, Etc." on Nov. 5.
|From The Asian Reporter, V12, #51 (December 17-30, 2002),
Seattle jazz pianist Deems Tsutakawa has entered the crowded holiday-music field with his album My Music Loves Christmas.
Accompanied by Seattle Groove, Deems offers jazzy versions of classic yuletide tunes such as "Silent Night," "The Christmas Song," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The album is the ideal companion for chestnut- roasting fans of easy-listening jazz.
Joining Deems on the album are Marcus Tsutakawa on bass, David Yamasaki on guitar, and Gordon Uchima on saxophone, along with Tim Horiuchi on percussion, Kevin Boyd on vibes, and Tony Gable on congas.
The music is primarily instrumental, and focused on Deems Tsutakawa’s tickling of the ivories, but vocalist Dara joins the band for a pleasing rendition of "For Christmas Sake."
My Music Loves Christmas is available on line at www.deemsmusic.com or by writing to: J-Town Records, P.O. Box 78035, Seattle, WA 98178.
|As seen on KCTS
MUSICAL GUEST: JAZZ ARTIST
|Special to AsianWeek
By Erik Derr
At this point in his career, says internationally recognized jazz artist Deems Tsutakawa, it’s all about synergy.
The Japanese American keyboardist — whose upbeat music has been described as a cross between blues, R&B, jazz and funk — is perhaps best known for his 1986 best-selling single “Tough Tofu,” still aired on radio stations around the world. His first album, Deems, released in 1983, was acclaimed by national music critic Herbert Wong as one of the year’s “Top 20” vinyls.
Now after more than three decades in the music industry, 50-year-old Deems, who calls his music “contemporary soul jazz,” says playing with others has become one of his greatest joys.
After a recent concert, Deems said, “There are a lot of great individual artists out there, but to have a great ensemble, it’s special. It’s a powerful thing.”
Deems’ newest release, L.A. Live, offers listeners that collaborative magic he speaks of. The album was recorded during a live concert at L.A.’s Japan America Theater last April. Deems performed on grand piano and electronic keyboard with guitarist David Yamasaki, bass player Steve Kim and drummer Danny Yamamoto, who also plays for the Japanese American group Hiroshima.
The album, released through Deems’ J-Town Records, features several newer pieces such as “Love West” and “The Most Beautiful Things.” It also includes old favorites, “Tough Tofu” and “Song of Jean,” a piano solo Deems wrote for his wife.
Deems says the name for “Tough Tofu” came from an old Japanese American saying, “Tough tofu and hard gohan,” or hard rice. It means, “That’s all you get, so just take it. Make the best out of what you have.”
L.A. Live is a significant departure from Deems’ nine other studio-produced albums. That might have been a risk, Deems admits, but he wanted to capture the euphoria he feels on stage.
The music gods have indeed smiled on Deems, one of the few Asian Pacific American musicians to enjoy wide success in the mainstream market. But while some suspect his story could inspire ethnic pride or hold some deeper social meaning, Deems — who has lived and worked in Seattle his whole life — contends he’s never been motivated by APA politics.
“I’m a performing artist, a jazz musician first,” he says. “My Japanese heritage is incidental.”
At the same time, Deems laments the “corporatization” of today’s music industry. He asserts big-name production companies stifle individual creativity by “pigeonholing” artists into specific marketing categories.
Deems, who started J-Town in 1976, figures he’s fared so well because he’s avoided the control of big company executives.
Longtime friend Cedric James, who currently works as an on-air radio host at KWJZ-FM, a Seattle Smooth Jazz station, agrees that Deems’ music appeals to listeners because it’s eclectic and can’t be easily categorized. But maybe even more important, James adds, Deems’ music is a direct reflection of the artist himself.
“It’s uplifting, soulful, playful,” says James.
Deems says his music reveals secrets about his life as the son of a world-famous father and business-minded mother.
Deems’ father was George Tsutakawa, a prized sculptor who created 60 major works in his lifetime. His mother, Ayame, was schooled in dance and traditional Japanese music. She has always had a knack for business promotions, he recalls.
Deems adds that he didn’t follow his father’s work because “the footsteps were just too big.” Nor did he seek a career in classical music, though he studied classical piano for 10 years.
Deems informs that the jazzy rhythms of pianists like Joe Sample and Oscar Peterson caught his ear during his teen years. “It was the style,” Deems says. For him, he continues, music has never been about “how difficult it is or how many notes you can cram into it. It's the feel.”
Deems says his style has changed over the years, as he’s not only become more appreciative of collaborations but confident in his own skills. His earlier works were “mellower” and focused on his piano playing, whereas his recent work is up-tempo and places more emphasis on other instruments.
He is currently working on his first-ever Christmas album, which he hopes will be released in the fall. Also — in hopes of attracting younger listeners who may recall their parents’ recordings of the piece — Deems is taking “Tough Tofu” back into the production studio, where he is remixing it with a heavier, urban dance beat.
Deems doesn’t yet know when the new version of “Tofu” will be available or how popular it will be, but he promises it’ll be fun.
“It’s an experiment,” he smiles.
April 3 - 16, 2002
volume 29, number 7
Live recordings reveal a great deal about an individual artist. Without the benefit of an acoustically pure space as well as the myriad of magical tools of the modern recording industry, the music stands unadorned and pure. In this state, its true nature reveals itself.
Deems Tsutakawa's most recent release on his J-Town record label captures one of these musical moments. Recorded at a performance at the Japan America Theater in Los Angeles in April 2001, L.A. Live brings together a quartet of jazz artists with deep roots in R&B and funk.
Deems' music defines a sound that is both immediately accessible as well as distinctively defined. There's a groove underlying the music that speaks in syncopation with groups like War, Tower of Power and Earth, Wind and Fire, yet leaves ample room for improvisation and layering with the riffs and runs that are uniquely Deems. It's a music that is unlike other similarly defined jazz works, something that is distinctive to the nature of Seattle and the communities here. It is a soulfullness and beauty that encapsulates many of us who have lived through the past 45 years in this urban environment and speaks of rivers we have known.
Even though some of the compositions have appeared in previous recordings, the CD captures an enlivened quartet performing for an extremely receptive and appreciative audience. It compensates for some of the unevenly recoded segments where it is a bit difficult to hear the separate lines of music. All in all, we can celebrate ourselves within the music.
There will be a CD release party April 3 at 8 p.m. at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, located at 2033 Sixth Ave. in Seattle. For more information, call Jazz Alley at 206-441-9729.
|From International Examiner, February 2001
Cruising with Deems
Seattle's local pianist talks about the music and the groove
|International Examiner July 1, 1996
Deems Brings Soulful Jazz To Festival
by Dean Wong
Deems Tsutakawa, a jazz pianist who has established himself as a cultural icon in Seattle's Asian American community for the last twenty-five years, returns to the Chinatown International District Summer Festival this year to play an evening concert.
Deems' association with the annual street festival began when it was held in the parking lot of the Uwajimaya store during the early 1970's. "There was all kinds of guys playing in those days. It was a jam. We jammed hard. There was lots of raw energy and spirit," he said.
Every artist has a beginning. Deems' first exposure to music was at the age of 5. "I used to wait for a ride to school at a friend's house. They had a piano. I used to bang on it as I waited for a ride."
Deems' mother bought the piano and took it home for her son to play. The piano is still in the family home to this day.
Creativity runs in Deems' family. His father is the internationally renowned sculptor George Tsutakawa. Mother Ayame has a background in dance and plays traditional Japanese instruments. His brother Marcus often plays bass for Deems and leads the award winning Garfield High Jazz Orchestra. Another brother, Gerard is a respected sculptor and sister Mayumi is a noted Northwest writer and curator.
Although he took classical music lessons, Deems found that he preferred rhythm and blues. "We all grew up and danced to it," he said.
As a teenager he was captivated by the art of jazz. He began listening to Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Cannonball Adderly and Wes Montgomery.
At Franklin High School, Deems was elected student body president. He performed at school assemblies and "played music that made the girls scream," according to a biography written by a record company.
His first steady night club "gig" was at the Mikado Restaurant in 1970. With a trio composed of his brother Marcus on bass and Billy Thompson on drums, Deems began his professional career as a jazz musician.
The group played all the hot Chinatown nightclubs, places like the New Chinatown, The King Yuen, Silver Dragon and the China Gate.
Over the years, Deems developed a loyal following in the Asian community as he performed solo or with his band at numerous community functions.
eems has played in African American nightclubs which once flourished in the Central Area. Places like Latiff's, Thompson's and the Heritage House exposed him to an enthusiastic non-Asian audience.
Deems would be invited onto the stage. "I'd be the only Asian guy in the room. If you're playing good, they let you know it."
"It is a wonderful experience to play in those rooms," he said. "It's important to know where you came from and also have a following in your own community. But you have to reach out beyond your community."
Deems formed his own label, J-Town Sounds and made three recordings. The first album was "Deems," followed by "Deems-Living."
His third recording "The Planet Deems" was the #1 Album of the Year at KBEM-FM in Minneapolis in 1992. It stayed on the station's charts for twenty weeks. For six weeks it stood at the number one position.
Handling his own management, Deems books all his performances and nightclub appearances. "I've spent a lot of time and energy developing musically, but you have to have some business sense," Deems said. He has played in Hawaii, Florida, Minneapolis, Alaska, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Tokyo and London. He delivers CD's to Tower Records when their supply runs low and then talks to radio stations across the country about playing his music. "My day job is on the phone. I talk to club owners, concert promoters. I'm getting used to the business end, my networking has gotten better."
Artistically, Deems says he is evolving. "My new stuff coming up is the best stuff I've recorded. My confidence and my production techniques, writing and arranging has evolved."
Deems would like to sign with a major label or independent record company. But for now Deems enjoys the artistic freedom of not having a record company tell hem what to play. "I get to do what I want to do. I can make the musical statement I want to make. To groove."
Deems' fourth recording "Deems Plays For Lovers" is expected to be released this fall.
You can catch Deems in action from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 9 at the 20th Annual Chinatown International District Summer Festival.
|May 12, 1994
Excerpts from CHOICES
by Stephen J. Sills
Wearing a large straw hat and a polka-dotted shirt, Deems Tsutakawa sits behind the baby grand piano of the Excalibur Lounge in the University Plaza Hotel. Between tunes, he carries on a conversation with members of the audience about the poor performance of the Sonics this past weekend. "The only reason I got cable," he says in a jovial tone, "was to watch basketball. Now that the whole thing is over for the Sonics, I'm thinking of canceling it." With this he explodes with laughter, sounding like a car on a cold morning. A rapid, almost maniacal ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha . . .
"He's obviously doing what he loves and everybody picks up on it," says guest guitarist Steve Black who has known Deems for over ten years. "They can't come in here and leave sad, because the guy is always laughing. He's got that atrocious laugh, and it makes you laugh, too."
Deems grew up in a very artistic environment. His father is the world famous sculptor and painter, George Tsutakawa, now retired in his mid-eighties. . . . Deems feels that they were very fortunate growing up: "Dad's house is just packed with artwork, slides, sculptures, and ceramics that he's collected over a lifetime. When we use to travel, dad used to take us to museums. We kind of took it for granted. My mother, behind the scenes, has been a huge part of my father's success. She's real classy and she's real serene, but inside she's got a quiet storm a real intensity.". . .
Deems plays with the same kind of internal intensity that he respects in his mother, a kind of quiet storm, coming from within. Mellow mood music slowly builds into a tempest-like climax. Intricate rhythms and bass lines provide an invariable groove for the melodies: "I like to write from the rhythm section. I like to develop the grooves and the chords and the bass lines. Then, a lot of times, I'll put the melody down to adapt to that."
He enjoys rhythm so much that one of his hobbies, along with tennis, jogging and watching basketball, is to play the drums. "I like to play drums. Not professionally, but I like to play drums for fun. It's like meditation, but it's good for song writing too. I (also) play a lot of tennis, and I do some jogging. I used to play basketball and I used to coach basketball too. I really missed it. I was jonesing it. I picked up tennis late in life, just in the last five years to fill (the need for) exercise and that edge, that competitive edge."
|June 19, 1986
Excerpts from EAST/WEST
by Max Millard
Dressed in white pants and a T-shirt displaying a large alligator, Deems told of his long struggle toward musical success. Born and raised in Seattle, he began playing professionally right after high school. . . Occasionally breaking out in cackling laughter, he clearly demonstrated how he has charmed his way into numerous TV and radio stations throughout the West, promoting his personality as much as his infectiously rhythmic mainstream jazz. . . Deems calls his style"contemporary soul jazz". His first album, released in 1983 under the title "deems",. . . continues to sell. Its classic combination of piano, bass, drums, and saxophone, he said, is "timeless," unlike the "faddish" synthesizer.
In both his albums and in the two singles that preceded them, he is not only the pianist, but the band leader, producer and chief songwriter and arranger. He started his own record company, the Seattle-based J-Town Records, and along with his wife Jean, has promoted his own work to create a demand for his live performances and recordings.
The diminutive 34 year-old artist is the son of George Tsutakawa, a celebrated sculptor and painter. Deems studied classical music from age five to 15, then turned to jazz. His brother Marcus, plays bass on the albums and is a songwriter as well. While Marcus has a master's degree in music, Deems has no degree. "My credentials," he said, "are those disks and these calluses on my fingers."
Deems' music is a blend of rock, pop, rhythm & blues and classic jazz. He avoids atonal music and jazz fusion, calling his style "very marketable." . . .
Sometimes he dreams that he is performing, and wakes up with a song in his head. It's not always necessary to get up and write down the notes or record the idea on cassette. "If I really like a song, I give it a title as soon as I can," he said. "When I see this title, it brings back the image and the feeling that I have, and then I can remember the song."