Deems the Author

North American Post Listing of Deems' articles written
for the North American Post
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Kanzaki Lounge Lizards December 18, 2012
That Ain't Nothin' December 13, 2012
Venues October 23, 2012
Jerome Gray October 16, 2012
The Fake Pie August 30, 2012
JA JAzz August 15, 2012
Two-Way Inspiration August 1, 2012
Golf July 18, 2012
The Big Easy July 4, 2012
What About Fonk? June 20, 2012
Endurance June 6, 2012
The Phone May 23, 2012
A Percussion Instrument May 9, 2012
The Cyclops April 29, 2012
Music to Dance By April 15, 2012
Be Cool March 30, 2012
Finding Heaven March 18, 2012
Does Groove Exist? March 4, 2012
The Dead Turntable February 19, 2012
Tough Tofu January 21, 2012
Deems Tsutakawa January 17, 2012

Kanzaki Lounge Lizards

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Tue, Dec 18, 2012

Japantown in San Francisco is a thriving and viable community with restaurants, hotels and a manju shop that all have a distinct Japanese American flavor. The Denny's Restaurant in J-Town even had saimin noodles and rice like they do in Hawaii but of course we are talking mainland USA here-very cool stuff for those of us that needed our ethnic cuisine.

As I mentioned in various earlier stories, my 1986 release featuring the tune called "Tough Tofu" received a substantial amount of airplay, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area. Both the late great Smooth Jazz KKSF FM and The Quiet Storm KBLX played my music on heavy rotation for several years. This spawned many engagements in Northern California during the mid to late 80's in and around The Bay Area. Our moniker at that time was "Deems and The Living Band" and the venues varied from college concerts, The Asian American Jazz Festival, fundraisers, Sansei Live, The Nihon Machi Street Fair, and The Cherry Blossom Festival to name a few. Usually we would fly down but on occasion we would make a caravan of cars and drive down.

One of the venues was a nightclub called Kanzaki Lounge; it was owned and run by the Kanzaki brothers, Ron and Kenny Kanzaki. They had live music every week six nights a week. Ron and Kenny were also instrumental in bringing me down for the street fair and festivals.

One time my group was in the middle of a weeklong gig there and my sax player Dean Mochizuki had been unable to get off his day gig to play with us. He ended up buying his own roundtrip plane ticket and flying down on a Friday to perform one night with us. We stayed up and partied all night and I took him to the airport at 5 am Saturday morning so he could work in Seattle that day.

Then there was the year my good friend Phil Ono took a week off and came down to San Francisco to hang with the band. At that time the late Hiroshi Ito whose nickname was "Roach" and was an old friend from Seattle, was living in the Bay Area.

Roach and Phil grew up on the same block in Seattle's Central District near the old Wonder Bread factory. They had known each other since childhood.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Hiroshi was selling chicken teriyaki at the street fair right outside Kanzaki Lounge. Phil went up to him and bought a couple of orders. So they stand there staring at each other both thinking "man that guy looks just like a guy I knew in Seattle but it must just be coincidence" as there were about five thousand Japanese Americans walking the streets in J-Town that day. That night at the lounge after we do the sound check Hiroshi says to me, "Deems, did you ever know a guy in Seattle named Phil Ono?"

I replied, "Yup, he is sitting right over there."

Roach fell on the floor laughing and screamed at me, "I sold that guy chicken teriyaki today."

When I told Phil that Roach was sitting in the lounge, he said, "I bought teriyaki from him today but didn't want to call him Roach in case it wasn't really him."

That Ain't Nothin'

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Dec 13, 2012

One of the finest saxophone players to ever come out of the Pacific Northwest is Dean Mochizuki. He went to my high school, Franklin High School, in South Central Seattle in the early 70s just a few years after I was there. He was a member of the FHS Jazz Band that won the National High School Jazz Band title in 1974. That group also contained Kenny G, guitarist David Yamasaki, bassist Dan Benson and keyboardist Phillip Woo along with a few other notable local artists who still play today.

Dean also is a graduate of the Boston Berkeley School of Jazz which is one of the top music colleges in the world and has been featured on several of my albums. I always found him to be playing totally in the zone with impeccable tone, energy and musical sensibility. He is an extremely versatile musician that can read down any chart and/or play by ear and memory with the best of them.

His music career includes tours with funky Soul & Dance bands, orchestra engagements and small ensemble work such as jazz duos or trios. Besides being a stellar sax player Dean always loved brewing beer from scratch at home and would repeatedly tell me, "You have to try my new brew, it has a fruity nutty finish."

It turns out that one fine day over a decade ago he got a job at The Pike Place Brewery making what else-BEER. Dean started out near the bottom of the workers and eventually became the number one Brew Master at the fine establishment. I have tasted many bottles of his works and they are delicious indeed. He has definitely applied his fine sense of artistry to a new craft with excellent results.

Unfortunately for myself and my band, he has been totally consumed with the brewery and over the last few years has not touched his saxophone. Every time I call him for an engagement, he turns me down but I understand that he will not attempt to play an engagement unless he can play up to his standards. The man is also busy with management duties, giving tours of the brewery, and taking beer to festivals for samples and sales.

When I think back to the old days when Dean gigged with my band on a regular basis I always remember one of his lines that I love to this day. Most of the time after taking a sax solo wherein there were flames of soulful energy and music firing out of his horn we would tell him that he sounded fantastic to which he would reply in a dry tone: "That ain't nothin'."

It was his humble way of downplaying the greatness of his music. Quite frankly, I think of his quote often as it always pushes me to improve my playing.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Tue, Oct 23, 2012

The restaurant/nightclub business is a difficult and treacherous endeavor even with the best financing, menus, personnel and intentions that one could hope for. Over the years, I have seen many fine establishments fall by the wayside only to be quickly forgotten in a shockingly short period of time.

These closures can and do occur even when the economy is booming, not to mention when there is a severe downturn in the stock market. Of course, having had the experience of playing funky jazz and blues in the various venues brings back the memories of these failed business ventures quickly to the mind's eye.

Down in Seattle's International District, there used to be several Asian American establishments that come to mind and memory: Danny Woo's New Chinatown Restaurant, The Kingyen, The Silver Dragon, The Mikado and The China Gate.

The New Chinatown was a large room with a big stage and had many Rhythm & Blues styled dance acts. Most of the other venues were smaller and usually hired bands that were duos or trios designed more for listening and drinking.

In the downtown part of Seattle and on the waterfront, there was always live entertainment in places such as Ivar's Captain's Table, The Edgewater Inn and nightclubs like Sidney's, The Smuggler, Pier 70, Alexandria's and Asuka Restaurant to name a few.

Now it goes without saying that musicians by and large usually have a romantic attachment to nightclubs and concert halls. It is very similar to the feelings that one might have when gong to an airport or sports arena as the nightclub entertainer is experiencing the anticipation of something fun and exciting about to happen; meeting new people, seeing well-dressed men and women, and/or hearing ridiculous stories.

The romantic feelings of the nightlife is quite addicting indeed. I oftentimes find myself having conversations about now defunct restaurants and nightclubs especially when people come up to me and say "didn't you used to play at such-and-such restaurant and lounge?"

I always smile and say, "Yes, I did play there, and now they are closed. But it's not my fault they went under."

Jerome Gray

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Tue, Oct 16, 2012

In 1971, I took 10 piano lessons during the fall quarter from the legendary Jerome Gray at The Cornish School of Music & Arts. Jerry Gray was and is the last word on piano jazz in the Northwest. I have the deepest respect for his abilities and musical standards of excellence.

Mister Gray was always getting on my case as my chops were not up to par yet. In 1973, I had my first steady solo piano gig; it was at the Benihana Restaurant in downtown Seattle and lasted seven months. Even though I was somewhat green the bar had a quality Steinway grand and such a cool atmosphere that it would be packed out whenever I was playing.

What I didn't realize at first was that the chefs didn't like having a lively and crowded bar scene. They found it to be distracting to their spectacular culinary exhibition of course. The restaurant owner's concept of a bar was simply a waiting area for the dinner guests.

Anything above and beyond that was simply not what they wanted so eventually the gig ended-but not before some great nights of music, wine, and nice looking people. The place was the cool hang for all my friends and their friends too.

During my first week there, I spotted Jerry Gray sitting at the bar so I sat down next to him. "Hi Jerry, how you doing?" I said.

He ignored my presence, so I said it again and his reply was "My name is not Jerry." "Yes it is, I just took ten lessons from you," I replied.

He coldly says, "You must be mistaken."

To that I said, "Okay, have it your way" and left him alone. To me it was his way of saying, "You stink and I don't want to be associated with you," and I understand that now.

The story, however, has a good ending as 10 years later while playing the grand piano at the Warwick Hotel in Seattle I ran into Jerome Gray sitting in the lounge enjoying a drink and listening to the play. I approached him, gave him a copy of my first LP and told him I would be honored if he listened to it someday.

His reply was "Deems, you play with great rhythm, and people love being in the room when you are playing" – high praise from a guy that I used to pay to put me in my place.

Jerry Gray also used to tell his students, "It doesn't matter where you go to get yourself together, it only matters that you get yourself together."

I always loved that quote.

The Fake Pie

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thu, Aug 30, 2012

For my junior year at Franklin High School, located in South Seattle, I was voted into office as class president. I ran against Brian Gorelick, Kenny G's older brother and won by a landslide majority vote from my fellow students.

I beat him by more than a two to one margin. As class president whenever we had the entire student body in attendance for assemblies, I would wear a suit and do my Johnny Carson impersonation. I even had the stage band play the theme from “The Tonight Show” for my entrance into the auditorium. As it is my nature, I would always talk trash at the senior and sophomore classes whenever I had the chance.

During my term in office, my junior class came in second to the senior class in activity card sales, so my punishment was to take a pie in the face in front of the entire staff and student body during an assembly in the gym.

The seniors brought out four large beautiful pies with whipped cream and let me have it in the face-blam, blam, blam & blam. Three of the pies were delicious freshly baked banana cream pies made by Borracchini Bakery- my favorite, but the fourth was a set up made of shaving cream.

The seniors were hoping I would eat the shaving cream and get sick to my stomach. But when the fourth pie hit me, I could smell the difference and refrained from consuming the soapy mix. It was fun stuff and not painful in the least although I wished all the pies were edible.

After the assembly I made my way down to the boys' locker room to shower and laugh it off. While showering I was feeling a bit crazy about the whole fake pie thing and tossed some of the pie at the ceiling. The ceilings in the old gymnasiums are pretty high so I figured no one would even notice.

Before I finished bathing one of the coaches named Bill Phelan came by, looked up, and said to me “Deems, I want every piece of that pie scrubbed clean off the walls and ceiling.” I stared up at the twenty foot high wall and thought to myself “this is going to be difficult.”

All of a sudden, a bit of adolescent genius hit me. I found a large towel, soaked it thoroughly, and began tossing it at the pieces of pie that were stuck high up there. Within minutes I had successfully knocked it all down.

When coach Phelan walked by a few minutes later, I yelled at him to check it out. He looked up there, and it was spotless. Bill just shook his head and wandered off muttering to himself. How could that short loud guy reach up there and clean it all up?


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Wed, Aug 15, 2012

Unbeknownst to many people outside the Japanese American Community and even within the JA community for that matter, there are and have been a plethora of excellent JA jazz, soul, blues and rock musicians for many decades now.

Most of these musicians did not become household names but that does not mean that they could not play. Some of them made a name nationally or regionally such as the legendary George Yoshida Swing Band from the San Francisco Bay Area, Toshiko Akiyoshi the great pianist and bandleader, and the fabulous Sadao Watanabe on saxophone. In more recent times you have groups such as Hiroshima and the popular and lovely keyboardist Keiko Matsui.

One of the more obscure Japanese American jazz musicians was a sansei trumpeter from my hometown of Seattle named Lester Iwana who sadly passed away in Honolulu Hawaii in the summer of 2011.

Les and I went to the same high school, Franklin High which is located down in Seattle's Rainier Valley. He was also a member of an excellent dance band in the 70's named Nine Lives along with my brother Marcus Tsutakawa who played bass for the popular group.

In 1974, I had the honor of playing a gig with the great trombonist Julian Priester. For those of you that don't know the name, Julian has played and recorded with the likes of Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, and Lionel Hampton to name a few.

The morning of our gig was a sunny warm day and Julian Priester offered to give me and my Fender Rhodes piano a ride to the concert venue. My electric piano was sitting at the drummer Wayne Rabb's house as we had been rehearsing there.

Upon arriving at Wayne's crib, we observed Wayne and a guitarist named Paul Anderson standing on the front porch wearing only their underwear. Paul was blowing on a trombone and Wayne Rabb had a broken down bugle; they sounded awful. When the two of them realized it was the Julian Priester, they ran into the house and were quite embarrassed.

At the time, Lester Iwana just happened to be living right across the street. As we were loading the piano in the van we could see a trumpet sticking out of the bathroom window and hear Lester playing some cool jazz licks on it. Apparently these three guys were having a musical conversation of sorts, and the sounds could be heard throughout the neighborhood.

After Paul and Wayne had gone into their house, Julian stopped to listen to Lester play his horn and asked me with a straight face, “who is that guy playing trumpet?”

I said that it was Lester Iwana to which Julian Priester says to me “that guy can really play.” this is definitely high praise when you consider the source of the compliment.

Two-Way Inspiration

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Wed, Aug 1, 2012

My CD entitled "My Music Loves Christmas" came out in the fall of 2003. The album was recorded live and was a blast. We did it at Ironwood Studios in Seattle over a three day period of inspired playing by all the members of my band, The New Seattle Groove: Steve Banks-drums, my brother Marcus-bass, Gordon Uchima-saxophone, Dave Yamasaki-guitar, Kevin Boyd-vibraphone, Tony Gable, Tim Horiuchi-percussions, & Dara on vocals.

One of the beautiful things about doing a Christmas CD is that the listening audience coast to coast will instantly recognize every song as the melodies have been bombarding those living in the western world every holiday season since childhood. I also hired a national radio promoter to call stations for me and tell them to play the album and we ended up receiving airplay on over 110 FM radio stations across the USA that year.

During the month of December the very same year the world renowned keyboardist George Duke played a weeklong engagement at Jazz Alley in downtown Seattle which is a spectacular nightclub to say the least. Duke has always been one of my favorites so I had to check him out as I hadn't seen him live since he was with Frank Zappa.

Duke brought an all-star band featuring his favorite musicians from across the country to back him up. When they played an original tune that was dedicated to the history of the African American people and their involvement in music, Duke poured his guts out on the concert grand piano-it brought tears to my eyes.

The song was pure/powerful soul and inspired to the max. Then the group took an intermission and I approached the bandleader extraordinaire, gave him one of my Christmas CDs, and said I would be honored if he listened to it. He graciously accepted it and I figured he might or might not give it a listen.

About a week later I just happened to be watching TV and there was George Duke playing Jingle Bells as a feature on the evening news doing my version of the song which meant not only did he give my CD a listen but he obviously liked it.

Apparently inspiration can go both ways.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Wed, July 18, 2012

Scott Oki, who happens to be one of many successful former Microsoft employees, opened The Golf Club at Newcastle in May of 1999 to much fanfare; it is a spectacular course indeed. The view from the clubhouse on a clear day is by far the best of any golf course in the state and quite possibly the best view you can find across the entire North American continent.

As a matter of fact it is so good that they recently added a second championship course and an 18-hole natural grass putting course to go along with the original. It is also the most expensive public course in the state.

I had the good fortune to play music for their grand opening, their media day, and also a chamber of commerce dinner all during their first week of operation. The following weekend, I met up with a group of high school friends for a round of golf at Gold Mountain Golf Course in Bremerton which is also a great place to play.

One of my Sansei friends named Dave Nitta had heard that I was up at Newcastle the previous week and while we were all warming up he says out loud “so how's Newcastle?”

Seven guys all stopped putting, looked over at me and someone yells out “you played Newcastle?” So I smiled and said “yup, three times.”

Of course I didn't say I had been playing piano all three times. Man, were they ever impressed; the most expensive course in the state of Washington had only been open five days, and this jazz musician has played it three times already. I had to let that one hang for a while before I let the cat out of the bag.

I did, however, get a round in on the course shortly thereafter as naturally I had asked for some tee times as part of my pay for the gigs. It was a gorgeous day indeed.

The Big Easy

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Wed, July 4, 2012

New Orleans, La., is considered by historians as the birthplace of the art form known as jazz. Most of the great popular American music forms such as the Blues, Rock & Roll, Rap and Soul Music owe their existence to jazz. If you have had the good fortune to visit the legendary city that is notably located where the Great Mississippi River and the tropical Gulf of Mexico meet, then you probably know what I am talking about.

Although I have not been there for the Mardi Gras I have experienced the legendary city during The French Quarter Festival. The stories of fantastic street music and excellent food are all true. The bottom line for any establishment offering food, beverage, and music is “Be the real deal.” This is because there are so many places that are worth checking out. In view of the fresh oysters, barbeque, gumbo and lax drinking laws, New Orleans has oftentimes been called “The Center of Decadence in the Western Hemisphere of the World.”

The shopping mall next to the New Orleans Convention Center is called The Riverwalk Market Place. As we strolled through the mall, the first thing I noticed was the live band which consisted of a banjo player, a trombonist, and a drummer that was carrying a large bass drum with a sock cymbal mounted on top.

The song they played was a cool, funky version of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Somewhere along the way the band stopped marching but kept on playing that funky groove tune. It just so happened that there was an open air candy factory and retail outlet at this location.

One of the young male candy makers started rapping to the beat of the band. As he rapped, the audience grew and he told them to repeat the words he sang. This type of “call and response” has evolved directly from the early African American Gospel music form and can be found today in songs from around the world. After getting everyone cranked up and singing back at the candy rapper they gave each audience member a free piece of candy.

As I listened, clapped and danced along to the groovy music, I thought to myself, “This is definitely different than the shopping malls in Washington state.”

What About Fonk?

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Wed, June 20, 2012

What about Fonk? Yes, that’s Fonk. I suppose some call it funk. Fonk or funk is the least understood term in music. It doesn’t matter that it is subjective. Fonk is a feel, a certain type of groove space. Fonk is where it’s at.

There are different degrees of Fonkiness; Michael Jackson was slick & hip but definitely not Fonky. James Brown has some Fonk. Maceo Parker has some Fonk. Fonk is not necessarily commercial, it can be. It is an attitude. Some rap is Fonky and some isn’t. You could play a slow Fonky ballad; not Johnny Mathis, maybe Bill Withers.

Now when it comes to Rock you have hard rock, soft rock, medium rock, folk rock, country rock, acid rock, old time rock, Black rock, alternative rock, pop rock, rockabilly, grudge, etc. When it comes to Fonk it’s just funk.

Is Smokey Robinson Fonky? Is Tower of Power Fonky? Is James Taylor Fonky? Is George Winston Fonky? Perhaps George Clinton. Fonk is in the eye/ear of the beholder. A Panama hat tipped to the side could be Fonky it if feels and looks natural or has a definite attitude. To some people Fonk has a negative connotation as if there is something wrong with someone who identifies with Fonky music, language, or fashions.

This is too bad. This negative stereotype is far too snobbish. Saying that someone who is into Fonk is a bad or lesser person is absolutely wrong and because masses of people worldwide refuse to enjoy or acknowledge Fonk, it perpetuates the status of Fonk not being considered legitimate. Everyone is unique and we should celebrate our differences.

In the 40’s and 50’s the groove space called Swing ruled the dance floors and airwaves. Great music and great jazz/swing bands were everywhere. In the 60’s along with the development of Blues, Jazz, and Rock & Roll came the evolution of Rhythm & Blues. The rhythm sections changed their phrasing, particularly for the bass lines, drum beats, guitar and keyboard parts.

Traditionally drummers were supposed to play soft and often with brushes. New technology opened the door for better amplification of all instruments. Good sound systems with power and high fidelity became common everywhere. Please note that I’m not saying one must play loud to play Fonky. However, in the last 25 years or so many dance floors and radio stations have been playing Fonky grooves.

Fonk can be a subtle thing as well. One should experience music with the utmost of sensitivities. One must feel the Fonk. Fonk should make you want to tap your foot, dance, or do something. If the groove doesn’t get to you the odds are it’s not Fonky. Fonk is not always predictable because it is the inspiration and motivation behind the music or idea.

What happens in the music can ultimately have many different results. It is indeed quite magical to have a group of musicians playing Fonky and free with respect for each other and totally together.

Some people think that if it is Fonky then it smells. Did you ever go into an Italian restaurant, BBQ establishment, or a Japanese tempura house and notice the beautiful Fonkiness of the place? The aroma, “the Fonk” gave that place atmosphere. Did you ever feel in a Fonk?” The Blues is a tradition. Being in a Fonk is having the Blues with a tinge of purple. When in a Fonk you can feel sad but also have great hope. Take your sadness and make it into creative Fonky energy!

It is also important to remember that it is fun to be Fonky. Most people are proud of their own wind even if they won’t admit it. Society is constantly telling us to be squeaky clean and don’t bend the rules but the Fonk always gets you in the end. It is the natural way of things.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, June 8, 2012

When I was five years old while waiting for the neighbors to take us to kindergarten I would constantly bang on the old upright piano that was in their living room. Upon hearing of this my mother purchased that piano from them and it is still in the family today on permanent loan to a very good friend of mine.

My siblings and I started piano lessons some 55 years ago, and to this day, I am still constantly banging on pianos, drums, and keyboards just about every chance I get. I also like to pound tennis balls and golf balls whenever I can, there seems to be something addictive to this type of behavior.

The repetition and redundancy of striking the notes, pounding out serves, and trying to crush a tee shot is strangely rewarding at its best, and also often times frustrating when you are not in the groove. I did not start playing tennis regularly until my mid thirties or golf until well into my forties so I am just recently getting over the pain of becoming fairly competent at these endeavors.

There is an obscure 1987 flick called Barfly starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway which is a semi-autobiography of a writer named Charles Bukowski. In the story, the main character played by Rourke, a guy named Henry, is very alcoholic and is asked by a female book publisher "Why do you have to drink? Anybody can be a drunk."

To this, Henry replies "Anybody can be sober. It takes talent to be a drunk. Drinking takes endurance and endurance is more important than the truth."

I always loved that last line - "Endurance is more important than the truth." At this juncture in my life, I do not have any tennis trophies and oftentimes cannot hit a golf ball over a sand trap. It seems that when defining a melody and harmonic structure on the 88's, the length of my endeavor is defining me.

The Phone

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Wed, May 23, 2012

This past Christmas I received an iPad from a friend as a gift which is above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to holiday gifts. My reciprocal gift was not nearly as pricey but my friend is well aware of the economic stature of one who makes a living playing jazz. While I was online with my laptop this morning and my wife was playing with the iPad I said to her "laptop, iPad, desktop, two cell phones, landline phone, three televisions with cable, printer, fax, and microwave not to mention the refrigerator, oven, iPods, CD players, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I'm absolutely certain that most of our friends and relatives have all these devices and many more as they are surely more affluent and tech savvy than we are." Come to think of it, I have several electric keyboards, recording devices, and mixing consoles that have small computers in them as well. It is very difficult to imagine living without all of this survival equipment, especially the two cell phones.

For about a dozen years or so I had the good fortune to be hired by The Microsoft Corporation every year at the worldwide Tech Ed Conference which was usually held somewhere where the weather was good and hot. I believe it was the year 1999 that one of the conventions was held in Dallas, Texas and my regular job was to host the Tech Ed Jam Sessions which were at night. We would provide a venue, band equipment including instruments, and sound engineers for the attendees to use each night for their pleasure. That particular year I was also asked to provide music during the lunchtime feeding frenzy. The cafeteria at The Dallas Convention Center could feed some seven thousand people at a time so we had a big stage and professional sound there too. I hired several local Dallas area jazz guys that worked out great. As we were setting up and testing out all the microphones, the sax player leans over to adjust his mic. It turns out that he kept his cell phone in his shirt pocket and of course it started ringing right into his microphone. The ringtone was the classic "Bell Telephone" sound and was blasting through the big speakers on our P.A. system. All at once thousands of techies stopped eating and looked at their phones.

A Percussion Instrument

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Wed, May 9, 2012

The grand piano as an orchestral instrument is correctly listed as being in the percussion section. This is because in order to play the piano you must strike it, oftentimes with varying degrees of intensity. Hitting the notes harder or softer not only controls the volume but affects the dynamic range and gives the artist freedom of expression.

The beautiful thing about acoustic instruments is that drums, trumpets, violins and pianos all move the air in the room. A synthesizer or solid body electric guitar needs amplification and a speaker system in order to be heard. The best way to enjoy a musical performance that is done on an acoustic instrument is in an intimate setting. Having a gorgeous 9 foot Steinway Concert D grand piano cannot be fully appreciated in a venue like Husky Stadium even with the best sound system money can buy.

In my business I always say that good jazz is like good basketball. What you have is a group of performers that are in constant motion taking turns setting each other up to either shoot the ball or take a solo. Football is more like raw loud rock music that is good for large venues. Both have their merit and it all boils down to one's personal taste in rock music or jazz.

It is possible to transpose conga drum licks to the piano. This gives the song or riff a certain rhythmic style and adds to the groove. There are many examples of jazz drummers that went on to become great pianists such as Chick Corea and the vice versa is true too as many pianists play drums such as Jack DeJohnette.

Musical style or personality should be the ends with technique being the vehicle. Velocity is good if it helps an artist express their inner soul, but if you like what you are saying on your instrument then you obviously have acquired the technique necessary for your artistic statement. I love to play, write and record funky/catchy tunes as it is a reflection of my "musical personality."

The Cyclops

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thu, April 26, 2012

Good singers are often times good to find. Great singers are hard to find and many vocalists can be a hassle to work with. Having had the pleasure of working with some of the finest divas on the West Coast and Hawaii, there are several that stick out in my memory mostly for good reasons.

Dee Daniels comes to mind for her soulfulness and beauty. Korla Wygal was always fun and easy to work with. Both of these women are quite powerful to the point where the musicians can comfortably kick out the grooves and are usually required to do so.

On the male front there was Donald Woody Woodhouse. Coincidentally all three of these singers were not originally from Seattle but they all spent considerable time here. Dee is from San Francisco and currently resides in Vancouver, B.C., Korla moved back to her home town Los Angeles, and Woody Woodhouse who was originally from Detroit passed away in 2006.

From 1980 to 1988 I gigged quite extensively around town with Woody. Parties, concerts, TV shows and especially nightclubs. I would put together various rhythm sections and we would play at smoky bars like The Heritage House, The Silver Dragon, Thompson's Point of View and The New Orleans Creole Restaurant.

In the winter of 1984, Woody and I booked The Top of the Hilton in downtown Seattle. The gig was six nights a week 9 pm-1:30 am and lasted for about five months. We hired the late great Michael McClellan on acoustic guitar and Tim Horiuchi on drums. It was easy and super fun.

Woodhouse and I had a “serious competition” of who could tell the newest joke and get the band to crack up. Tim had some good ones too.

In the middle of February on a Monday night around closing time, Woody had just gotten on the elevator to go down to the car garage. Just as the elevator doors are sliding shut I yell at him “see ya' later Cyclops.” The doors close and Woody didn't get a chance to toss any verbal barbs my way.

All you could hear coming up the elevator shaft was a loud cackling of laughter, he loved being dogged out by his buddies. Michael, Tim and I were rolling on the ground next to the bar laughing our heads off.

In October some six months later we played a Halloween gig. Woody walks into the gig, walks right up to me and stares me in the face. He was wearing a huge eyeball on the middle of his forehead. The singer had obviously been thinking about the Cyclops barb for over six months.

Music to Dance By

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thr, April 19, 2012

In the summer of 1984, I had the good fortune to back the great Joe Williams on keyboards for a weeklong engagement at a club in Seattle named Sydney's which came and went back in the decade of the 80s. Sydney's had a variety of Jazz, Blues, and dance music and was real cool for a few years.

Joe Williams was very, very groovy and one night during a piano solo he got in my face and says out loud on stage "that stuff (my playing) is so very soulful." This meant the world to me after all, this is not just some night club Karaoke singer-this is the world famous Joe Williams for crying out loud.

On the last Friday night of the engagement during a break, the legendary singer took some time to tell the band about the whole purpose of music. Joe told us that "the role of the musician is to make the audience want to dance."

In other words the music has to groove or else it is worthless. If you are thinking that some people do not dance at all and do not really want to dance that may be a true, however when evaluating Joe's wisdom I believe that the "dancing" can also be a metaphorical term. Besides the physical act of dancing, one might think of their spirit or heart in a glorious motion of pure joy. Did you ever hear the phrase "his mind is wandering?" There are many forms of dancing and you don't actually need a partner to dance.

A wise person once said, "There are only two kinds of music-good and bad." When an individual or a group is listening to the good kind and it is stimulating them in their hearts, minds, spirits, and/or their bodies then you could say it is the music that is making them "dance." Dancing after all is in fact good for the body and the soul.

Be Cool

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, Mar 30, 2012

In the 50's and 60's there was an important era of improvisational music that thrived in cities across the United States; it was called “Cool Jazz.” Rock & Roll and Blues also thrived during these decades; all of these musical forms are very intrinsically linked to American culture and history. Rhythm & Blues-my personal favorite also came on the scene about this time and added a funky flavor to the mix; a somewhat more cosmopolitan and urban flavor to the popular music styles.

As a person of Japanese American upbringing and culture I was always drawn towards these musical genres. I've always loved being on stage and in the mid-sixties at Asa Mercer Jr. High School in Seattle on Beacon Hill, I would dance solo for the entire student body at assemblies to cool Soul Music. It usually made the girls scream and was about as much fun as a teenager could possibly have.

But back to The Cool Jazz; what was the function of being cool? I believe that there are situations that inevitably always arise-when we must “Be Cool” in order to survive. The obvious case in point is clearly seen during the years after World War II when many Americans hated anybody that was Japanese. I have seen many photographs of large signs stating “NO JAPS ALLOWED” or just plain “NO JAPS,” not to mention the so called “relocation camps” of the 40's.

I have also seen pictures of Chinese Americans holding signs from that era that read “WE ARE CHINESE” so as not to be the target of irrational hatred.

Consequently the logic obviously dictates that in order to survive and not cause any amount of tension, a Japanese American should “Be Cool.” I also remember getting dirty looks from various Japanese American Nisei who thought I was too flamboyant and should get off of the stage saying, "Don't bring any attention to yourself and others like you; we don't like that." But in the end, we all have to do what we have to do. I just would not have made a good accountant, gardener, graphics artist or chef, even though I have the utmost respect for those professions.

Finding Heaven

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Sun, Mar 18, 2012

Back in the 60's and 70's, there was an excellent Japanese Restaurant in Seattle's International District called The Mikado. It was on Jackson Street and owned by the Yoshimura brothers, Irwin and Bruce.

We would often have family dinners there in one of the many tatami rooms. They had the best tempura, king crab batayaki, and grilled teriyaki in town. On many occasions there were cousins or family friends in attendance, it was a cozy private way to hang out and get loose, especially for the grownups.

One night I remember my mom, Ayame, very happily leaning over and preaching to me “Deems, you know a person could find God in a bottle of Scotch.” The adults were actually consuming Sake but the spirit of the party was fabulous indeed. I was only about ten years old at the time and had never been inebriated before, her words stuck to me so good that I can still hear them as if she had just said it last night.

Some years later while attending Franklin High School which is down in Rainier Valley towards the south part of town, I had the wonderful opportunity to sing and tour with the award winning Bel Canto Choir. Our director, Dr. Richard Koehler, demanded and got the best out of us. We performed over one hundred concerts per year and toured Europe with the entire group. We also recorded a record album and were voted the top high school choir in the state of Washington.

During our trip overseas, I enjoyed a sweet home stay in Scotland with a family named the Jacksons. Brian Jackson, the son of our host family (who also stayed with our family on his reciprocal trip to Seattle) was a typical fun, loving young Scotsman and could toss them down with the best of them.

He and his friends had the greatest stout lager that I have ever drank, and after knocking back several tall cans of the six percent beverage, he let me drive the family car on the wrong side of the road. I did not fare well but made it home in one piece.

Back at the Jackson's house while relieving myself of some beer and laughing my head off, I could hear mom's words reverberating around in my head “a person could find God in a bottle of Scotch.”

It was a moment of total clarity and I understood for the first time what she had said to me in that tatami room many moons ago. In other words, a person can find happiness where ever they look for it.

Does Groove Exist?

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Sun, Mar 4, 2012
Musicians by and large love to “shoot the bull” as they say; I am no exception to the rule. On occasion while knocking back a double shot of single malt Scotch with a group of tennis players or golfers, I like to throw out a little philosophical question: is language invented or discovered? Most people respond by saying it is invented to which I will agree with for the most part.

When asked whether math is invented or discovered most people (especially engineers) say it is discovered as if it is the law of the universe. This is debatable especially now that scientists worldwide agree that most of the universe is made up of “dark energy and dark matter,” which our math cannot quantify, but when you question the typical response some people get upset and do not want to listen. Of course the next question I toss out there is “how about religion or music?”

It is this writer's opinion that the origin of all these endeavors could be debated till the end of time and beyond, however, there is something undisputable about the application of these various “languages and institutions.” Math is a unique form of communication that is proven to work.

Most people that believe in God will never change their minds and although they may not have what scientists call empirical evidence their beliefs work for them. As an artist I find many musical selections to be beautiful. Some of my compositions groove real hard and although I do not have any empirical evidence to prove the song has a groove, I will go to my grave with the belief that it is, in fact, grooving real good.

This works for me.

The Dead Turntable

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Sun, Feb 19, 2012

The music business, like many other capital ventures is one of giving in that you have to have a certain amount of product set aside for promotional purposes. In 1978, I released a 45 RPM vinyl record with two original compositions (one per side), both strong keyboard instrumentals as is my particular style. Side A was a tune called “Strolling Along” and side B was titled “Okashii Na,” which of course means “peculiar isn't it?”

The record was co-produced by my good friend Y.K. Kuniyuki who also played drums on both tracks. We did not make any money on the project as we ended up giving away all the records, I only have one copy left in my possession that I saved for posterity. I need to transfer it to a digital format someday indeed.

So one fine Sunday afternoon while playing background jazz for a convention at the Museum of Flight, I gave an album to this drop dead gorgeous event planner whose name escapes me but as I recall, she looked like Cheryl Ladd from Charlie's Angels (so who would not give her an album?).

When I ran into her a week later, she told me that although her record player had not worked for several years, she decided to try playing my LP anyway. When she put my album on her broken down machine, she said it miraculously started turning and the magical sounds of my music began wafting across her living room.

Her line, which I still love was, “Deems, from now on you can tell people that your albums have been known to revive dead turntables.”

Of course nobody uses them anymore but the story still makes me smile.

Tough Tofu

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Sat, Jan 21, 2012

Looking back on the last 40 something years of playing music professionally, I often get the distinct feeling that many Japanese Americans must have viewed my endeavors as a lifetime Jazz Musician something akin to The Jamaican Bobsled Team in the 1993 flick “Cool Runnings.” It has quite frankly been a tenuous row to hoe indeed, but I can unequivocally say that most Sanseis do have or have had the freedom to pursue the field of their choice, and although there were many Asian American musicians of my generation, I did from time to time notice that the vast majority (99.9 percent) of national recording acts, concerts, club bands, etc. were not of Japanese descent.

Growing up in Seattle during the 50's-70's the general rule for going out to listen to funky jazz, soul music and playing gigs was to “have fun and be creative.” When I think about what the Nisei generation lived through, I've come to realize what a luxury the ride has been. Music of course is a distinct language that cuts across all boundaries and over the next few months I will have the pleasure of sharing some of my greatest memories, friendships, and tragedies from the first time I touched a piano, through the new millennium, and beyond. My column will also focus on many of the top notch professional JA musicians across the country & in the Pacific Northwest, as well as some of the excellent venues and events that I have had the pleasure of experiencing.

Deems Tsutakawa

North American Post Staff • Tue, Jan 17, 2012

Starting next week, readers can look forward to a new music column by Seattle jazz native Deems Tsutakawa.

These exclusive articles will bring a soulful flavor to his experiences and insights in the music industry.

Tsutakawa, has released multiple albums of original score and most currently released his latest CD recording On Irving Street.