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
Jargon December 13, 2013
The Next Generation November 28, 2013
Downtown Seattle November 13, 2013
Ooh That's Funky October 31, 2013
First Class October 17, 2013
Every City In The World October 3, 2013
Alexandria's Famous Fried Food September 19, 2013
Fish Cakes And Night Life September 5, 2013
Hoops And Jazz August 15, 2013
UW Nikkei Alumni To Celebrate Association's 90th Birthday August 2, 2013
The Night Time Is The Right Time August 2, 2013
What Are We Making Tonight? July 25, 2013
The Trick To Getting Old July 19, 2013
When Skyway Was Hip July 2, 2013
KBEM June 17, 2013
Dizzy Who? June 2, 2013
The Breakfast Set April 26, 2013
Low Note April 5, 2013
The Groove Within Us March 15, 2013
L.A. Live February 7, 2013
Late Night Light January 25, 2013


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, Dec 13, 2013

When describing a novel, painting or drama most viewers or readers will use certain phrases: fascinating, exhilarating, dark, scintillating, uplifting or even unimaginable. The terms "romantic," "fast action," "blood and guts," "moving" or "serene" also come to mind. Rock concerts can be described as loud, raw, shocking, electric and also as having great special effects.

Through the years of playing in jazz and blues clubs, restaurants and concert venues, I have come to learn a unique set of colloquialisms or what can be termed "jazz jargon." The following terms are also quite frequently used by rock & roll players, R & B musicians and the like and have crossed international borders as well. The word psychedelic is generally not in the jazz vernacular, but there are plenty others to choose from.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, there is a style of jazz called "cool," and of course there would naturally be "hot" jazz as well. A song could be called bluesy, funky, soulful or simply "very bad," which actually means good. If you were to tell a friend to go see a band perform and said they are "a nice polite bunch of very polished musicians," it would sound rather boring to say the least.

When a jazz ensemble is playing really hard and "tight," people might say they are "cookin'," smokin' or burnin' up the song. On occasion, I'll see a band playing so funky that we have to concede that they "rocked the house," shook the foundations of funk or "tore the roof off the sucker." Now that's a jam definitely worth checkin' out because it will be a toe tappin', back slappin', 'back bone slippin' heck of a good time. Whenever you find yourself at an event wherein everyone is smiling, swaying to the music and enjoying friendships, it is a true slice of heaven.

The Next Generation

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Nov 28, 2013

When I was a 15-year-old ninth grader at Asa Mercer Junior High School, I thought that I was pretty cool.

Wide whale corduroy pants, thick belts, and paisley long sleeved shirts were the fashion. I had a steady girlfriend whom my parents did not like, played intramural sports and could dance my buttocks off to the current soul music of the day.

We were loud, obnoxious, smart mouthed kids who were always laughing and slinging insults at anyone within earshot. It was also a great opportunity to start jamming to the popular music of the times as my earlier training was originally classically oriented.

My friends were in contests called "the battle of the bands" wherein the audience would vote for the best musical performance. My specialty at the time was doing the Shingling, Philly Dog, the Pearl, the Twine and The Funky Broadway, all cool R & B dance steps, at house parties.

When word got around that I could step with style, the student body would always have me dance at assemblies for the entire student population to watch. People (girls) would scream as I did the James Brown across the stage years before Michael Jackson hit the scene.

Fast forward about three decades later wherein I had the honor to judge a talent competition of teenagers at The Seattle Center House. This event had high school kids from around the city dancing, singing and acting.

To say the students were impressive would be an understatement of magnanimous proportions. The vocalists, actors and especially the dancers were so far past what we used to do it was like my old dance routines were virtually nonexistent or just plain lame at best.

Just as there have been incredible advances in technology over the last few decades, it is also truly inspiring to see the explosion of talent in the next generation and beyond.

Downtown Seattle

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Wed, Nov 13, 2013

My first steady solo grand piano gig was at The Benihana of Tokyo Restaurant on Fifth Avenue right in downtown Seattle. The cocktail lounge is very intimate and has a quality Steinway grand which is a joy to play. It was a great place to "cut my teeth" so to speak. As one might imagine solo piano work and ensemble work are two different animals with distinct responsibilities.

The grand pianos that were in the legendary Edgewater Hotel on Pier 67, The Executive Inn near Seattle Center, The Crown Plaza, El Gauchos, The Westin Hotel, The Four Seasons Olympic and The Warwick Hotel were for the most part adequate but not particularly inspiring to play.

On occasion, I would be allowed to bring in a bassist and drummer to perform jazz with me and one night at The Warwick the world famous trumpeter Chet Baker was in the house. He approached us after our set, introduced himself and stated flatly that we were the best jazz trio he had ever heard.

Now even if he was exaggerating, I have to admit that it was high praise considering the source. There were also several venues that did not have a grand piano on site and paid me to have my grand transported downtown to use in their nightclub.

Digital technology has of course paved the way for good quality portable keyboards. This has made it possible for me to perform on countless Argosy Cruises which depart from Pier 55 on Seattle's waterfront, The Downtown Seattle Association's Out To Lunch Concert Series, The Bite of Seattle, and a plethora of venues in Pioneer Square and Belltown doing my style of cool and funky popular jazz and originals.

When playing gigs in the city where I grew up, I always tell the audience that downtown Seattle is a very cool place and for the record if one wants to play jazz the urban center of the great Pacific Northwest is definitely a locale that should embrace the great American art form.

Ooh That's Funky

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Oct 31, 2013

In the spring of 1984, my wife Jean and I had the opportunity to visit my younger brother Marcus and his wife Paula while they were living in Japan. It was during the springtime and our trip lasted about three and a half weeks.

Marcus was teaching at a school in Kobe and was given the use of a large house on the hill in which to live in for the duration of his stay in Japan, which was approximately one year. The timing was good in that my brother used his spring break to be our tour guide, and he took us to see many places of interest for sure.

I liked the fact that wherever you go in Japan, all the signs are in both Japanese characters and the English alphabet, there by making it easier for us foreigners to get around.

Besides the sightseeing, temples and food, we also went to several jazz venues to listen and to meet the local musicians. Some of the clubs were private but most were open to anybody. The jazz clubs that we visited were located in Kobe, Osaka or Tokyo and to my best recollection the names of the venues were: MM Join, Club Sone, The Sub at Tanikyu #9, and the Shinagawa Prince Hotel.

Most likely they are all closed now, as that was almost thirty years ago.

Wherever we went, I would listen for a while, introduce myself to the band and would ask the bandleader if I could play a few songs with them. I believe the line I used was "hiite mo ii desu ka?" which means "can I play?"

The house band would always respond favorably, and I was allowed to hit the stage and jam to some popular or standard jazz selections. Now generally speaking, it seemed to me that all of the in-house musicians were very proficient when it came to sight reading jazz sheet music, and they all took improvised solos that were technically correct.

The thing that sticks out in my memory was that no matter what song we played upon hearing my style, the local Japanese players would invariably say to me "ooh, that's funky" as I apparently have a distinctly American R & B style of playing as opposed to my brothers from across the ocean.

First Class

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Oct 17, 2013

My wife recently retired from a career with the federal government and is quite happy to be finished with the job.

Her stint with the government was interrupted for a few years to work at Seattle Central Community College in the advising office. Although she liked the state job at SCCC for the more relaxed atmosphere, the federal government gig paid better, and she was able to retire at an earlier age.

We are quite the opposite in this manner as I will never retire for obvious reasons, one being that I love my work, two being that I need the dough and thirdly, it will most likely keep my gray matter, AKA my brain, functioning as long as possible.

On occasion while at SCCC, a student would discover that my wife was married to a jazz musician whose music was being played on the radio from coast to coast. During their discussions at the college, the student would then say "why are you working here?"

This question, of course, was based on the notion that if your husband is on the radio he must be rich. Well, as we all know it is possible to be regionally famous and still need to work, which is cool especially if one loves their work.

One year upon being booked to play a series of clubs and concerts in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had the good fortune to check in for my flight with a very cool receptionist at the airport. It was before the days of electronic/digital check in, and I struck up a nice conversation with the front counter agent. The gentleman just so happened to be African American and besides being an airlines employee, he was also a jazz fan from the Bay Area.

At that time, my music was on heavy rotation on both KBLX in Oakland and KKSF out of San Francisco both great stations for sure. When the agent saw my driver's license he asked if I was the Deems that was featured on the smooth jazz radio stations to which I replied "yup."

His next question was, "How would you feel if I moved you up to the first class cabin at no extra charge?"

I smiled, and my reply this time was "that would be fine." During the two hour flight from Seattle to Oakland I was the only passenger in the first class section. I had my very own stewardess, watched a great movie, ate filet mignon—rare of course— and drank as many Johnny Walker Blacks on the rocks that I could, all on the house and compliments of the fine gentleman jazz fan.

Every City In The World

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Oct 3, 2013

Being an avid sports fan and competitive amateur athlete, I cannot help but notice the unusually high number of successful NBA players that come from the Pacific Northwest area. We have also had our fair share of professional golfers, NFL greats and major league baseball players; as well as a plethora of famous college athletes.

Over the last few decades, the Seattle area has also produced many excellent musicians, writers and entrepreneurs. I oftentimes think about the actual rate of attrition if you apply the concept to making it big in professional sports or entertainment.

There are probably many real-time statistics that say for example out of every ten thousand high school varsity hoopsters X number will play college ball and X number will end up in the pros. There are not, however, any real statistics for the actual number of potential Hollywood actresses or rock stars that eventually end up pursuing a solid day job or swing shift endeavor to pay the rent. The term reality comes to mind.

Over the years, I have made occasional road trips to places like New Orleans, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Dallas and Honolulu to play gigs where-in the venues could only afford to fly me to town and put me up without my band.

In these instances, I am generally faced with the added task of picking up a band on the road and having them learn to play my material the way I need it done. The gigs always turn out fantastic as everyone covets the same result, a great musical experience for all, and this is with a group of musicians that oftentimes meet for the first time about an hour or two before we hit the stage.

Back a few years ago, an old friend of mine named Primo Kim hosted a jam session in a south Seattle hotel ballroom. He had his trio of piano, bass and drums as the rhythm section and they backed a large contingent of saxophone and trumpet players with a couple of singers sprinkled into the mix. The horn players lined up and one by one would come on stage to jam to an up tempo blues progression.

The thing that really impressed me was that fact that there were literally dozens of sax players, and every one of them sounded like the second coming of John Coltrane. They could all play their butts off. The other thing about this session that I will never forget is the fact that I personally did not know any of these local horn player's names, and I am from Seattle.

I always tell people that no matter where you go in the world, every city has hundreds of great musicians that nobody has ever heard of and perhaps never will. Your name is the game, and the game is your name along with the reputation that you bring to the stage.

Alexandria's Famous Fried Food

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Sept 19, 2013

If one were to carefully scrutinize my gig schedule over the last few years they would probably notice that a high percentage of my engagements have been solo grand piano performances.

Although I do have the occasion to call my trio or quartet from time to time and kick out the jams, this particular trend of just me and my piano is the overall basic modus operandi. There is course the convenience of doing solo gigs but there is a synergy or Gestalt to having an ensemble that makes the playing time seem to "fly by."

The camaraderie, laughter and joy of playing funky jazz and R & B grooves with my various band configurations is just "the bomb" as in an explosive musical burst of energy that knows no boundaries or unnecessary restrictions.

It seems that the last time I had a steady gig with my quartet was back in 2004 and 2005 at a fine Seattle eatery and bar called Alexandria's. The drummer on the set was Steve Banks and on bass we had Steve Kim, both of whom are local music legends for their skill and musicality, which spans many decades of performing.

Filling out the bandstand, we had or either Dean Mochizuki on saxophone, Kevin Boyd on vibraphone or occasionally Dave Yamasaki on guitar depending on who was available, all great musicians for sure.

Alexandria's was a spacious venue that featured Southern style Soul Foods as learned by the owners growing up in Alexandria, Va. The bar was adjacent to the dining room and live music filled the restaurant seven nights a week.

My band played an average of two to three nights every week for about a year and a half. From the beginning, the venue was a huge success with all the local celebrities coming downtown for barbecue, fried chicken, collard greens, roast pork with gravy and fresh made cornbread.

It was a fancy place that had valet parking, hard wood floors and always that great live music which brought on the coolest atmosphere. The mayor, the Seattle Supersonics, the Mariners, the Huskies and the Seahawks were all regulars at Alexandria's.

Sadly, it seems that the owners took their great success for granted and little by little the place became neglected. Eventually the business dried up due to lack of attention to the details and closed in late 2005.

During our run of engagements there, the head chef always made it a point to feed the musicians and feed us he did. We were allowed to order anything we wanted off the menu whether it be steak, seafood or both.

One of my favorites was their fried catfish with collard greens, mashed potatoes and cornbread. We would generally order our food to go and have it hot when it was quitting time. So after playing hard for four hours and a few cocktails, I would load my digital grand piano and speakers into my car and tool on down the road with the aroma of fresh hot soul food smacking me in the face.

Quite often upon an encounter with a red stoplight, I could not resist the urge to break off a piece of that fried food or hot cornbread oozing with melted butter. Of course when I got home, my next job was to unload the piano and speakers for storage and then go inside to really eat. However, most of the time when I got inside the house, the food container was already empty.

Fish Cakes And Night Life

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Sept 5, 2013

For several years in the mid-1970s, I worked in a wholesale kitchen making Japanese foods down in the International District on Sixth Avenue South and South King Street. The factory was located in the back of the old Uwajimaya Store, and our department also made tofu, noodles, and several other edible production items.

This address was the second incarnation of the very successful family business which is owned and managed by the Moriguchi's and is also currently the home of the Nagomi Tea House. My main job in the food production was to make Satsumage which is a deep fried fish cake. I learned the recipe and craft from Yosh Otaki who was trained in Japan at Kibun Kamaboko. Kibun Kamaboko is the world's largest manufacturer of fish cakes.

On a typical day, we would fry a thousand pounds of fish and when it was busy during the holidays the number would be two thousand pounds or more. As I recall I could never get the fish smell completely out of my clothes or skin despite repeated hot baths and bars of soap. However, this never stopped me from running the streets at night and looking for a good jam.

In those days, every hotel in western Washington had live music, not to mention the many restaurants and bars that supported jazz, blues and cool live dance bands. When I was not playing a paid gig I would find a night club where the band would let me sit and jam with them.

I played many a night with great vocalists like Dee Daniels and Woody Woodhouse in venues like The Sixth Avenue Inn or the Top of the Hilton in downtown Seattle. There were large venues that catered to funky dance bands such as Nine Lives, Acapulco Gold, Cinnamon Soul, Cold Bold and Together–all good friends of mine.

The band that always had the coolest gigs was a folk rock duo called Brown Smith. The bassist Garrett Smith and I attended high school together and he teamed with a singer songwriter named Don Brown. They actually had a worldwide record contract with Capitol Records and opened in concert for the likes of Roberta Flack, The Youngbloods and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Besides jamming with them around town, I had the pleasure of touring with the band in Sun Valley Idaho and Honolulu Hawaii. Sometimes late at night on a Monday playing a bar, Smith would kick off some blues and have me sing a real fonkay number called The Signifying Monkey. It was much more barking than singing and it is a truly raw tale filled with bad language and expletives which drove the audience totally wild.

It is kind of hard to imagine that we were that crazy but we were exactly that and it was super fun. FYI–The Signifying Monkey by The Johnny Otis Show is on YouTube but be warned, although hilarious it is exactly as I described. The other great thing about hanging out with the Capitol Records recording artists was the opportunity to learn how to use a recording studio. Unfortunately Brown and Smith broke up after making only two records. They went their own separate ways and neither of them has ever seen the big stage again.

Hoops And Jazz

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Aug 15, 2013

My home of the last thirty plus years happens to be located in unincorporated King County. And although it is a small house, we enjoy a sweeping view, and I have room in my basement for a drum set, keyboard, bass amp and some percussion instruments.

One New Year's Day I was honored with the presence of about a dozen drummers, all good friends who stopped by to help bring in the New Year. Upon looking at the cast of characters eating and drinking in my humble abode, I immediately came to the realization that the prudent thing to do would be to haul my drum set, two sets of congas, and two sets of bongos upstairs so we could avail ourselves in the pleasure of pounding out cool grooves.

Needless to say, we chased away any and all evil spirits that might have been lurking in the neighborhood. It was a very memorable time and easily the best New Year's Day of my sometimes fallible recollection. On a slightly different note, people that know me know that I am an avid sports fan, my favorite being professional basketball. As a kid, I loved watching the CBS Sunday game of the week and the old teams like the Sixers, Celtics, Lakers, Warriors and Hawks.

The Sonics, winners of the 1979 NBA Championship were legendary and really brought the Pacific Northwest Area a lot of pride. During their heyday, one could sit down in any local pub, strike up a conversation about the Seattle Sonics and instantly become good friend – better than through Facebook for sure. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of meeting the likes of Downtown Fred Brown, Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, Detlef Schrempf and Nate McMillan at various parties and nightclubs. Besides shooting the breeze with these local heroes, they have all had me perform music for some the many events that they have hosted throughout the years.

The thing about good quality basketball and good jazz is that both endeavors require team work, improvisation and are always in motion with the players taking turns helping each other. The soloist in a jazz ensemble is like the shooter on a hoops team and the band gives an assist to the lead player of the moment. The constant motion of the ball team is like a jazz quartet working a strong groove.

In a game of basketball, the play moves swiftly, and you never know exactly what will happen next. Likewise, jazz will give the musicians multiple opportunities to invent different ways of expressing what their soul is thinking or feeling at that exact moment.

UW Nikkei Alumni To Celebrate Association's 90th Birthday

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, Aug 2, 2013

The University of Washington Nikkei Alumni Association (UWNAA) is holding its 90th anniversary celebration on Saturday, Aug. 24.

The association dates back to the 1920s when Seattle area Issei pioneers purchased a house conveniently located near campus for Nikkei students attending UW. The student residence house and the men's group that resided there were first known as the Japanese Students Club, which lasted until the outbreak of World War II.

After the war, returning UW students changed their name to SYNKOA in honor of former club members who had served and died in the military. Synkoa House was home to students who studied, partied and led lives not too different from their counterparts at fraternity houses on Greek Row.

The house was sold in 1962 and the proceeds were used to create a scholarship fund administered by former Synkoa members under a new name, the University Students Club Inc. In 1999, the club was reorganized and finally renamed as the UWNAA, a community organization with a focus on scholarships and with membership available to any UW graduate of Japanese descent.

This history will be celebrated at the 90th Anniversary event–honoring the legacy of UW Nikkei students, sustaining the UWNAA Scholarship program and strengthening relationships among multi-generational alumni.

The celebration will take place at the Husky Union Building North Ballroom at 5:30 pm. Special guests include UW President Michael Young, State Senator Bob Hasegawa and jazz pianist Deems Tsutakawa.

Early reservations at $90 are due by July 26th. Afterwards, the price rises to $110. More information can be found through Lil Hayashi at

The Night Time Is The Right Time

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, Aug 2, 2013

My wife Jean and I have been residing in the same locale for over thirty years now and looking back over the decades there have been quite a few all night card games, pool tournaments and especially fun parties.

We are social animals and are blessed to have many great friends, associates and drinking buddies that always want to share tall tales of glory, or otherwise. There have also been countless late night musical engagements that would often end up at after-midnight eateries such as: The 13 Coins, Tai Tung, Denny's or the now defunct Quong Tuck or Tratoria Michelli's.

Based on my own personal history, it is clear to me why the advertising industry specifically targets consumers from 18 to 45 years of age. As a matter of fact, it is age demographics that spelled the demise of the smooth jazz radio format from coast to coast.

When we used to tour California to play gigs with my band during the summer, it was too hot to drive in the daytime even with the air-conditioning on high. So we would usually drive through the night as it was a comfortable 80 degrees as opposed to 110. Driving down I-5 through the Sacramento Valley with the windows down at 2 am is a great feeling.

I miss the good old crazy days of youth, and I look back fondly on the adventures and the hanging with friends all night and all week. The cool thing about being up so late into the night is that you can totally be in your own space.

At 3 am, there are no trips to the post office, grocery store, bank or Sudden Printing. At 3 am, there are no phone calls to field. And if you do happen to go out, there is not any traffic to deal with. Besides being very peaceful at night, one can focus on what it is that they really want to focus on.

That is what I always loved about the late night, and I took advantage of the opportunity to write, compose and find what I truly loved.

What Are We Making Tonight?

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thu, July 25, 2013

I recently asked a sansei friend of mine if he and his wife do much cooking at home, to which he replied "no."

When I expressed my surprise at his response, he bluntly said that people make time for the things that they want to do and I cannot argue with that concept. But it seems to me that eating is not just for sustenance and survival.

For most people, the activity of food consumption is many things like being socially interactive, announcing your ethnic identity or even showing off your financial status by being seen at high-end eateries. Some consumers eat real fast on the run while some want the ritual to last for hours while they solve many of the world's problems over a plate of noodles and some roasted meats.

My personal beef with the American obsession of overconsumption and the lack of desire to actually create meals with one's own hands is that so many of us are missing out on an important and meaningful experience.

The sharing of the meal or 'breaking bread' as it is known in these here parts has been a part of human culture since the dawn of civilization. There are also many health benefits of home cooking that are of utmost importance.

Unfortunately it is far too convenient to get fast food, microwaveable eats, or hit up your favorite restaurant. Now I know there are many great establishments of fine dining wherein the proprietors are making dishes that I could never cook on my own, but that is not the point here.

I also understand that shopping for food, cooking preparation and cleanup are very time consuming. For couples or individuals that work full time, it is often impossible to get home cooking done with their busy schedules.

However, it should be noted that whenever human beings take the time to do activities that require their time, energy and thinking cap there is value to the endeavor. In the spirit of creativity we need to stay dynamic in our endeavors.

I often see musicians fill their lives with beautiful sounds by simply hitting the play button on their iPod rather than making the music themselves. This is far too convenient as they should be playing and composing instead of just listening.

The same goes for the folks that fill their tummies at the local burger joint and are clearly taking the easy way to satisfaction. It is this writer's personal belief that we should all learn to enjoy getting our hands dirty once in a while and appreciate the intrinsic spiritual value of doing something with our own hands.

The Trick To Getting Old

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, July 19, 2013

When 10-year olds talk about a 60-year-old person, they invariably agree that 60 is older than dirt, as the saying goes. Now that I am in my early 60s, I must say that I do not feel like dirt and that I am in pretty good shape for a "middle-aged guy." My weight is under control, my diet is good and I exercise regularly. The funny thing is that I have come to understand that there are and will always be little aches and pains that merely come with old age.

Forty something years ago, while pounding out dance tunes six nights a week on my Fender Rhodes electric piano, my fingers would bleed around the nails. Fortunately, this has not happened for quite some time.

In the nineties, the fingers of my right hand were always swollen from playing keyboards, so I had to tape them like a boxer would tape his wrists. This condition has also subsided as I do not bang as hard, and keyboard technology has improved dramatically. Over the last decade, I have been battling arthritis in my arms, which quite frankly has had me concerned to say the least.

The good news here is that I am winning the battle as I have improved my posture while sitting at the grand piano. Using a better body position and being in closer proximity to the instrument has virtually eliminated the pain in my arms. I am currently working on better sustaining pedal techniques to help a sore right leg, and this too is vastly improved.

The wonderful news about all of these maladies is that I generally have had the good fortune to be a working musician. For a jazz player, busy is great and I am thankful indeed. The only time I am crabby is when there are not any gigs.

As a ten year old boy, I can clearly remember seeing the movie "Lawrence of Arabia." There is a scene where Peter O'Toole lights a stick match and then proceeds to put it out with his fingers.

When his friend attempts to extinguish the flame in the same manner, it burns his fingers and he says "Ouch, what's the trick?"

Peter very calmly says, "The trick is to pretend that you don't feel the pain." For some unknown reason that particular scene sticks out in my mind quite vividly. It seems that I now understand some of the wisdom of the many generations that came before us.

When Skyway Was Hip

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Tue, July 2, 2013

From the early to mid 80s, there was a very cool show on KING 5 TV channel 5 in the Seattle area. In the beginning, it was called Third World, and then the show was renamed Celebrate the Differences. Third World/Celebrate was hosted by Enrique Cerna and featured a variety of interviews that dealt with people of color and politically relevant issues.

I had the good fortune to be a regular on the show playing grand piano with my trio, which featured my brother Marcus on bass and Steven Banks on drums. We became known to the King TV staff as the "Celebrate the Differences house band," and we were even invited to the company after-party when the show was cancelled in the late 80s.

In the good old days, there was also a printed publication called TV Guide which sold for 50 cents and listed all the television shows for each week. If you did not subscribe to the daily newspaper, then TV Guide was indispensible for sure.

Naturally, KING 5 would purchase ads every week to promote local programs and in the May 12, 1984 issue, they put my picture on the ad for Third World. The top of the ad said Percussion + Precision + Piano = Jazz! Deems Tsutakawa performs tonight at 6 pm on Third World. Fun stuff for sure.

In 1983, we purchased a house in the Lakeridge area which is just west of Skyway. It is a small home with a good sized lot and a big view of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains.

At that time, Skyway was the closest shopping district. The neighborhood had two great supermarkets with delis, a Washington State liquor store – very important, a Long's Drugs, a gift store with Hallmark cards, and a hamburger drive-up called "The Basket Case." All of these stores are gone today as the economy and area has gone by the wayside.

So the week of May 12, 1984, having been informed that my mug was printed in the current issue of TV Guide, I hustled on over to my local Long's Drugs to get my own copy of the magazine.

It was mid-morning and being the only customer at the time, I struck up a conversation with the cashier. She was an elderly Caucasian woman and somewhat country in her manner. Of course, I mentioned that the reason I wanted five copies of TV Guide was because my name and picture were in the current issue.

She looked me dead in the eye and said, "You ain't in TV Guide." So I showed her the picture of the KING 5 advertisement, which is a good likeness of me and she says "that ain't you."

After a few moments of her telling, I pulled out my driver's license so she could see that the name matched the ad. She just shook her head and says again "that ain't you, what would you be doing in TV Guide?"

She did acknowledge that the name on the driver's license matched the name in the magazine ad, but that was as far as she would go. At that point, it became obvious to me that in 1984, Japanese American guys named Tsutakawa could not possibly be on TV or in TV Guide, at least not in the very hip part of unincorporated King County known as Skyway, Washington.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Mon, Jun 17, 2013

My fifth release on J-Town Records, The Planet Deems, was released in 1992 to much fanfare. The album ended up as a joint venture with my J-Town label and the upcoming Nastymix Record label.

We did a thorough job of national records and radio promotion as well as strong distribution coast to coast with this album which also happens to be one of my all-time personal favorites from the J-Town catalogue.

The top jazz radio station in Minneapolis, Minnesota was and still is KBEM FM which is owned and run by the public school district. It turned out that the fine folks from Minnesota just loved The Planet Deems album and the record was officially anointed "The Best of 1992."

The rankings were based on the weekly KBEM-FM Jazz Playlist from January through December of that year. Not only did The Planet Deems receive #1 Album of the Year, my instrumental song titled Romance Blue was announced as the "Most Played Cut" of the entire year.

Romance Blue features a crying piano that just wails into the night reminiscent of a howling timber wolf-a species that is indigenous to the land of ten thousand lakes.

Looking at the top 40 albums from that list I somehow managed to out poll several legendary recording artists such as: The Ray Brown Trio, Nat Adderly, Joey DeFrancesco, Stanley Turrentine and Gerald Albright to name a few.

The success of this album led to a short but sweet weekend engagement at a very cool jazz club in Minneapolis; airfare, hotel, equipment, and sidemen all included-ahh, the good old days indeed. Although Minneapolis doesn't have a reputation like that of Chicago, New York, or New Orleans, I found the Twin Cities to have a thriving music scene there at that time.

The old part of town is called "Seven Corners" and it is a neighborhood that feels a lot like the Pioneer Square area of Seattle. The jazz club that hired me was located in The Seven Corners district. It had sand blasted brick walls, great food, and live music every night. Before my arrival, I had sent CDs of The Planet Deems for the rest of the Minneapolis band members to study and they did a great job performing my music for sure.

The city of Minneapolis is located on the Great Mississippi River and there is an old U.S. Army Base there named Fort Snelling. My father George was stationed at Fort Snelling during World War II. He was a staff sergeant and did graphics for the U.S. Army as well as military intelligence during the later part of the war.

As I roamed the streets of Seven Corners, I had a good feeling that he must have had knocked back a few when on leave from the barracks somewhere right around here about a half a century ago or so.

Dizzy Who?

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Mon, Jun 3, 2013

Of the many close encounters that I have had over the years with various jazz legends there are a few that come to mind for the uniqueness and enjoyment of the personalities involved with the very fortunate meetings.

The great Maynard Ferguson was a spiritual guru type of jazz musician. I opened two shows for him on solo piano at the now defunct Backstage Theater that was located in Ballard.

Between shows, I was permitted to go in his dressing room to meet and chat with one of the all-time great trumpeters. The room was decorated like a tent that you might find in India with incense burning really heavy and large pillows arranged around the area.

Maynard was seated on one of the cushions in a meditative trance. When I entered, he greeted me with kind words praising my music. Mr. Ferguson and his family actually lived and studied meditation in India for several years back in the latter part of the sixties.

Another wonderful event that I cherish is the time my trio with Steve Kim on bass and Wayne Rabb on drums played a luncheon to honor Dave Brubeck. Dave was in attendance but did not perform that day. He said the nicest compliments to me and was a truly classy man as well as a legend in the jazz world for his many famous recordings.

The funniest character of the various jazz artists that I have encountered was the great Dizzy Gillespie. Before Seattle's Jazz Alley nightclub, there was a cool venue called The Pioneer Bank Jazz Club down in Pioneer Square. I enjoyed seeing dozens of the world's greatest jazz musicians play that room.

In 1974, Dizzy and his band hit town for a weeklong gig at The Bank and when he got to his hotel, he called up my dad George, who was not a big jazz fan, and I remember him saying, "Dizzy Who?"

It turned out that dad and Diz had a mutual friend who asked him to touch base when he got in town and Dizzy also treated the entire family to see his show. We arrived plenty early to get good seats and Diz came out, sat with us, and told of his growing up back East. His candor and laughter was unparalleled to say the least.

When told to go to the U.S. Army induction Center in 1941, Mr. Gillespie said that he arrived wearing only his trumpet and hunting cap. He proceeded to tell the army staff that he was very nutty, should not be trusted with a gun, and was immediately turned down for army duty. For the duration of World War II, Dizzy ended up touring across the country with his band playing gigs for the soldiers knowing that he did not have to go to war.

The Breakfast Set

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, Apr 26, 2013

The summer of 1974 was a beautiful one, weather-wise and gig-wise. For a four month period from June through September, I played keyboards at Mack's Underground Restaurant and Café five days a week, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12:30 am – 4:30 am. Mack's Underground was located on Second and Yesler near Pioneer Square. It was a very cool place with sandblasted brick walls, dancing every night, great food and groovy R&B jazz blowing all the time.

The gig was booked by a drummer named Wayne Rabb. Wayne and I played music together in high school during the late 60's with a couple of other good old friends, guitarist Leonard Berman and bassist Garrett Smith, both of whom still play today, and very well I might add. For the gig at Mack's, we featured a soul singer from Phoenix, Arizona named Small Paul who was very large, never heard the story of how he got that nickname or if he is still around today. Small Paul was very entertaining and a good dancer too. The third band member on our early morning gig was a guitar and bass player who was not only a fine musician but was also dealing with a bad substance use habit. For obvious reasons, his name will be anonymous as this tale unfolds even though he has since kicked the habit. One evening upon picking up our third wheel, he stated that he had left his guitar at a friend's house in the valley. So we take the detour over to an apartment building near the old Empire Way South to get his axe. FYI-axe is slang for the musician's instrument of choice-the one he is planning to "cut up on."

When we knock on the apartment door, a guy holding a large handgun opens up and says the person we are looking for is not home. So we continue on down to the nightclub and when we get there the guitar is already sitting on stage.

For this engagement, my axe was a Fender Rhodes 73 key stage model. These keyboards had a hammer action inside with weighted keys similar to a real acoustic piano. The main difference was that they did not contain strings as the hammers when depressed would strike metal bars to generate sound. The instrument was portable although quite heavy by today's standards and required a speaker with a power supply. It was my first experience pounding out dance grooves five days a week and it made my fingers bleed around the fingernails. It is also pretty much the last time they ever bled as the calluses are well-seasoned these days.

I would usually get back home around 5:30 am or so to the sound of birds chirping and the sun about to rise in the eastern sky. Like many of the cool band gigs of that era I do not envision playing another one quite like that one for many reasons good and otherwise.

Low Note

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, Apr 5, 2013

A few years back I was hired to play piano for a 50th wedding anniversary by an old Sansei classmate from my high school days. She threw the party to honor her parents' anniversary and it was held at a fancy restaurant situated on beautiful Lake Washington.

During a break, I met her brother and for some reason mentioned to him that I had a casual interest in astronomy. The next thing I find out is that he just happens to work at the Keck Observatory on the big island of Hawaii. As it turned out, I just happened to be going to Hilo, Hawaii the next week to play a concert fundraiser for the homeless.

So he says to me, "would you like to see the Keck Observatory?" I said, "most certainly!"

Upon arriving in Hilo the following week, my new friend and his wife, who also worked at the observatory, picked me up at my hotel and took me to the top of Mauna Kea to see the stars and planets.

It is said to be the best view of the universe from the earth and truly was fantastic stargazing. To see the rings of Saturn in sharp detail and a dozen of Jupiter's moons just blew my mind. Although the concert went well I must admit that the trip to the observatory was the highlight of my visit to the big island.

The History, International, and Science channels found on cable TV have some great shows about the universe; as a matter of fact, I believe we are in the "golden age of astronomy" right now. This is clearly demonstrated through the use of all the new orbiting telescopes that capture not only visible light but infrared, gamma radiation, ultra violet light, sound and radio waves and much more.

On earth, our orbiting satellites have detected a strange sound coming across the universe from trillions of miles away. Scientists have recently determined that the sound is being generated by the giant spinning red cloud of hydrogen. They have also determined that the sound is the equivalent of a low B flat exactly fifty seven octaves below middle C.

First of all, this note is so low it is hard to imagine what it might sound like. Secondly as most musicians know, all the music for saxophones and trumpets is usually written in B flat, however it is unlikely that anyone will ever build a saxophone or trumpet large enough to jam with a super massive cloud of heated hydrogen or a black hole.

The Groove Within Us

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, Mar 15, 2013

There is a saying that goes "you can get anything you want in life - as long as you help enough other people get what they want," which I believe to be true especially in an affluent society such as ours.

One of the ways that I attempt to achieve some financial stability playing the grand piano and keyboards is by performing a lot of background music for corporate events.

There are many large venues such as shopping malls, casinos and hotels which are owned by corporations and need some live music on a regular basis. These types of gigs, venues, and events can be steady and fun at times, but quite often I am there by myself with a dark suit, white shirt, neck tie and shiny black shoes playing solo piano at a very soft volume so as not to attract a lot of attention.

Sometimes I am booked on the strength of my name and reputation as a recording artist, but oftentimes it is basically because the booking agent and management know that I'll be on time, looking sharp and will be cool.

My goal as an independent contractor is to help the corporations "get what they want so I can get what I want," which is some dough and it's no secret that every musician loves to have a paying gig whether with a band or solo.

In the winter of 2006, The Louisiana Title Insurance Company hosted a business conference for their staff and other insurance sales people from the Louisiana area. It was just a few months after the devastating hurricane Katrina had wiped out most of New Orleans and the surrounding counties as well as neighboring states.

The corporate event for the insurance company was unable to use the local convention center as it had been trashed by the New Orleans residents who had no other place to live for several months. The conference and parties ended up in my hometown of Seattle and I had the good fortune to play two dinner/cocktail parties for the good folks from down south.

The party on the first day was somewhat low key as the attendees were weary from travel and it broke up early. On the second day things got better. Now, there are two things to remember about these fine southern ladies and gentlemen. First off, they must have had thousands of claims to deal with and tens of thousands of unhappy people to talk to.

They also all probably lost property, friends, and family and all probably knew many who perished in the hurricane. Secondly, these people come from The Birthplace of Jazz - New Orleans, LA.

Now as I mentioned earlier when playing background music, you have to know how to be cool and blend in with the room. As I caressed the piano keys that evening, the attendees moved closer and closer to the grand piano in the W Hotel lobby and, fortunately, their piano is a decent instrument - I have played much worse. Pretty soon the Louisiana folks were leaning all over the grand piano literally soaking in the music like it was sunshine for someone that had been stuck in an eternal rain cloud.

The stronger I grooved the more they loved my music. I could be myself, jamming hard and loud. It was bliss, nirvana, ecstasy, pure joy. I stayed and played, they poured me top-shelf scotch, and it was heartfelt to give them something meaningful and for them to acknowledge the sincerity of my musical foray. The listeners brought out the best from within me and I'll always remember the experience - it was groovier than your typical corporate event.

L.A. Live

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Feb 7, 2013

Los Angeles California has a great downtown area called Little Tokyo. If you love Japanese food you'll love hanging out and eating at the many excellent restaurants the neighborhood has to offer.

Little Tokyo also has some fine touristy cultural attractions such as The Japan America Theater, The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center and The Japanese American National Museum. All of these venues are historically rich, well thought out, and well maintained. I have personally visited them and also had the great honor and pleasure of performing several times in concert at The Japan America Theater.

In 2001, my quartet featuring David Yamasaki on guitar, Steve Kim on bass and Danny Yamamoto on drums played before an enthusiastic house at the great Japan America Theater doing a set of my originals with a few covers too.

I brought in a digital tape recorder to record our live performance and ended up putting it out on compact disc later in 2002. The album is titled "L.A. Live." Music can be viewed as the soundtrack of our lives. Music lovers from around the world invariably refer back to songs from earlier times in their lives and when listening to the music it puts us right back in the moment. Such is the case when I hear this recording.

On this trip, my wife Jean and I had the good fortune to enjoy the niceties of the city and surrounding areas. We took in a California Angels verses Seattle Mariners baseball game in Anaheim wherein I got sunburned on an April day. Us Seattleites never think of wearing sunscreen in April. The next day we went to Hermosa Beach for some sun and fun with some sun block I might add.

The fine folks at The Japanese Community and Cultural Center also bestowed upon us two free tickets to see a live musical called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It was a mostly Asian American cast featuring the fantastic Gedde Watanabe as the lead role.

The show was hilarious and entertaining to the max. I'll always remember the musical as Gedde and his crew truly brought down the house. Here is a guy that has made many major motion pictures and done national television singing and acting in a low budget musical in a community theater five nights a week.

It was the night before our show and it gave me great inspiration indeed.

Late Night Light

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Fri, Jan 25, 2013

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.

For a few years in the glorious 70′s, I played keyboards in a local band named Northwest Sound. We did all the hit dance tunes from that era: Earth Wind and Fire, The Captain and Tennille, The Ohio Players, Stevie Wonder, etc. and of course we would always wear matching flashy brightly colored jumpsuits as was the fashion of the times.

The band was real funky, played mostly on the road, and was led by female vocalist from Seattle Mary Beck who just happened to grow up in my neighborhood on 31st Avenue South near Franklin High School. We toured northern and southern Idaho, Eastern Washington, and quite often played in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, at the casinos which was pretty cool for us Seattle folks. Most of the casino bands in Nevada were either national acts or from California but we managed to get in on the rotation.

In Twin Falls, Idaho, we actually had an engagement that our bandleader Dave Osuna had to break because of unruly people. Northwest Sound was an all Caucasian band except for yours truly and some locals in the small town were giving my band mates a bad time telling them to "get that Jap off the stage" and so on. The hotel nightclub management would not '86 the jerks so Dave told them, "We are out of here," and we packed up and left. The unfortunate thing besides the racism was that most of the packed house just loved us and for a few soured individuals to wreck their good time was quite sad indeed.

Eventually the band broke up, and I booked a gig in Alaska featuring a duo with Mary Beck (she has since married) and myself. It was fun being the entire orchestra and I also used a drum machine for added sound. As I recall, it seems that the most drinking I ever did on a steady basis was in Alaska.

One evening, we were invited over to have dinner with Bill Kimura, who was an old friend of my father George. Bill naturally had a bottle of good scotch. I proceeded to consume the entire bottle with very little help from the other guests but had no hangover the next day. My theory on the clear head at the time was that Alaska being farther north than the lower 48 had less centrifugal force from the earth's rotation than Seattle.

The earth actually does have a bulge at the equator from the centrifugal force although I have yet to ask my doctor if this theory holds any water or liquids of any sort. I am planning to ask him soon so stay tuned. At any rate playing the Anchorage Westward Hilton was a good gig in that when I came home to Seattle I was able to clear a few debts that I had accrued during the previous year or so.

Our engagement was for two and a half months from early May until the middle of July and for those of you that have visited Alaska in the summer you know that it never gets dark outside. At 2 am, it looks like 4:30 pm as the sun is just below the horizon for maybe an hour or two. The hotel rooms had blackout curtains but it never seemed to matter as I never slept very good up there.

I can remember playing Frisbee outside with some friends around 12:30 am under the sunlight.