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
Like Andrew Z December 11, 2014
Funk in D Minor November 26, 2014
The Best of The Best November 13, 2014
Dreams October 30, 2014
Mushrooms October 16, 2014
A Northwest Guy September 25, 2014
C'mon Man September 11, 2014
Kauai Lady August 28, 2014
Are You Experienced? August 14, 2014
Pride July 31, 2014
Value July 17, 2014
The Cancellation July 3, 2014
The Groove June 19, 2014
Coast to Coast June 5, 2014
Meditations May 22, 2014
The Biz May 5, 2014
Brother Marcus April 24, 2014
Philosophically Speaking April 3, 2014
The Perks March 20, 2014
Time Is Tight March 6, 2014
House Parties Extraordinaire February 20, 2014
The Meanings of Music February 6, 2014
Dallas January 25, 2014
All The Stops January 9, 2014

Like Andrew Z

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Dec 11, 2014

My first vinyl recording was released in 1978. It was a 45 RPM record called Strolling Along and was done at Robert Lang Studios in Richmond Beach, Washington on an 8 track analog tape machine. The original composition featured multi-tracked keyboards, electric bass by Garrett Smith, and drums by Y K Kuniyuki. Although it was a very simple yet catchy tune, the record got the attention of a steady working dance band in Honolulu called Natural High. Unbeknownst to the Hawaiian band members, my keyboard tracks were cut separately and mixed to sound like a live take.

At that time, Natural High was going through some major changes. The entire horn section and keyboard player all left the group and the band leaders decided that they wanted me to replace all 5 of them by myself. Trying to sound like a full horn section and do the keyboard parts simultaneously turned out to be a monumental and arduous task at best. I was also the only 'Katonk' in the band, which made me the 'outsider' so to speak. We played a three month gig on Kauai at the old Beach Boy Hotel six nights a week through the fall and then came to Seattle to play the big dance room called Pier 70. A New Years Eve at The Sheraton of Spokane was my last engagement with them.

During our extended engagement on Kauai, I got to go on a fishing trip in the deep sea. A local bartender and his grandfather took me out and we caught 8 Ahi tuna and one that looked like a Barracuda. My host cut up the Ahi and made sashimi right on the boat, the freshest fish I ever ate. I also helped them dig a large pit and prepared it for roasting wild pig. When it came time to slaughter the animal I had to pass and come back after it was cooked. My Kauai trip was a live experience that most people will only ever see on the travel channel with Andrew Zimmerman.

Funk in D Minor

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Wed, Nov 26, 2014

Early in my musical career I had the good fortune to play in many quality bands most of which could always get steady work. Of course there were a lot more nightclubs with live music in those days and it was an incredible time to be a working musician. As a matter of fact I tend to think of the 60's through the 90's as 'The Golden Age' of live music, records, and radio in that the industry was strong, record and CD sales were solid, people listened to the radio, and work was easily attainable for most professional musicians.

The funkiest band that I ever played in was called Exquisite. The group was founded by guitarist Paul Anderson and drummer Wayne Rabb whom I knew from high school days. Paul, who happens to be Caucasian, is one of the greatest funk guitarists in the state as well as an outstanding song writer. We had over sixty powerful songs on our set list and Paul Anderson wrote fifty five of them. The group went through several sets of vocalists and quite a few bassists over the years that I worked with the band, every singer and bassist was totally funky for sure. One of the configurations that we toured with featured two keyboardists. On stage was the late Robert Gale playing Hammond B3 with left hand bass and I filled out the sound on Fender Rhodes and clavinet. Loved that set up.

Exquisite landed a cool gig in Bellingham where we were in the rotation playing 5 nights a week two to three months at a time and then back again over a three year period. It was a big night club dance room on the south side of town near interstate 5, the name of which escapes me for now. It was always packed out and fun.

Being near Western Washington we decided to visit the campus one day and take in the music department to see what they were doing over there. The band found the coolest room that had a dozen electric keyboards all synced up to one another. I immediately started pounding out a fonkay groove in D minor to which all 6 band members sat down to jam along with each other. Although the music and groove was totally out of sight, the teacher next door kicked us out as it was a distraction to his class. The problem was rooted in the fact that he couldn't hang with the funky groove. Too bad for him and his students.

The Best of The Best

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Nov 13, 2014

People often ask me 'What is your favorite song?' or 'Who's your favorite artist?' to which I usually respond with “I cannot pick just one; there are too many great ones.” If you take a moment to think about it, this statement is obviously irrefutable especially considering the astronomical number of songs and recording artists on the earth. Most folks will also experience different moods on different days and want some variety in their musical diet. We generally like to eat a variety of entrees during the course of a week, a month, or a year, otherwise the foods become bland and redundant. Same thing with our ears as our taste buds.

There are, however, several concerts that I have had the honor to see and hear that totally stick out in my memory even though some were decades ago. A short list of my favorite live musicians would be: Al Jarreau, Patrice Rushen, Ramsay Lewis, Tower of Power, the late George Duke, and the incredible Earth, Wind and Fire. I could go on and on with an expanded list but am only allowed about 400 words per column.

The first time Earth, Wind and Fire came to Seattle they had only one album out which was not a hit record and virtually no one had even heard of them. They opened for The Butterfield Blues Band at The Paramount Theater in the early 70's and I had purchased tickets to see the headliner-Paul Butterfield. EWF opened the show by dancing down the aisles from the lobby to the stage singing and playing percussion instruments. When they picked up their horns, guitars, keyboards, drum sticks, and vocal mics, it was more than electric. I personally had an 'out of body experience' in that the people and music on stage were so fresh, energetic, and funky my spirit and mind seemed to be on the stage with the band. The music and musicians were literally all around me even though I was seated in my chair. Fantastic is not a strong enough description and when the 'main act' came on they were so boring I got up and left. This type of inspiration only comes around a few times in a lifetime at most.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Oct 30, 2014

We all have our reality and, quiet as it's kept, we all have our dreams. Most people won't admit it but there is a little bit of a 'Walter Mitty' that exists in most people. Perhaps it is to win the World Series, make a box office smash hit movie, or just win a gigantic lotto. Daydreams are a real part of the fabric of our daily lives but what about our night time dreams?

Although there are many different theories on the meaning and function of the human state of sleeping, it is well known that we all need sleep. Without sleep and dreaming humans lose cognitive abilities and it is a fact that our neurotransmitters need recharging on a regular basis. This can only be attained through a good night's sleep. Sleep is broken down into different types such as rapid eye movement and non-REM. Rapid eye movement is when the brain allows the neurotransmitters to shut down. This is the dream state and usually takes up about 25% of the sleep duration. Prolonged sleep deprivation will lead to a person that will eventually dream while they seem to be awake, which can be dangerous.

For some reason, I can usually remember my dreams, and fortunately most are good ones, lucky me. There have been times that I will dream of music and when I awake the melodies and chord structures are still fresh in my mind. When this happens I like to go straight to the piano and play the music that is going on in my brain. There is a song on the DSG 2000 release Love West called Early A.M. The chords and melody were actually 'floating' around in my brain at 5 in the morning one day and not only did we record and release the song but whenever I play it live it brings back the memory of the day it was composed.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Oct 16, 2014

The last selection on my 1992 release, The Planet Deems, is called Mushroom Music. It is a very peaceful tune written specifically for solo grand piano. To the people that think the song is about psychedelic mushrooms, for the record it is not. Its purpose is to capture the peacefulness and serenity of plants growing in the forest far from the stress of our hectic urban life.

Many mushrooms do have spiritual and cultural qualities with different ethnic groups in hot pursuit of their traditional favorites while totally ignoring all other species of fungi. For the Japanese people the 'shrooms' of choice are the legendary matsutake or pine mushrooms which are found in many parts of Japan, Korea, British Columbia, and the western states of Washington, Oregon, California, Wyoming, and Colorado. If some genius farmer/scientist could grow matsutake in a laboratory and raise the fungus commercially it would be worth tens of millions of dollars for sure. To date this has proven impossible, making the matsutake more and more precious.

The summer and fall of 1983 was one of the driest in memory and while playing hoops at NVC I mentioned to the fellas that I was going to Spokane to look for matsutake with my father in law. Everyone said 'you'll not find any' and I understood their belief as mushrooms need rain water to flourish. My dad in law, John Yamamoto, gets us going early to Priest Lake and along the way we pick up his Caucasian friend to tag along. We searched all day in vain and after lunch John says there is one more place to check. The place is located on private property hence the need for the Hakujin extra. The land is forested and dry except for a babbling brook that runs right through the middle of the private land. The brook is covered on both sides with a nice blanket of beautiful, lucious, deep green moss. As we pulled back on the moss we discovered hundreds of the elusive matsutake, the most I ever found on a single outing. We moved fast as you never know when the land owners might have returned.

A Northwest Guy

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Sept 25, 2014

My siblings and I were all born and raised in Seattle and although I am technically one block south of the city limits in unincorporated King County I have always thought of myself as a Seattle guy. My father George was also born in Seattle back in 1910. He was raised in the old part of town on and around Jackson Street. Dad used to tell us that if they wanted to go out in the country on a picnic they would go up to Green Lake. For those of you that don't know the Seattle area Green Lake has always been very urban in my lifetime and it's hard to imagine it being anything else.

From as far back as I can remember dad and mom took the family on a variety of outings ranging from The Montreal World's Fair, Mexico City to see the national museum, New York City to see Guggenheim Museum, California to visit our cousins, and countless camping trips around the Pacific Northwest. We have all taken many more trips abroad as adults but it is always a great feeling to return home indeed.

The cool thing about the family camping trips or hunting for wild mushrooms in the forests is that dad would always take his painting gear. His board was mounted with paper made from mulberry and his brushes utilized the black Japanese ink called sumi. Dad had a cool technique for catching wild Dungeness crabs by just stepping on them and picking up the gourmet food source by hand and stuffing them into burlap bags at low tide. He would invariably paint incredible landscapes, trees, mountains, rivers, and/or my wife's favorite pictures-fresh caught seafood and shell fish like prawns, flounder, or crabs. To this day whenever I travel around the state, whether to the coast or through the Cascades, I often look at the landscape and think about dad. He was a true Northwest kind of guy.

C'mon Man

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Sept 11, 2014

A few years ago, the parent run group called “Friends of Garfield Orchestra” held a fabulous reception to honor my younger brother Marcus. The event took place at Saint Demetrio's which has a large banquet hall and is located in the Montlake neighborhood.

It was a casual after dinner affair with coffee, tea and desserts, and very well attended too. There were many guest speakers including myself. I had the pleasure of telling a true story about a conversation onboard my recent flight back from Boston, wherein the guy sitting next to me asked if anyone in my family was into music and/or art. My entire family is of course deeply involved in the visual and performing arts and I had a field day with this subject.

There was also a real cool slide show featuring the history of the Garfield High School Orchestra and their abundant trophy collection. It made everyone in the room so proud to see the photos from year after year of the students holding up their prize trophies for taking first or second place in the all northwest competition. Not only were we feeling the pride, but the GHS orchestra also brings a ton of pride to the Greater Seattle community for all of their accomplishments spanning many decades.

The funny thing about the evening was the whacky idea someone had to “roast” Mr. Tsutakawa. Now I like a good roast say for example Johnny Carson on Mohammed Ali or Joan Rivers on anybody but there are some people that you just cannot make jokes about.

The only good story to come out of the students that night was the pair of boys that were always in trouble. Whenever they disrupted class Marcus would give them a stern look and say “C'mon man” and they knew it was time to shut up and behave. So early in the school year the two made a bet that one of the boys could make Mr. Tsutakawa say “C'mon man” over one hundred times during the course of the year.

Turns out he lost the bet by a whopping margin as brother Marcus only ended up reprimanding the lads a mere 30 times. The boys were never sent to the principal's office either.

Kauai Lady

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, August 28, 2014

One year upon landing at the airport on Kauai, we met a very friendly middle aged lady, who happened to work the desk at the car rental. The receptionist told us that she actually got married close by and during the outdoor wedding reception wild chickens ran across her dinner table. The comment made me think that this island must still be quite rural.

So we get going and the following day for some adventure, Jean and I went out to play at a local golf course. We found a beautiful 9-hole public course called Kukuiolono. It was a very casual place with a small ordinary pro shop, where the players would check in and pay their greens fees.

The one thing that I do remember is that there were bags of bird seed for sale in the pro shop right along with the golf balls, clubs and golf apparel. I do not recall ever going to a golf shop that sold bird seed. Well, when we got out on the course to play, we were followed by a large flock of wild chickens hence the need for the seed.

Now back to the lady at the car rental. When she first saw us, she knew immediately that we were not local and says to us “are you from Honolulu?” to which we said “no” of course. Her next comment was directed towards my wife Jean, who always looks tan and the lady says, “but you used to be from Honolulu-right?”

“I've never ever been to Honolulu,” she continues.

So we explained that we are from Seattle, to which she says, “I've never ever been to Seattle or any of the other Hawaiian Islands, but I've been to Las Vegas.” she said with a big laugh, and we knew it was true.

I've always thought that since the economic down turn of the past few decades that Hawaii should actually legalize gambling in order to balance the state budget, and here was the perfect example.

Are You Experienced?

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, August 14, 2014

It goes without saying that the late great rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix was an innovator and showman extra-ordinaire. He showed the world ways of playing the instrument that no one had ever dreamed of and did it with hard hitting passion. In doing so Jimi unknowingly influenced generations of musicians while he was alive and for generations to come as well.

Coincidentally, Hendrix is from my hometown of Seattle. I personally feel that he actually benefited from the fact that The Pacific Northwest is geographically isolated from most of the musical regions in the world.

For instance, if a musician grows up in Cuba he is intrinsically linked to the strong Afro-Cuban music tradition. If you were raised in Italy you most likely would have been exposed to the opera and if one were born in Mongolia you would have heard Tuvan throat singing for sure.

Being in these deep cultural settings puts peer pressure on the young artists to learn the local style and genre of music. The freedom of being in Seattle and physically far from the New York jazz scene or Chicago Blues tradition lends itself to a new type of creativity.

My friend and colleague Merwin Kato is an excellent drummer although not necessarily a true innovator on a global scale. I like that he does have his own musical character and style. He also has a very strong groove, which I feel very comfortable with and an attitude of seriousness about his playing.

Merwin also plays real hard and with intensity wherein people are compelled to listen whether they want to or not. We have known each other since we were teenagers in high school and have worked together countless times. Merwin also played drums on my latest album titled “On Irving Street.”

Now many people have probably heard the saying used by Jimi Hendrix, which is “are you experienced,” which means have you seen the man with his band live? If so, you are “experienced.”

I recently played a wedding reception and hired Merwin to play drums on the set after which I believe the audience was 'Kato-ized' during his drum solo. It put a smile on my face too.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, July 31, 2014

The healing powers of music, meditation, healthy eating and exercise are well documented and utilized by countless groups and individuals worldwide spanning many centuries.

I can distinctly recall countless occasions going to work with a terrible cough, headache and runny nose only to have all the symptoms disappear when I started playing the piano. For the duration of my musical foray, the mucus membranes would stay dry and the hacking and fever just went away.

At the point where I would take a break, all the cold symptoms would return until I sat down to play again. I consider myself very lucky to have a job that I look forward to as it gives me another great reason to live healthy and be strong. There is a quote that says: “everyone should participate in some type of creative endeavor, not to make money but to express one's self be it poetry, visual arts, musical or whatever.”

My good friend Ray Baldwin once told me that he would go to the hospital to sing for his mom and although she did not recognize him upon hearing the music a tear would come out of her eye. It was touching her soul. I am a firm believer that anything a human being creates with their own hands, mind and soul has an intrinsic spiritual value.

When a person takes the time and energy to pick up a musical instrument, mould a piece of clay into a sculpture, or compose and recite a poem, they are using the tools that nature has given us and re-energizing their own mental and spiritual health. We should also note that these endeavors are usually shared amongst friends, an activity that also has great worth.

I truly believe that the value of the creative arts will always survive as long as the indomitable human species walks the planet earth.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, July 17, 2014

Although my wife and I spent our first married vacation together at The Kahneeta Lodge in Bend, Ore., we actually had our official honeymoon on Maui one year later. During this time period, I was actively doing records and radio promotions for my first album, which was a 33 1/3 RPM vinyl record.

The healing powers of music, meditation, healthy eating and exercise are well documented and utilized by countless groups and individuals worldwide spanning many centuries.

I can distinctly recall countless occasions going to work with a terrible cough, headache and runny nose only to have all the symptoms disappear when I started playing the piano. For the duration of my musical foray, the mucus membranes would stay dry and the hacking and fever just went away.

At the point where I would take a break, all the cold symptoms would return until I sat down to play again. I consider myself very lucky to have a job that I look forward to as it gives me another great reason to live healthy and be strong. There is a quote that says: “everyone should participate in some type of creative endeavor, not to make money but to express one's self be it poetry, visual arts, musical or whatever.”

My good friend Ray Baldwin once told me that he would go to the hospital to sing for his mom and although she did not recognize him upon hearing the music a tear would come out of her eye. It was touching her soul. I am a firm believer that anything a human being creates with their own hands, mind and soul has an intrinsic spiritual value.

When a person takes the time and energy to pick up a musical instrument, mould a piece of clay into a sculpture, or compose and recite a poem, they are using the tools that nature has given us and re-energizing their own mental and spiritual health. We should also note that these endeavors are usually shared amongst friends, an activity that also has great worth.

I truly believe that the value of the creative arts will always survive as long as the indomitable human species walks the planet earth.

The Cancellation

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, July 3, 2014

Although my wife and I spent our first married vacation together at The Kahneeta Lodge in Bend Oregon, we actually had our official honeymoon on Maui one year later. During this time period I was actively doing records and radio promotions for my first album which was a 33 1/3rd RPM vinyl record. Somehow I got a booking at a very nice restaurant located at The Wailea Tennis Club next door to the world famous golf complex. They rented a beautiful Yamaha Grand piano for me and the event was for two nights. We had an outstanding crowd on the first night, sold lots of albums, and were really looking forward to the Saturday night gig. When we arrived at the venue for the 2nd show it was all locked up and dark inside. I found out the next day that the gig was cancelled due to a passing in the family. It was before cell phones but one would think they could have put a note on the door or told someone.

Then there was the time my trio went to a club in Pioneer Square to play, only to find a padlock on the front door and a posting saying that the venue was closed due to unpaid taxes. Last year I arrived at teh Microsoft Campus with a car full of band gear only to find out that the company party was rescheduled but they forgot to tell the musician. This one worked out fine as I did play the rescheduled event and got paid a fair amount too.

The oddest event that never happened was a wedding wherein the bride and groom hired my duo of keyboards and sax to play their party. Upon arriving at the venue with all my equipment we found the place all locked up and no indication of why there was no one on site. This couple did in fact pay me a deposit to hold the date, however I never ever had any contact with them since, perhaps they never got married.

The lack of info when dealing with parties that meet their demise leads one towards a Rodney Dangerfield type of mind set as he always says, “I don't get no respect.”

The Groove

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, June 19, 2014

The type of jazz that is dearest to my heart is Rhythm and Blues because the music has to have a solid groove to it. Of course, one needs tasteful chord construction and some type of melodic development to make a complete musical statement.

These parts must have a direct correlation to the rhythmic groove pattern that is set up from the beginning of the tune. In fact, during most jazz performances any note that a musician hits that doesn't have a direct relationship to the groove is rendered meaningless to the song at hand.

Over the years of being a bandleader and featured artist for many shows, I can attest to the idea that having to front out a group has its good points in that the leader gets to call out the song selections which is fun and creative.

However, it should be noted that playing in the rhythm section of a band requires great discipline and professionalism to do it right. Playing rhythm parts to back up a vocalist or trumpet player takes a certain set of skills that are also enjoyable and creative.

The guitar as it is used today for lead lines owes a lot to innovators like Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery and Jimi Hendrix to name a few. There are many guitarists who love to play lead guitar and “rock out,” but some of them leave much to be desired when it comes to joining the bass and drums in playing solid rhythm parts.

My instrumental composition, which is the namesake for my column is called “Tough Tofu,” of course. This particular song in its original version has a solid and tasty guitar line for the intro.

This line can also be construed as a “hook” in that the great rhythm guitar line played by my good friend David Yamasaki will draw the listening audience right into the heart of the groove.

Coast to Coast

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, June 5, 2014

I've had the pleasure to perform in Florida many times over the years, and on one of my trips to the Sunshine State we also had the honor of doing a double bill with the drum group called New York Taiko. As I recall, they had over a dozen female and male members, and at that time the players were all around the same age as my band guys.

Naturally, the producer of the show rented vans for transporting both groups and after meeting the New York group, I found it interesting that only two members actually had valid New York state driver's licenses. In other words, twelve of the fourteen middle aged drummers could not legally drive a car in any state of the union.

One other sign of note in Florida is the sign you see on the turnpike that says “Minimum Speed 40 MPH.” I believe the signs are there to instruct the many retired people from New York and Boston to keep up to speed, which can be scary for someone just learning to drive.

During a recent trip to Boston, Massachusetts, I casually asked the locals where the public golf courses are in Boston. The instant reply was, “There are no golf courses in the city of Boston. If you want to play golf, you need to go out to a Golf and Country Club.”

New York and Boston are similar to Tokyo in that most people do not own cars or have driver's licenses. On the west coast of Washington, Oregon and California, most adults do in fact drive automobiles as a necessity to everyday life.

Besides the luxury of having room for a set of golf clubs and a cooler filled with refreshments, I like it that I can put an 88 key digital grand piano along with a professional sound system and hand truck comfortably in my SUV. This makes playing venues that don't have a grand piano easily accessible for me and my band mates indeed.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, May 22, 2014

According to an online dictionary the word meditation is a noun meaning 1: 'The act of meditating' or 2: 'Continued or extended thought'. I have engaged in the practice of transcendental meditation on and off for several decades however in recent years I have found yoga to be more in tune with my lifestyle. In a loose sense yoga can also be thought of as a form of meditation based on definition #2, it's just that yoga also contains a physical nature as well as a mental state of achievement.

Based on our 'modern interpretation' of the term meditation there are actually many forms of 'continued and extended thought' with a dash of physicality all around us. I believe the object of engaging in meditation is to reach a higher state of consciousness, better mental clarity, and move towards peace of mind. When an athlete takes up a sport he or she needs to learn the best techniques in order to be great. In the beginning there is usually frustration due to the learning curve, but with time and effort the frustration will give way to better results and a better state of mind. The same concept is true for actors, sculptors, musicians, and all activities that require practice and good technique.

Over the years and on special occasions there seems to be certain days or nights when a band will attain a feeling of synergy or Gestalt. This group meditation is a very happy and energetic experience, a natural high if you may. Even if the feeling is temporary this form of mental bliss is the direct result of 'continued and extended thought' spanning many years and done in order to achieve a wonderful and fulfilling mental state. It doesn't get any better than that.

The Biz

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, May 8, 2014

People ask me all the time how's the music business? My polite and friendly response is that I am very fortunate to be busy with engagements and thankful to be able to make a living playing jazz piano. However if one were to engage me in a deeper conversation about the reality of the music business I would most likely give a different response.

When you look at the various industries that consume Americans on a daily basis it is easy to see that big business is all around us. There are supermarkets full of foods and house hold items such as soap, beer, napkins, etcetera; one sees automobiles, cell phones, houses, software, clothes, and televisions galore. These products and many more make up some of the hundreds of various industries and businesses that span the globe and are needed 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They are what I call 'real businesses' as they have large moveable inventories and are in big demand for our basic life styles.

There is an email posting circulating around that states “the music industry is a shallow plastic trench full of thieves where good men are put down like dogs-and then there is a negative side.” It wasn't an attempt at humor but rather a true but negative statement about the nature of the music business. One only needs to look at the fact that there are no more retail outlets for music CDS, only digital downloading. In our youth, record stores were everywhere and record sales were fantastic. Record companies are becoming dinosaurs and the industry is in chaos. The general perception by the public that there is a thriving music business is a façade, similar to a false store front. Now I admit that there are a few individuals that make it big from time to time but for the most part one would have better odds of playing major league baseball than making a million dollars playing guitar or saxophone.

It is this writer's opinion that there will always be good music around somewhere played by quality musicians but like good food, art, and literature the consumer will now more than ever have to seek it out in order to find it, indulge in it, and share these important endeavors with friends.

Brother Marcus

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Apr 24, 2014

My younger brother Marcus is actually somewhat of a prodigy when it comes to music arranging and education. As most of the Seattle area people know he is the director of the award winning Garfield High School Orchestra, a group which he built up virtually from scratch. Besides being an accomplished bassist he is pretty good on several other instruments and is self taught on many of them as well. As youngsters we studied classical piano but along the way we played around on guitars, drums, harmonicas, and other various keyboards. Although it has taken me awhile I can safely say that I am a solid and funky drummer but not fancy or technical. Marcus on the other hand taught himself to play the legendary song 'Classical Gas' on the guitar, a mean Blues harp, and the flute to go along with the upright bass and grand piano that he was taking lessons for. He studied music at The U of O and earned his Bachelors and Masters of Music at The U of W. Marcus also used to show me some cool substitution chords on the piano that worked well for jazz tunes.

When he started at Franklin High School at the age of fifteen he was a member of the stage band which at the time was directed by Chuck Chinn. Mr. Chinn was a good bowler, tennis player, and violinist extraordinaire however his knowledge of current jazz, R & B, and popular music left much to be desired. The actual sheet music on site was a lot of John Phillips Sousa and rah rah pep band stuff like 'Onward Notre Dame', it was of course the 1960's and times were changing fast-especially music and culture.

So one night at home Marcus is listening to the stereo and starts writing down on sheet music paper all the saxophone, trombone, trumpet, guitar, bass, drums, and piano parts for Buddy Miles, Santana, Blood Sweat and Tears, Morning Noon and Night Liters, and Chicago Transit Authority songs. The next morning he walked into stage band class and says “let's play these charts”. The FHS stage band played them and the songs all sounded perfect. He figured out on his own how to write out all the music for the band as a self taught teenage musical arranger. Everyone was quite astounded and happy as the music was real hip. FYI-there was another bassist two years older than my brother who thought to himself “that looks easy” so he in turn went home to write up some charts of other hip tunes. The next week he brought the charts in for the stage band to play. It turned out to be an embarrassment as the new sheet music had many errors and sounded unharmonious. That particular bassist went on to have a solid career playing live music but never wrote down another note.

Philosophically Speaking

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Apr 3, 2014

Back when I was in high school at Franklin High in Seattle's south end I was very much interested in the meaning of life. My quest for knowledge about inner peace steered me towards books like Siddhartha, Plato, Zen, and existentialism most of which I have forgotten over the years. Hopefully some of the info stuck with me. One of my pet peeves was to ask my high school teachers “what is your one sentence philosophy of life”. One language arts professor claimed it is 'the realization of ambiguity' where in there are and will be situations that are not fair or don't have good explanations but we must accept and deal with these events none the less. Another teacher of mine said 'every man is responsible for their own actions'. I was always told that it is what we do in life that counts rather than what we look like when we are doing it. All of these ideas have definite merit and have been with me for many years often times echoing through my mind on a daily basis, am thankful for the input from my elders.

One of my personal guidelines to which I use to motivate me in my endeavors is the concept that each and every one of us should try to make a contribution to society whenever we get the chance. Defining exactly what that means leaves us with a lot of choices indeed. Our total society would actually be on a world scale, there is an old adage that goes 'think globally, act locally' which makes sense when you think about it. My thinking is that there are virtually unlimited ways to contribute to the well being of society whether it's at home, work, playtime, drive time, or whenever. The betterment of the planet, the country, our communities and its inhabitants has many needs on many levels. There are and will always be the basic needs of food, water, shelter, and medicines but we also have spiritual and cultural needs. These cultural involvements are societies' natural paths which drives us directly towards communication, socialization, and expression. People coming together in homes, dance halls, night clubs, poetry readings, and sporting events to name a few are sharing group experiences that are and always will be priceless.

If you have family and friends that you would do anything for expecting nothing in return then you have a lot to be grateful for. A Buddhist reverend once told me that it is through gratitude that we will find the true meaning of life. I always liked that saying.

The Perks

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Mar 20, 2014

Quite often when playing music at various events, venues, and/or hotels musicians will be allowed to partake or indulge in certain amenities such as food, beverages, free parking, etc. There is an unwritten tradition that says jazz and Blues band members should be fed a meal when performing at the nightclub. The old saying goes “you gotta' sing for your supper”. The tradition of breaking bread with your band mates is not only good for the band camaraderie but also promotes a healthy relationship with the overall staff and ownership of the entertainment establishment. It's also fun stuff particularly when they have great ethnic cuisine like BBQ, lasagna, tempura, or fresh fish. Some places will only give the musicians an 'employees meal' which can be quite ordinary but most of the time the food is 'the bomb' so to speak.

Besides receiving great meals other amenities can be practical such as having staff members help with the load in of equipment and validated parking, especially in the downtown urban centers where loading zones and car garages are really tight. Some of the perks can are simply fun things like sponsored golf or fancy hotel rooms at fancy resorts.

There used to be a bar in Sun Valley Idaho called The Ram Bar. Some years ago I had the good fortune to play the room with a folk rock duo called BrownSmith. Besides getting our hotel rooms, food, and beverages free, our band also received complementary ski equipment and lift tickets. Now, although I am an avid tennis player and golfer, skiing is definitely not my forte'. At the time of the gig I had actually only skied once in my life and not very well either. The night before we hit the slopes our bassist Garrett Smith told me to meet him at the top of one of the mountains at high noon and he would teach me how to ski. So I get up the next morning, get my gear, and ride the lift to the top of the mountain right at noon. Naturally my buddy Smith never shows up. So after waiting for a good amount of time I decide in my ignorance to head on down the mountain. Fortunately I had heard that you have to bend your knees so I did that but I did not know how to turn or, more importantly, how to stop. As it was a long run and steep, I was going real fast, which was fun as all heck. Every now and then I would just wipe out, get up, dust myself off, and head on down again. When I got to the bottom of the hill I would look for the biggest pile of snow I could find and crash right into it in order to stop. The people watching me wanted to laugh but waited till it seemed that I was undamaged then proceeded to gawk and laugh. It was a blast and I went back to the top several more times that day. For the next three to four days my legs were so sore and tired I could barely walk but it was well worth it.

Time Is Tight

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Mar 6, 2014

"Does anybody really know what time it is?" just happens to be a song written by Robert Lamm and recorded by the band Chicago. The song, "As Time Goes By" became famous from the movie Casablanca. There are, in fact, many other famous time-themed songs such as Summertime, Goodtimes, Time is on My Side, Too Much Time, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Three Times A Lady, and Booker T's Time Is Tight. I always loved to play a song recorded by The Grant Green band called, A Time To Remember, it is a very soulful instrumental R & B ballad type of composition.

When it comes to time and astronomy, it seems that everything becomes elongated or, as some would say, "astronomical." The light photons that are released from our sun actually take thousands of years to make it from the center of the star where they are formed in the nuclear fusion of hydrogen to helium and all the way to the surface of the sun where they are sent out as trillions upon trillions of tiny energy packets. These energy packets are what heat the earth and make life possible for all earthlings, plants and animals alike.

During a trip to the island of Hawaii, I had a most interesting discussion with a pair of astronomers during the drive to the top of Mauna Kea to see the stars and planets. They asked me how old is the universe and I said approximately 13.7 billion years. Next they asked me how long does it take for light from the most distant stars to reach us and I said again 13.7 billion years which is the logical answer. They then countered with Albert Einstein's theory of relativity which states that "the faster an object is moving, the slower it will experience time." If you follow this concept out, it tells us that when an object attains the speed of light, time ceases to pass. Therefore, for the light photons that we are seeing today that originated 13.7 billion light years away, it could be that no time has passed for them. In other words, if a photon could perceive time, it may "feel" like perhaps only a few seconds have passed since they started their journey across the universe.

House Parties Extraordinaire

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Feb 20, 2014

From my earliest memories and up until the current earth date, there have always been lively and very memorable gatherings of pure joy, AKA parties. When we were growing up in the 50's and 60's, mom and dad would entertain like no others, wining and dining world class artists, musicians, and actors with rigorous splendor. As a teenager there were endless dance parties where we would spin 45 RPM records and jam to them all night long. In the fabulous 80's we bought our modest home in Lakeridge and would throw outrageous 4th of July parties. It was wild as we live just outside the city limits where fireworks are legal and would shoot up huge bottle rockets sometimes doing thousands of dollars of the explosive stuff and cramming over 100 guests on our little property. Some years the neighbors even called the King County police to complain but we broke no laws and were never cited.

There have been so many great boat cruises over the years that they are just a blur. My band Seattle Groove had the honor of playing the very last KWJZ Smooth Jazz event which was their Christmas Ship before they went under. People love to get out on the lake or on Puget Sound wherein they seem to get a little crazier than mortal land animals.

One of the best house parties in my lifetime was the opening day of boating season back a few years ago at a home on Hunts Point near Clyde Hill on the Eastside of Lake Washington. My trio of Merwin Kato on drums, Garrett Smith on bass, and myself on keyboards was contracted to play in the afternoon on the huge lawn facing the lake. As it turned out, we were just the opening act on opening day. The main performers for the evening were none other than the legendary Steve Miller Blues Band.

Upon arriving early I got my keyboard on site and promptly started my sound check while the bass and drums set up their gear. Unbeknownst to me, the Steve Miller Band had just arrived in Steve's gorgeous yacht and was docking while I was jamming. I was just groovin' on my 88's the way I always do, head down, and playing funky when someone says to me, “That sounds real cool.” As I was totally into the tune I didn't look up at first just nodding saying “Yeah, thanks.” When I took a break from playing I realized that I was surrounded by the entire Steve Miller Band and they seemed hypnotized by my music. Once again Steve says to me, “That sounds great.” I was temporarily stunned by Steve and his band wanting to soak in my sound. It was an honor to play the gig and receive such fine words from a true legend.

The Meanings of Music

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Feb 6, 2014

When one stops to think about music in our society and others, you realize that there is, in fact, music in many forms all around us on a daily basis. Music is on television, the radio, the Internet, at nightclubs, casinos, restaurants, in elevators, on iPods, and even in the supermarkets twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. One can attend the symphony, a street fair, a state fair, or a church and most likely hear the most wonderful music in the world.

Upon closer inspection, a music aficionado will also come to realize that there is an extremely broad spectrum of styles and genres. During the course of the same evening, one could hear happy upbeat dance grooves, followed by a wailing, crying Blues song, only to have the set wrapped up with a sentimental love ballad. These various moods will all be great assuming the performers are sincere. One must also note that in the USA we have a substantial amount of commercial music made specifically for advertising. There is so much of it that it is actually considered music. I suppose this depends on your definition of music or music quality.

There are also other cultures wherein the musical forms have been created for religious ceremonies and not for entertainment as we know it. These musicians play the music "with the fear of God" so to speak, not for an inebriated and obnoxious dinner crowd. Traditionally, in the USA, there has been working music such as was developed in the Old South, the call and response songs of the plantation workers, for example. I believe there actually still remains a spinoff of this musical form when today's jazz players work as background musicians at large restaurants, malls, and casinos. Although it appears that the live music is for the shoppers, eaters, and gamblers, it is just as much for the waiters, waitresses, custodians, and black jack dealers as the strong music grooves truly help them through an 8-10 hour workday, 5-6 days a week, week in and week out.

Now at this point I would like to remind the readers that just because someone is playing background music as opposed to a major concert it doesn't necessarily mean the music is terrible. A friend of mine once said to me, “Deems, there are only two kinds of music - good and bad.”


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Sat, Jan 25, 2014

During the late 1990s, AKA the end of the last millennium, when the stock market was going through the roof and no one thought it would ever end, I had the good fortune to work at many fine corporate events.

One of the coolest was, of course, The Microsoft Tech Ed Jam Sessions, wherein I hosted an open mic in the evening for the convention attendees. We held amazing parties in Dallas, Texas several times in the 90's and in the new millennium with outstanding success.

During our first visit to a touristy gift shop right in downtown Dallas I observed an old biker sign that read “No Jap Bikes Allowed,” which really surprised me.

However, during subsequent visits that particular sign was removed (or sold). I also found the Texans to be very friendly on the whole and good story tellers. I myself like to tell stories and so in that respect there was a comfort zone, so to speak, when traveling in the “Lone Star State.”

There is a fantastic eatery on Greenville venue near downtown called the Aw Shucks Oyster Bar. They have every kind of delicious seafood you could want and when your order comes out the customers sit outside in hot weather at picnic tables with large rolls of paper towels and hot sauces ready to go. Aw Shucks also has great cocktails and a relaxed atmosphere, we ate there many times for sure.

Besides hosting and jamming on the keyboards at night, my days were free to do whatever, one could say that being a professional musician is an alternative lifestyle. Back at that time my wife Jean and I were just starting to take up golf and we discovered that Dallas has several great public courses right in town.

The first course we tried is called Tenison Park Golf Club and is built over and around a little river called Tenison Creek. It is a great municipal course of championship quality, not fancy but with two eighteen hole par 72 treks both with a comfortable degree of difficulty. The closest I ever came to getting a hole in one was on this course.

As it turns out, the legendary Lee Trevino actually cut his teeth on this course and the Dallas Athletic Club nearby back in the 50's. Just as the great Fred Couples honed his skills at Jefferson Park Golf Course right in the heart of Seattle, it was cool to play on a course that claims Lee Trevino as one of their favorite sons.

Having spent many years living the life of a traveling musician has truly given me the opportunity to visit and enjoy an abundance of fabulous locations, venues and attractions.

All The Stops

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Jan 9, 2014

My instrument of choice or in musician's lingo 'axe' is of course a good quality grand piano. I believe the term 'axe' was developed as it is what a jazz player will use to 'cut up on' when jamming so to speak. A grand piano has a presence about it, a great sound, and is what I have been training and performing on for many decades. Over the last forty five years of performing I have also had the need to use a variety of keyboards. The Wurlitzer and Fender Rhodes electric pianos, The Hohner Clavinet, The Moog Synthesizer, Korg keyboard, as well as Oberheim, Arp, Kurzweil, Yamaha, Roland, and the list goes on and on. The Hammond B3 Organ is another classic jazz keyboard that is quite cumbersome to move and one that I've never actually owned or mastered.

Although all these instruments have black and white keys on them they are all distinctively different in feel and sound. They all require specific techniques to maximize their usage. Some instruments especially the acoustic ones are velocity sensitive meaning the harder you strike the keys the more volume you get however on many electronic synthesizers the volume remains constant weather you hit the keys hard or soft. Practice is needed to master the sounds and over the last few years with our digital technology one can achieve virtually any sound in the universe on a keyboard.

Most people have seen and heard an old pipe organ that is usually found in large churches. The sound is produced by driving pressurized air through pipes selected by the keys that are depressed. The pitch and loudness is controlled by the use of levers called stops. On most pipe organs there are levers that can be opened up or closed down to mute the sound of any particular note or set of notes. When all the stops are wide open the player will get the biggest possible sound. Unbeknownst to many people this giving to the audience all the sound she's got is where we get the old saying 'pull out all the stops'.