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
Uncle Harry December 19, 2018
The Administrator October 12, 2018
Heal Sept 14, 2018
A Few Crumbs August 10, 2018
Too Nice July 13, 2018
Smile On June 8, 2018
Free Music May 25, 2018
Soul Foods April 27, 2018
The Love Of Art March 9, 2018
Economics February 2, 2018

Uncle Harry

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Dec 19, 2018

My wife is from the inland empire of Spokane and has far too many cousins to keep track of. Her dad was born in Bellevue Washington around 1914 and had eleven siblings. In those days Bellevue was all farmland. Today of course it is a bustling suburb of asphalt, condos, and shopping malls surrounded by miles upon miles of fancy homes. In 1928 Jean's grandfather was tragically killed by a tractor in a farming accident. Subsequently her grandmother had to raise a dozen kids by herself through the Great Depression of the 30's. I must admit that it is virtually impossible for us Sansei to comprehend the degree of difficulty they must have endured. John Yamamoto, Jean's dad, had a younger brother named Harry. When we were first married Harry lived just across the street from John and bore a striking resemblance to him. During the family dinners in Spokane I would from time to time have a opportunity to quiz the uncles on what it was like when they were kids. Many of the stories were sad and heartbreaking for sure.

As times for her dad's family were beyond lean and it was all they could do to put food on the table all the Yamamoto kids were sent out to find work from a very early age. When Uncle Harry was a mere eight years old a Hakujin family friend took the child to a neighboring farm to try and get him a summer job. The friend told the farmer to try Harry out for a week and if he didn't like the kid he didn't have to pay him. Naturally the first job that came up was quite a challenge. The neighbor told the youngster to saddle up a large horse and put a harness on too. The grade school aged Harry must have been barely three feet tall and at first he just stared up at that big old horse thinking, "how the heck am I going to get a saddle on that animal?" Somehow he did in fact manage to saddle up the beast and ended up working all summer for the guy. Hats off to the Issei and Nisei for their dogged determination and hard work that made our lives so much better than what they had to go through just to survive.

The Administrator

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Oct 12, 2018

As well as being a full time solo jazz pianist, I also have been the self-employed band leader for countless musical configurations spanning many decades. A typical June or July calendar may have a dozen or more ensemble engagements to go along with another ten to twenty solo gigs during the span of 4-5 weeks. A schedule like this will always include a wide variety of venues, contacts, contracts, invoicing, and technical audio requirements for each individual performance. Sometimes it seems like a lifetime of scheduling with an emphasis on details. Like any business, one must have good work habits and be task oriented. Although there has been a downturn in physical products like CDS and cassettes, it has become the one item that is in my favor. I no longer have to do warehousing, inventory, and shipping of boxes of records to be sold at retail outlets. This has taken a major workload off my plate and I like that.

When the great Cannonball Adderly passed away, his brother, Nat, said that Cannonball was a great band administrator and organizer for the various orchestras he led. There are, and always have been, a plethora of talented musicians, but the thing that impresses me is when you have a great ensemble as opposed to a singularly great soloist.

My wife, and others, like the expression, "if you love your job then you never have to work a day in your life." This axiom has been a good moniker for my humble career, however, recently there is a much more contemporary version of this sentiment. If someone asks me how I'm doing, my response is "I am living the dream." Playing cool jazz, eating well, golfing with friends - who could ask for anything more?


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Sept 14, 2018

Just about everyone who has had a full time job has gone to work at some point with a cold, a headache, or a multitude of various maladies. For many, it is considered a matter of pride or even a badge of honor to perform your duties even though you don't feel well. It is not only what the boss expects of us but also what we expect of ourselves. The world is full of dedicated employees and this is usually a good thing.

For many years, the master of ceremonies for the Academy Awards was the famous comedian Billy Crystal. Whenever he closed out the show, his final remark was always "remember, it is better to look good than it is to feel good." Most people probably thought he was just being sarcastic, however, in his business there is a lot of truth to his closing statement. Billy, of course, has made many major motion pictures as well as a long career as a standup comic. There is actually a fine line between comedy and tragedy. Many comedians have come from rough childhoods and use their comedy as a way to heal their souls.

In Hollywood there are roles that come up that might be unflattering, unsatisfying, or even downright demeaning. Some of these parts are paying gigs though and, as Billy Crystal says, "remember to look good even if you feel bad."

Generally speaking, musicians don't have the luxury of sick leave, paid vacation, or a pension. It's a good thing I love my work as I'll never fully retire and, luckily, I have had a plethora of paid vacations. As for the sick leave, I too have gone to work while under the weather too many times to count. The funny thing is that my job seems to have a healing effect on me. For some reason, although I may be coughing, sneezing, and have a runny nose, when I start playing the 88's my symptoms virtually disappear. The healing power of music is becoming well documented, it may not cure everything but it is definitely a blessing and a joy for many.

A Few Crumbs

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, Aug 10, 2018

In America, we have a very high standard of living especially when compared to large parts of Asia, Africa, and South America. Granted, there are some economically poor counties and neighborhoods in the USA but we, for the most part, have clean drinking water, food, and shelter. It should be noted that the plight of the homeless people is a worldwide problem with no easy solution. I have not been to Africa or South America but my friends tell me that in some regions the average person is living in conditions that are two full levels below the worst US poverty. Here on the west coast one could have a modest job but if you live within your means you should be able to cover your rent, eat well, and even play a round of golf from time to time.

During the 70's and 80's, as the US auto industry declined, many Americans blamed the Japanese car companies for the loss of manufacturing revenue and jobs. People were against imports and complained that the foreign companies like Toyota and Honda were to blame.

When I mentioned this notion to my former next door neighbor, who is of Greek ancestry, he gave me a very thoughtful insight on the subject of imports and exports. My neighbor said to me, "who allows all these Japanese cars to get into the USA in the first place?" He stated that if GM, Ford, and Chrysler didn't want imports to come here there would be legislation against it. He wisely said that "Ford and Toyota behind closed doors are in bed together." In other words, the American car companies are getting some profit from the sale of the Japanese cars or it would never happen.

I personally cannot fathom the amount of money that is generated in the manufacturing of cars, jets, weapons, software, or the oil industry. The other thing my neighbor said to me is that "if the large corporations just leave a few crumbs around for the rest of us normal people then we'll be okay." Millions of us Americans are actually living a pretty good life off of these crumbs.

Too Nice

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, July 13, 2018

Unbeknownst to many people are the cultural differences between Japanese and Chinese both here and abroad. On the one hand, most Asian Americans have a lot in common and generally tend to hang out in various groups of folks from predominantly similar ancestries. On occasion, I have to admit to being guilty of this type of social activity as most of my golf and tennis pals are AA's. I have always enjoyed the comradery of fellowship after our weekly tennis matches and hanging out with the guys for a beer and fries was the bomb. It was really good to get the laughs, stories, and perspectives in while having fun. It was also an education of sorts and the cultural values of the various players were always present.

One of my friends named Hiroko, who is from Japan but has lived in The USA for several decades, told me that upon visiting New York City with her girlfriend that they had a somewhat unfortunate experience trying to purchase a battery. Her friend who was also Nihonjin and not familiar with American culture needed a replacement battery for her camera. They found a camera shop that carried her brand and it was listed at $19.95. When she went to the counter to pay for the new equipment the cashier told her it will be $35.00 plus tax. My friend pointed out the actual price but the clerk insisted on the inflated amount. The store clerk knew that most Japanese will not argue over the price of an item. Hiroko made a big deal about it but her Japanese friend paid the over-inflated price anyway.

There are many Chinese that think it is unwise to pay full price and will tell you so at the drop of a hat. There are also many Japanese that do not like to discuss money matters, especially in public. By and large it is generally good to be polite and nice, however, I always say "fair is fair" and will not hesitate to get a good deal.

Smile On

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, June 8, 2018

Whenever I park my car and lock it up with the key fob it puts a smile on my face. The original definition of fob is a small pocket near the waistline of your trousers for your watch, keys, or loose change. These days we all think of the fob simply for use on our remote devices that open and close garage doors, car ignitions, and various other electronic items. When we were first driving back in the day, one had to manually push or pull each door lock one at a time to secure the vehicle from potential break ins. It is just so convenient to walk away from your automobile and touch the fob. We can even simply look out the window at night and lock the car from the house. For some reason even though we've had the fobs for decades it still makes me smile.

While driving through town making a green light seems to put a smile on too. I like seeing dogs, happy children, cool fashions, live music, good foods, and sunny days as well. Certain aromas are very scintillating such as garlic in hot oil, fresh baked cookies with vanilla extract, and BBQ. You've probably noticed that I like to smile.

One of my high school teachers, I believe she taught language arts and her name was MS Tribble, told me that her philosophy of life is that it is the little things in our daily life that are most important and give our lives meaning. She loved people that are kind, storytelling, a well-made sandwich, or a catchy poem. If the song entitled My Favorite Things were rewritten today it might have some new things to consider. I also love to watch sports on TV, program the DVR for shows to be seen later, and use my cell phone for a multitude of things. If we have our health, food on the table, and a few friends to laugh with then it seems that living mindfully and appreciating the simple things should put that smile on each and every day.

Free Music

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, May 25, 2018

My old pal from childhood days, Perry Lee, owns the world's largest collection of Bruce Lee memorabilia and it is on display at The Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle. Perry, his brothers, and I played a lot of street ball, table tennis, and Risk amongst other games while growing up in the Mount Baker neighborhood. Perry also went to my high school and graduated a few years before me. At this time he is closing in on nearly a half century working for the health department where he examines restaurants for complicity with codes. Apparently he loves his job which I can relate to for sure.

Perry and his wife Vicki are staunch supporters of live music. They go out virtually every week of the year to listen to live bands and enjoy the comradery of the greater Seattle night life. Needless to say, they know every eatery, night club, and musician in town. Personally, I feel that the world needs more people like Perry and Vicki as then there would be more live music everywhere.

Upon talking with the knowledgeable couple, the thing that struck me was the fact that they could go out fifty two weeks a year to see good quality live music and never have to pay a cover charge. They can usually get free parking at or near most venues and there is always food and drink specials abound. Coming from a family restaurant background and inspecting restaurants Perry definitely knows good food.

Once again the thing that comes to mind again is the basic function of live music in our society and around the world. Granted there are a few acts like Kenny G and Adele that garner massive revenue but their type of success is quite rare. You could say that one probably has a better chance of winning a mega lotto prize than to make millions playing or singing. If the statement that says the majority rules is true than the rule of live music is to bring people together to see friends, laugh, eat, and tell stories. If you love the night life like I do please be more like Perry and Vicki.

Soul Foods

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, April 27, 2018

The rich tradition of Soul Food started in the old South and was created by the African Americans using whatever ingredients that were made available to them. The cooking style goes back hundreds of years to the slave days and has influenced countless chefs, kitchens, and diners for generations upon generations. Today's version of the legendary cuisine is somewhat healthier than the original as the current cooking methods are for the most part using vegetable oil instead of lard and fresh meats that are less fatty. The cool thing about Soul Food is that the restaurants that specialize in this food style oftentimes like to have live music such as Jazz, Blues, and of course Soul Music on site. The people that frequent the Soul Food eateries are also quite knowledgeable about the music and its quality. When playing music at one of these establishments you need to be groovin' and soulful for sure.

On occasion I like to use the term Soul Food loosely with a worldwide implication encompassing a wide variety of cultures. Perhaps the term 'comfort food' is more appropriate however as far as I'm concerned everybody has a soul. The foods of our ancestors help us with our identity and are something to share with friends, family, and acquaintances. 'Japanese American Soul Food' would be Teriyaki meats and rice with a side of pickled veggies. The Southeast Asians have Pho' noodle soup, Italians love their pizza, and the people of India eat a lot of curry.

Whether cooking on a stove or cooking on a bass guitar I find it is always better to put your Soul into the endeavor. The making of soulful foods and music over an extended period of time gives the art forms a depth of flavor and a richness to be loved over and over again. Thank goodness for our souls.

The Love Of Art

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, March 9, 2018

There is a famous scene in the movie The Shawshank Redemption wherein the character Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, is sitting in the warden's office and listening to beautiful opera music. Andy decides to put a microphone on the stereo vinyl album and blast the music over the prison loud speakers for all the inmates to enjoy. For a few minutes every convict is mesmerized by the voices they hear singing across the prison yard and throughout the corrections facility. Eventually the guards break into the office to turn off the glorious sounds and Andy gets time in solitary confinement. When he finally gets out of "the hole," he tells his friends that it was worth it. The institution can take away his physical freedom but the jail will not steal his love of the beautiful music or whatever is in his soul.

It is no secret that most Japanese Americans lost virtually all their properties, furniture, clothes, and memorabilia during the incarceration and hysteria of the Second World War. My parents were no exception. When my father was discharged from the US Army and mom was released from the prison at Tule Lake, they got married, started a family, and dad went to the University of Washington to pursue a Master's Degree in Fine Arts.

It has always been my gut feeling that although dad's family had a very successful pre-war business he made a conscious decision to follow his passion for oil and water color painting. He also became a visionary sculptor with over sixty major works worldwide and a professor of art until he was forced to retire at the age of seventy. Apparently there was a mandatory retirement age at that time.

I believe it is more than coincidence that all my siblings and myself ended up in the arts. We were never told to go into the arts but rather learned our love of the creative endeavors from dad through osmosis. He was a true artist and had a profound and lasting effect on my life. We were very fortunate to grow up in such an environment.


By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post Thur, February 2, 2018

My old hi school pal, Wayne Rabb, is a talented drummer and has played on several of my albums. We worked together in several bands through the sixties and seventies and it was always a blast. During the decade of the 70's he decided to become a union cement finisher. Wayne is an outgoing, outspoken African American man and had to show great patience to get a cement job. For the good part of a year he went down to the union hall daily in hopes of being sent out on a job. Five days a week the boss sent out all the Caucasian workers but would never call MR Rabb's name for any work. Finally after waiting out the months upon months of frustration he got sent out to work. Eventually Wayne became a journeyman and spent some thirty years doing cement labor. You have to respect his perseverance. He used to tell me with a big smile on his face that he was making 'white money,' He knew it was real cool to making the same as the other guys.

In my personal opinion, the Executive Order 9066 was not only about racism but had other spin offs that would benefit the non-Japanese Americans. Before WW2 my dad's family had a large import/export business of steel and lumber to and from Japan. The company was, of course, shut down and never reopened. The entire inventory, warehouses, land, and a fleet of trucks were confiscated and never returned. I suspect that with the signing in 1988 by Ronald Reagan of the redress for all JAs that the family case will be closed and no more property claims will be allowed.

At a Japanese American Chamber of Commerce meeting back a few years ago, I listened to Taul Watanabe speak. Taul was a very successful businessman. His theme was simply that 'politics is economics and economics is politics.' On occasion while playing a good paying piano gig, I can hear MR Rabb's voice echoing around in the back of my mind and it puts a smile on my face.