Deems Reviews

What they're saying about Deems...

Fresh Approach Live In Hawaii The Star Advertiser
Jazz group Deems releases On Irving Street The Asian Reporter
Deems performs at First Jazz and Wine Festival in Mayfield Park Dian McClurg
The Chronicle
Deems mixing soul and jazz Alex Cahan
The Thunderword
Tsutakawa re-Deems his favorite tunes Dean Wong
International Examiner
Where EAST meets the Northwest
The Asian Reporter
Music for the holidays John Pai
International Examiner
Musical Guest: Jazz Artist Deems Tsutakawa KCTS Connects
Playing Altogether Erik Derr
Immediately accessible and distinctively defined John Pai
International Examiner
Cruising with Deems thomas ohaus
International Examiner
Deems Brings Soulful Jazz To Festival Dean Wong
International Examiner
Excerpts Stephen J. Sills
Excerpts Max Millard

From The Star Advertiser, (March 31, 2017)

Fresh Approach

Live In Hawaii

Jazz keyboardist Deems Tsutakawa describes himself as a native of Seattle - his record label is based there - but his newest album was recorded here and his "friends" are Hawaii residents. That's enough to earn the album consideration as a project of the local music industry - particulary since one of Tsutakawa's friends, saxophonist Fred B. Li, is credited with making the recordings.

Tsutakawa, Li and the other players introduce themselves with an extended arrangement of "That's the Way of the World" that gives all of them space to stretch out and take some time in the spotlight. The group also does nicely with its arrangement of "The World is a Ghetto" and a medley that appends "El Mar" to "Europa."

Tsutakawa also includes two originals. "Tough Tofu" has been a musical signature for him for three decades. "Friendly Man" is a bit more recent, it dates from 1991.

The one thing the album could have but doesn't have is much sense of being a "live" recording. Tsutakawa is heard faintly introducing "Tough Tofu" as the closing number of a set at the 'Iolani School Carnival, but other than that these recordings are free of crowd noise. With this music, that's not a bad thing. Visit <>.


From The Asian Reporter, V20, #9 (March 9, 2010), page 13

Jazz group
Deems releases
On Irving Street

Seattle jazz band Deems has released On Irving Street, a 12-song album featuring postmodern arrangements by Deems Tsutakawa, Tim Horiuchi, and Paul Richardson. Among the album’s featured musicians are keyboardist Tsutakawa, percussionist Horiuchi, drummer Merwin Kato, guitarist David Yamasaki, sax player and flautist Gordon Uchima, and others.

Bandleader Tsutakawa grew up in Seattle and his family is active in the city’s art and music scenes. The musician points to his years of immersion in the city’s music community as huge influences.

“… My art form, spontaneous composition, jazz, is the perfect vehicle for expressing that swirling potent context — Asian American, African American, European American in all their varied permutations,” he said in a statement. “This fortunate circumstance that I grew up in is a precursor to what is just now happening on the national and international scene.”

On Irving Street is now available from J-Town Records. To learn more, visit <>.


The Thunderword
Highline Community College News
Volume 45 Issue 17, Page 6
February 16, 2006

Deems mixing soul and jazz

by Alex Cahan
staff reporter

Deems Tsutakawa has a style all his own. Tsutakawa, a jazz pianist, will be playing the Blend in Highline’s Bistro on Feb. 22 from 10:30a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

 The Blend is a free concert series put on by Team Highline every other Wednesday. Tsutakawa plays what he calls “contemporary soul jazz.”


“Growing up, besides jazz I always liked R&B and soul, so some of the DJs in the area dubbed me with the moniker ‘contemporary soul jazz’,” said Tsutakawa. “A lot of my music is kind of like R&B grooves – it’s not harsh and frantic. I write a lot of stuff that is sweet and soulful.”

His music, which can be heard on radio stations like 98.9 KWJZ, is smooth jazz, but with a funky Motown-like beat, and is unlike most anything else out there. “If you were to take the blindfold test and listen to several different albums without looking at them, you would be able to tell which artist is which by listening to their style,” said Tsutakawa.

“When you hear my albums you can say ‘That’s Deems’.” Even when he plays covers of other artists, including the Beatles, he arranges the music to fit his style.

He has played with such artists as Kenny G and Julian Priester, as well as opened for Spiro Gyra, Hiroshima, and Maynard Ferguson.

Tsutakawa began taking piano lessons when he was 5 years old. He plunked on his neighbor’s piano until his mother bought one for their home. He started out playing classical music until he was about 14 years old, when he started to play blues, jazz, and R&B. He began to play professionally at the age of 18.

“I guess it’s the passion for the art form and the performance,” said Tsutakawa about why he has played for so long. “In my middle age I’ve become grateful for being able to do something that I love.”

Tsutakawa has nine albums out right now, including a Greatest Hits and a DVD. “I have achieved airplay with many of my albums worldwide. The biggest hit I’ve had is a song called Tough Tofu which is still heard on international radio stations,” said Tsutakawa.

He spends a lot of time writing and composing music. He says he gets much of his inspiration from life experience.

“Music is kind of a reflection of life, so I get inspiration at a lot of different places,” said Tsutakawa.

Some of this life experience and inspiration comes from his family life. He is the second son and third child of world-famous sculptor George Tsutakawa and koto (a Japanese stringed instrument, similar to a zither) player Ayame Tsutakawa.

“Growing up there was a lot of art and artists around the house,” said Tsutakawa. “I took it for granted until I moved out on my own. I think myself and my siblings learned a love for art through osmosis – just having it around.

“Mom and dad never told us to love art or go into it, it was just a culturally rich environment, and artistically rich.”

His dad took him and his three other siblings to art museums in big cities whenever they went on family trips. They had always thought that was normal, and that every kid did that.

“Now I cherish the experience,” said Tsutakawa. “I look back and think ‘wow – we were lucky’.”

All four of the Tsutakawa children went into an artistic field. His oldest brother, Gerard, became a sculptor like his father, and made The Mitt standing outside of Safeco Field. His older sister, Mayumi, became an art organizer and is on the Washington State Arts Commission, and his youngest brother, Marcus, became a composer and the band teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle. Under his direction that band has placed first place 13 out of 15 times in (NW schools band competition and has gone international)

Besides writing and performing, Deems Tsutakawa also owns his own record label, J-Town records, and he gets heavily involved in the business side of his art. It wasn’t what he wanted to do, but he says it comes with the territory.

“Most artists don’t want to deal with the business part, but I am heavily involved. I do booking and managing besides playing,” said Tsutakawa.

“I started J-Town records about 30 years ago, and released some 45 records as EPs. To date I have released nine albums of my own material and produced some other albums of other people on my label,” said Tsutakawa.

While he records about 80 percent original material, what he plays in concert all depends on the venue.

“I’m a stylist, not a virtuoso. I don’t aspire to do that,” said Tsutakawa.

More information on Deems Tsutakawa can be found on his website

International Examiner, Volume 32 No. 20

Tsutakawa re-Deems his favorite tunes

by Dean Wong
Examiner Contributor

After three decades of entertaining music fans in Seattle, the Northwest and around the world, smooth jazz artist Deems Tsutakawa released his milestone “Greatest Hits” CD earlier this year.

Deems is an icon in the Asian American community, entertaining fans at restaurants, bars, street festivals and community gatherings. Deems headlines the International Examiner’s annual “Arts, Etc.” event on Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Port of Seattle Pier 69.

As his music grew, Deems picked up fans around the Northwest, then caught the ear of jazz listeners across the nation and overseas.

Deems has produced six albums and CDs. His friends and associates suggested the idea of a CD with all his best songs, representing over 30 years in the music business. “Greatest Hits” has 14 tunes.

“Some are personal favorites,” said Deems.

All the classic Deems’ compositions are represented in “Greatest Hits,” including songs like “Good Stuff,” “Sailing to San Juan,” and “Samba.”

“Tough Tofu” may be Deems’ all-time best hit. “It has received a ton of airplay, nationally, in Europe and the Far East,” he said.

Also on the CD is Deems’ quiet and reflective tune “Song for Jean,” written for his wife.

Deems’ versions of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “That’s the way of the world,” and the Beatles “Here, there, everywhere,” and Rogers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things,” show off his diverse musical pallet.

It’s on these classic soul, pop and orchestral songs that Deems shows off his ability to add his brand of soul to any tune.

“When I do other people’s material, I do it in my style, rather than clone the record,” said Deems.

This year has been a busy one for Deems with six concerts a week in night clubs around the Northwest. “I’ve carved my niche. People know my sound,” Deems said.

Photo by Dean Wong

Deems’ schedule of shows this fall and winter include Grinder’s Restaurant in Shoreline, The Wellington Restaurant in Rainier Valley, Pacific Place in downtown Seattle for “Xmas Jazz,” among other places.

Deems can be heard at Alexandria’s on 2nd where his shows are looser. “We play some good funky smooth jazz, a throw down style, cutting the groove,” Deems said.

With a reputation as a jazz musician in the Asian American community going back to the mid-70s, Deems provides opportunities for Asian jazz musicians to show off their talent. His bands, however, are multi-cultural.

“Asian players find me. They show up at gigs, bring their ax and sit in,” said Deems.

Brother Marcus Tsutakawa, the leader of the award winning Garfield High School Orchestra, has been playing with Deems
since both were teens.

Their first public performances were at the old Mikado's restaurant during jam sessions.

During a performance at IKEA earlier this year, Marcus joined the band on bass guitar.

Deems' father was the late George Tsutakawa, a renowned artist whose fountains, sculptures and paintings are Northwest treasures.

Photo by Dean Wong

His other brother Gerard Tsutakawa is a sculptor who created "The Glove" sculpture at Safeco Field.

Sister Mayumi Tsutakawa is a longtime arts organizer and an administrator for the Washington State Arts Commission. Mother Ayame Tsutakawa is an accomplished koto player.

The success of smooth jazz in the Northwest has been beneficial to Deems. He plays many clubs outside of the Seattle area.

Deems went to Spokane for a series of concerts, not knowing what to expect in an area with few Asian Americans. The reception he received was warm. He packed a mall and nightclub for two shows.

"People appreciate funky soulful tunes," he said.

Deems has 20 to 30 songs being played on radio stations in the United States and countries like Japan, Hong Kong and Great Britain.

He has traveled to Florida, New Orleans, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles and Hawaii to play.

Deems is always meeting new musicians in each city he goes to. "There are guys who can play, but are not that famous. I network and meet them," he said.

One such player is saxophonist Clarence Johnson from New Orleans. Deems went to see the movie "Ray," about the life of Ray Charles and was surprised to see Johnson in the film as a member of the band.

In 1984, Deems visited Japan and hung out at six nightclubs. "I learned how to say 'Can I play?'" he said.

After being invited on the stage, Japanese players remarked on how different his sound was.

Deems has worked with Kenny G, Roy Ayers, Tony Gable, Julian Priester, as well as opening for Spyro Gyra, Hiroshima and Maynard Ferguson.

When jazz pianist George Duke came to Seattle awhile back, Deems stood in line to get his autograph.

Deems gave Duke a copy of his CD "My Music Loves Christmas." The next morning Duke appeared on a morning television program and played Deems' arrangement of Jingle Bells," much to his delight.

Deems is not only familiar with the business side of playing jazz, he started his own label J-Town Records.

Running his own company was not what he wanted to do, but he says it comes with the territory. He juggles phone calls with booking agents, in-between dropping off CDs at record stores like Silver Platters and Tower Records.

He prefers small intimate rooms, versus larger concert halls and favors playing a grand piano.

"I've been playing for myself a lot more. If the music is good, the reward is playing it. In middle age, I'm more thankful for the life I have. I have become more grateful," said Deems.

Releasing the "Greatest Hits" CD inspired Deems to get focused on his music again.

"It's a statement of who I am," said Deems.

Future projects Deems is considering include a CD of jazz standards like "Misty" and "Fly Me To The Moon." A straight ahead jazz recording is also a possibility.

"To make a living playing music, that is a great honor," said Deems.

Other Deems recordings include, "Living Deems," "The Planet Deems," "Deems Plays for Lovers," "Seattle Groove," "Love West" and "L.A. Live."

To find Deems' CDs, visit any Silver Platters or log onto where a list of upcoming concerts can also be found. Also visit for information on Deems performance at "Arts, Etc." on Nov. 5.

From The Asian Reporter, V12, #51 (December 17-30, 2002), page 15

Where EAST meets the Northwest

Deems Tsutakawa Christmas CD
My Music Loves Christmas
Produced by Deems and Ross Yanagawa
Musical arrangements by Deems and Seattle Groove
Engineered by Rick Fisher
J-Town Records, 2002

Seattle jazz pianist Deems Tsutakawa has entered the crowded holiday-music field with his album My Music Loves Christmas.

Accompanied by Seattle Groove, Deems offers jazzy versions of classic yuletide tunes such as "Silent Night," "The Christmas Song," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The album is the ideal companion for chestnut- roasting fans of easy-listening jazz.

Joining Deems on the album are Marcus Tsutakawa on bass, David Yamasaki on guitar, and Gordon Uchima on saxophone, along with Tim Horiuchi on percussion, Kevin Boyd on vibes, and Tony Gable on congas.

The music is primarily instrumental, and focused on Deems Tsutakawa’s tickling of the ivories, but vocalist Dara joins the band for a pleasing rendition of "For Christmas Sake."

My Music Loves Christmas is available on line at or by writing to: J-Town Records, P.O. Box 78035, Seattle, WA 98178.

International Examiner

Deems Tsutakawa
Music for the holidays

by John Pai

Examiner Contributing Writer
November 2002

The bins of holiday music have been ever increasing in the past several years. It seems that almost every artist in every genre has tried his or her hand at this now age-old material. Sounds simple enough but the task is much more difficult than it first appears, particularly since each holiday song is now a standard that everyone and their grandmother knows. Putting a different spin or interpretation on a popular classic can be a career-altering task. Of the many holiday albums that have come out over the years, the percentage of failures and throwaways are much greater than the successes. What is important is that the material is varied and is presented in a memorable and personal way specific to the artist. As a collector of over two to three hundred holiday albums, if I can find 2-3 tracks on an album that is distinctive and captures a feeling for the season, then I feel the experience is well worth the $12-$14 that I shelled out.

In Deems' "My Music Loves Christmas," there's variety, distinctiveness and also a couple of numbers that don't quite work for me. What is clear throughout is the uncompromising beauty of the heart and soul of the pianist, which emanates so clearly from each note of his instrument. It's 100 percent Deems. My favorites are the selections that feature Deems in the forefront or when he takes over and kicks things into a higher gear. "God rest you Merry Gentlemen" has a cool almost Brazilian feel to it while the blues emanates from the group's rendition of "Go Tell It On The Mountain." There's also a nice new piece showcased by Dara on the vocals of "For Christmas Sake." The highlight though is Deems' and Seattle Groove's rendition of "My Favorite Things," which glides and moves in a very distinctive "Beacon Hill" groove that once again defines the musical genesis of the music Deems puts out there. A distinctiveness that many of us know all too well in the pit of our souls and in the corners of our minds.

Once again in each selection Marcus Tsutakawa provides the strong bass backbone along with the soulful guitar of David Yamasaki and drums of Steve Banks. Kevin Boyd also appears on vibraphones along with Gordon Uchima on sax, Tim Horiuchi on percussion, Tony Gable on congas and Dara on vocals.

Available from J-Town Records at

As seen on KCTS


McNamaraThis week on KCTS Connects we feature the music of jazz pianist Deems Tsutakawa who is accompanied on vibraphone by Kevin Boyd. A native of Seattle, Deems is the son of artist, George Tsutakawa. Deems began playing piano at the age of five and at the age of nine was chosen winner of the Washington State Music Teachers Association's Annual Award. He originally played classical music but in high school turned his attention to jazz. He started his own label, J-Town Records in 1982. His first release, DEEMS, was selected by nationally renowned jazz educator, Dr. Herbert Wong, as a top 20 "Vital Jazz Vinyl."

His second album, Living Deems (1986), launched the hit single "Tough Tofu" which still receives airplay worldwide. The artist's other albums include, The Planet Deems (1992), Deems Plays For Lovers, and Love West, featuring his band, Seattle Groove.

Special to AsianWeek

Playing Altogether

By Erik Derr

At this point in his career, says internationally recognized jazz artist Deems Tsutakawa, it’s all about synergy.

The Japanese American keyboardist — whose upbeat music has been described as a cross between blues, R&B, jazz and funk — is perhaps best known for his 1986 best-selling single “Tough Tofu,” still aired on radio stations around the world. His first album, Deems, released in 1983, was acclaimed by national music critic Herbert Wong as one of the year’s “Top 20” vinyls.

Now after more than three decades in the music industry, 50-year-old Deems, who calls his music “contemporary soul jazz,” says playing with others has become one of his greatest joys.

After a recent concert, Deems said, “There are a lot of great individual artists out there, but to have a great ensemble, it’s special. It’s a powerful thing.”

Deems’ newest release, L.A. Live, offers listeners that collaborative magic he speaks of. The album was recorded during a live concert at L.A.’s Japan America Theater last April. Deems performed on grand piano and electronic keyboard with guitarist David Yamasaki, bass player Steve Kim and drummer Danny Yamamoto, who also plays for the Japanese American group Hiroshima.

The album, released through Deems’ J-Town Records, features several newer pieces such as “Love West” and “The Most Beautiful Things.” It also includes old favorites, “Tough Tofu” and “Song of Jean,” a piano solo Deems wrote for his wife.

Deems says the name for “Tough Tofu” came from an old Japanese American saying, “Tough tofu and hard gohan,” or hard rice. It means, “That’s all you get, so just take it. Make the best out of what you have.”

L.A. Live is a significant departure from Deems’ nine other studio-produced albums. That might have been a risk, Deems admits, but he wanted to capture the euphoria he feels on stage.

The music gods have indeed smiled on Deems, one of the few Asian Pacific American musicians to enjoy wide success in the mainstream market. But while some suspect his story could inspire ethnic pride or hold some deeper social meaning, Deems — who has lived and worked in Seattle his whole life — contends he’s never been motivated by APA politics.

“I’m a performing artist, a jazz musician first,” he says. “My Japanese heritage is incidental.”

At the same time, Deems laments the “corporatization” of today’s music industry. He asserts big-name production companies stifle individual creativity by “pigeonholing” artists into specific marketing categories.

Deems, who started J-Town in 1976, figures he’s fared so well because he’s avoided the control of big company executives.

Longtime friend Cedric James, who currently works as an on-air radio host at KWJZ-FM, a Seattle Smooth Jazz station, agrees that Deems’ music appeals to listeners because it’s eclectic and can’t be easily categorized. But maybe even more important, James adds, Deems’ music is a direct reflection of the artist himself.

“It’s uplifting, soulful, playful,” says James.

Deems says his music reveals secrets about his life as the son of a world-famous father and business-minded mother.

Deems’ father was George Tsutakawa, a prized sculptor who created 60 major works in his lifetime. His mother, Ayame, was schooled in dance and traditional Japanese music. She has always had a knack for business promotions, he recalls.

Deems adds that he didn’t follow his father’s work because “the footsteps were just too big.” Nor did he seek a career in classical music, though he studied classical piano for 10 years.

Deems informs that the jazzy rhythms of pianists like Joe Sample and Oscar Peterson caught his ear during his teen years. “It was the style,” Deems says. For him, he continues, music has never been about “how difficult it is or how many notes you can cram into it. It's the feel.”

Deems says his style has changed over the years, as he’s not only become more appreciative of collaborations but confident in his own skills. His earlier works were “mellower” and focused on his piano playing, whereas his recent work is up-tempo and places more emphasis on other instruments.

He is currently working on his first-ever Christmas album, which he hopes will be released in the fall. Also — in hopes of attracting younger listeners who may recall their parents’ recordings of the piece — Deems is taking “Tough Tofu” back into the production studio, where he is remixing it with a heavier, urban dance beat.

Deems doesn’t yet know when the new version of “Tofu” will be available or how popular it will be, but he promises it’ll be fun.

“It’s an experiment,” he smiles.

International Examiner
April 3 - 16, 2002
volume 29, number 7

Immediately accessible and distinctively defined
The music of Deems Tsutakawa

by John Pai
Examiner Contributing Writer

Live recordings reveal a great deal about an individual artist. Without the benefit of an acoustically pure space as well as the myriad of magical tools of the modern recording industry, the music stands unadorned and pure. In this state, its true nature reveals itself.

Deems Tsutakawa's most recent release on his J-Town record label captures one of these musical moments. Recorded at a performance at the Japan America Theater in Los Angeles in April 2001, L.A. Live brings together a quartet of jazz artists with deep roots in R&B and funk.

Deems' music defines a sound that is both immediately accessible as well as distinctively defined. There's a groove underlying the music that speaks in syncopation with groups like War, Tower of Power and Earth, Wind and Fire, yet leaves ample room for improvisation and layering with the riffs and runs that are uniquely Deems. It's a music that is unlike other similarly defined jazz works, something that is distinctive to the nature of Seattle and the communities here. It is a soulfullness and beauty that encapsulates many of us who have lived through the past 45 years in this urban environment and speaks of rivers we have known.

Even though some of the compositions have appeared in previous recordings, the CD captures an enlivened quartet performing for an extremely receptive and appreciative audience. It compensates for some of the unevenly recoded segments where it is a bit difficult to hear the separate lines of music. All in all, we can celebrate ourselves within the music.

There will be a CD release party April 3 at 8 p.m. at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, located at 2033 Sixth Ave. in Seattle. For more information, call Jazz Alley at 206-441-9729.

From International Examiner, February 2001

Cruising with Deems

Seattle's local pianist talks about the music and the groove
by thomas ohaus

We caught up with J-Town recording artist Deems at the always busy, South China Restaurant / Bar to talk about music and the release of his latest CD Love West. Here we vouch for the combination of good food, conversation, music and drink as antidotes to the everyday ass-whippings life subjects us to.

TO: How do you think the music industry has changed in the last ten years or so?

Deems: It seems music has become Balkanized for marketing reasons. Every genre has sub genres and even the subs have subs. The categorizing of musical taste into more minute market segments shows the industry doesn't trust the listeners to handle the broad categories of jazz, R&B, country, rock, or classical on the same station much less in the same hour. So the segmentation has changed the market, which has changed the way listeners approach music.

It's like asking a person to pick a visual art to define himself. Are you an impressionist, abstract expressionist, or pop-art kind of viewer? It doesn't make much sense. We have favorite works, but most of us are open to all styles in the visual arts so why not in music?

TO: You've played music based on the blues, jazz, R&B and funk for over 30 years and now you seemed to have found yourself in this Smooth Jazz genre. How do you view this genre?

Deems: As you said, my musical influences come from the whole gamut of the blues, jazz and R&B sounds of the inner city. Of course like everyone else, rock and pop was also part of that experience. There is a certain amount of commercial success and notoriety I have now because there is a category to define some of what I've always played, fusing all these influences. When Grover Washington, Jr. came out with "Mr. Magic" there was no such category as Smooth Jazz. It was just one of many sounds on the scene along with George Benson, Al Jarreau or artists from the CTI label. Now 20 years later Mr. Magic is in heavy rotation on smooth jazz stations across the country.

TO: How does the genre affect your music?

Deems: I don't see the genre affecting the kind of music I make as much as it gives me access to a larger audience. But it's a double-edge sword situation. Smooth Jazz, like any other music or creative art form, has its business side. Sometimes those concerns have a limiting factor, working against air-play of music that doesn't fit the mode of what the controlling media or consultants think is the commercially viable sound. It's great that Grover or George Benson can remain popular with their older hits, but not much else of their earlier, harder edge stuff gets played on even R&B or jazz stations because they got pegged into one category. People don't seem to have time for their history or changes.

TO: You get the same treatment with your "Tough Tofu." Will we be able to hear cuts from "Love West" as well as your later releases on our local smooth jazz station?

Deems: I've been fortunate to still get radio play from that older release here in Seattle, nationally and in Europe as well, but it's still difficult to get new or different sounding works on the air. Local station personnel are generally supportive, but again they may be strapped by corporate views on play lists. Which is why a large portion of my time is no spent on promotion.

TO: Used to be a time in Seattle when local music entertainers like yourself, Dee Daniels, Primo Kim or Walt Wagner had a nourishing, supportive night club scene to move around int.

Deems: A lot has changed with the growth of Seattle, the age demographics, and the explosive influence of television and video on the lives of the music audience. The club scene has changed to reflect life style trends and younger flavors. We're all still playing gigs around town and Dee Daniels is singing in Vancouver and in Europe, but getting noticed amidst the hustle and flash of heavily promoted acts in all the genres from big record companies is extremely tough.

But even younger audiences are finding out it's possible to listen to 10 version of "Someone to Watch Over Me" and find something exciting in each one. Then they open up to newer sounds in the same vein. That explains the resurgent interest in Swing, Sinatra and Tony Bennett. There is definitely an appreciation for stylistic and personality differences here, but again the venues are limited. By the way, check out Primo's CD of "To Be Near," release in 1997. He has some tasty vocal interpretations going on.

TO: Recording and having your music in demand on the airwaves is great, but obviously it's important to play the live gigs, to stretch out and engage the audience and demonstrate the energy and personality of your music. Do you have plans or events to promote "Love West" in live performances?

Deems: My web site,, carries a schedule of events and performances coming up in the next few months.

TO: From the opening cut on "Love West," "Early a.m." you're evoking a cool serenity. You've always had that positive energy, looking ahead and beyond barriers that could limit your music or career.

Deems: Yeah, that melody came to me waking up one morning and just being thankful for what we all have here. Like most artists, I want to have a positive influence on the cultural part I engage in. That's also why I wrote "City of Hope." I like the idea of being out in this corner of the country, not confined or burdened by the musical legacy of say, New Orleans jazz, of Chicago blues. We can take all these musical influences and create something very personal. It's a big part of why a Jimi Hendrix, a Quincy Jones, a Kenny G or Pearl Jam was possible. In Seattle, we still have opportunities to create something different out of our social and cultural milieu. But if we're not careful, it could slip away as we homogenize with the rest of the country.

TO: Describe the cut from the CD, "Rainier Ave. South."

Deems: With Light Rail planned down Rainer Avenue and high-tech at Dearborn, some of the funk is definitely going out of that main drag. Before all that happens, this "Rainier Ave. South" was to capture the images, the feeling of that street we grew up on. Not as a thoroughfare to get to work, but as a cruising boulevard, taking in all the neighborhoods from the ID down to Renton. Also, the image of that "Mountain" on a clear crisp day has been there from the get-go and will still be there long after light rail is gone. I wanted to evoke that for all of us who are too old to cruise with a posse down Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Broadway." Check out Rainier Avenue, alone or with a "significant other" on a clear Sunday afternoon or a hot Saturday night. This street, like Siddartha's river of life, is a visceral experience that can be transcending, even at the intersection messes of Jackson and Boren, 23rd or Othello.

TO: You sound like a romantic and an optimist.

Deems: Yeah, I'll cop to both those descriptions I've been fortunate. People and events in my life have given me a world-view that can include all that, as well as the blues. They are also two major sounds in all of DSG releases. If a situation or partner seems to perfectly fit your life, then you want to the music to flow in a groove, like the cuts "Love West" or "Love Chill." Sometimes it doesn't happen often enough in our lives, so people get cynical and jaded. They start to think that live is only for the young and naďve or the rich and privileged, both with the time to indulge and entertain us with their lives. I choose to indulge myself with those themes in my music though I'm neither young nor rich.

Hopefully my own musical statements remind people that it doesn't all have to be nostalgia for the cutting edge music of 40 years ago, or the relentless rotation of commercial radio to feel that groove.

TO: With Seattle Groove you promote the city as well as yourself. Why this tack?

Deems: Seattle, with all the and technology influence, currently epitomizes the life style promoted by smooth jazz. But there is an irony in the success of our city's life. In this book "Faster: The acceleration of Just About Everything" James Gleick describes the "hurry" effect of technology on society. People feel they are in danger of being left behind, so they jump on this ever-accelerating train, continuously bombarded with commercial sensations, that like politics, competes for our hears and minds as well as our money. Music is just one of these sensations and sometimes making choices seems like just one more hassle, when all we're just looking for are moments of respite. The ability for smooth jazz to fulfill that role is a large part of its appeal.

TO: You still write 90 percent of the music that you play, but have branched off into producing other acts. Are there other directions in music for you?

Deems: I'm having fun now and I enjoy the challenges of producing other acts as well as directing my own career. I'm always open to musical changes and challenges, which may not always be reflected in my commercial ventures. I'd like to se how my musical writing and theater would go together. I'd also like to imprint my style on a set of jazz standards. Whatever direction it takes, the goal is always to connect emotionally with the audience, to product a groove, a positive state, that cannot be denied, unless of course you're full of yourself. In that case - "Tough Tofu."

International Examiner July 1, 1996

Deems Brings Soulful Jazz To Festival

by Dean Wong

Deems Tsutakawa, a jazz pianist who has established himself as a cultural icon in Seattle's Asian American community for the last twenty-five years, returns to the Chinatown International District Summer Festival this year to play an evening concert.

Deems' association with the annual street festival began when it was held in the parking lot of the Uwajimaya store during the early 1970's. "There was all kinds of guys playing in those days. It was a jam. We jammed hard. There was lots of raw energy and spirit," he said.

Every artist has a beginning. Deems' first exposure to music was at the age of 5. "I used to wait for a ride to school at a friend's house. They had a piano. I used to bang on it as I waited for a ride."

Deems' mother bought the piano and took it home for her son to play. The piano is still in the family home to this day.

Creativity runs in Deems' family. His father is the internationally renowned sculptor George Tsutakawa. Mother Ayame has a background in dance and plays traditional Japanese instruments. His brother Marcus often plays bass for Deems and leads the award winning Garfield High Jazz Orchestra. Another brother, Gerard is a respected sculptor and sister Mayumi is a noted Northwest writer and curator.

Although he took classical music lessons, Deems found that he preferred rhythm and blues. "We all grew up and danced to it," he said.

As a teenager he was captivated by the art of jazz. He began listening to Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Peterson, Cannonball Adderly and Wes Montgomery.

At Franklin High School, Deems was elected student body president. He performed at school assemblies and "played music that made the girls scream," according to a biography written by a record company.

His first steady night club "gig" was at the Mikado Restaurant in 1970. With a trio composed of his brother Marcus on bass and Billy Thompson on drums, Deems began his professional career as a jazz musician.

The group played all the hot Chinatown nightclubs, places like the New Chinatown, The King Yuen, Silver Dragon and the China Gate.

Over the years, Deems developed a loyal following in the Asian community as he performed solo or with his band at numerous community functions.

eems has played in African American nightclubs which once flourished in the Central Area. Places like Latiff's, Thompson's and the Heritage House exposed him to an enthusiastic non-Asian audience.

Deems would be invited onto the stage. "I'd be the only Asian guy in the room. If you're playing good, they let you know it."

"It is a wonderful experience to play in those rooms," he said. "It's important to know where you came from and also have a following in your own community. But you have to reach out beyond your community."

Deems formed his own label, J-Town Sounds and made three recordings. The first album was "Deems," followed by "Deems-Living."

His third recording "The Planet Deems" was the #1 Album of the Year at KBEM-FM in Minneapolis in 1992. It stayed on the station's charts for twenty weeks. For six weeks it stood at the number one position.

Handling his own management, Deems books all his performances and nightclub appearances. "I've spent a lot of time and energy developing musically, but you have to have some business sense," Deems said. He has played in Hawaii, Florida, Minneapolis, Alaska, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Tokyo and London. He delivers CD's to Tower Records when their supply runs low and then talks to radio stations across the country about playing his music. "My day job is on the phone. I talk to club owners, concert promoters. I'm getting used to the business end, my networking has gotten better."

Artistically, Deems says he is evolving. "My new stuff coming up is the best stuff I've recorded. My confidence and my production techniques, writing and arranging has evolved."

Deems would like to sign with a major label or independent record company. But for now Deems enjoys the artistic freedom of not having a record company tell hem what to play. "I get to do what I want to do. I can make the musical statement I want to make. To groove."

Deems' fourth recording "Deems Plays For Lovers" is expected to be released this fall.

You can catch Deems in action from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 9 at the 20th Annual Chinatown International District Summer Festival.

May 12, 1994

Excerpts from CHOICES

by Stephen J. Sills

Wearing a large straw hat and a polka-dotted shirt, Deems Tsutakawa sits behind the baby grand piano of the Excalibur Lounge in the University Plaza Hotel. Between tunes, he carries on a conversation with members of the audience about the poor performance of the Sonics this past weekend. "The only reason I got cable," he says in a jovial tone, "was to watch basketball. Now that the whole thing is over for the Sonics, I'm thinking of canceling it." With this he explodes with laughter, sounding like a car on a cold morning. A rapid, almost maniacal ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha . . .

"He's obviously doing what he loves and everybody picks up on it," says guest guitarist Steve Black who has known Deems for over ten years. "They can't come in here and leave sad, because the guy is always laughing. He's got that atrocious laugh, and it makes you laugh, too."

Deems grew up in a very artistic environment. His father is the world famous sculptor and painter, George Tsutakawa, now retired in his mid-eighties. . . . Deems feels that they were very fortunate growing up: "Dad's house is just packed with artwork, slides, sculptures, and ceramics that he's collected over a lifetime. When we use to travel, dad used to take us to museums. We kind of took it for granted. My mother, behind the scenes, has been a huge part of my father's success. She's real classy and she's real serene, but inside she's got a quiet storm a real intensity.". . .

Deems plays with the same kind of internal intensity that he respects in his mother, a kind of quiet storm, coming from within. Mellow mood music slowly builds into a tempest-like climax. Intricate rhythms and bass lines provide an invariable groove for the melodies: "I like to write from the rhythm section. I like to develop the grooves and the chords and the bass lines. Then, a lot of times, I'll put the melody down to adapt to that."

He enjoys rhythm so much that one of his hobbies, along with tennis, jogging and watching basketball, is to play the drums. "I like to play drums. Not professionally, but I like to play drums for fun. It's like meditation, but it's good for song writing too. I (also) play a lot of tennis, and I do some jogging. I used to play basketball and I used to coach basketball too. I really missed it. I was jonesing it. I picked up tennis late in life, just in the last five years to fill (the need for) exercise and that edge, that competitive edge."

June 19, 1986

Excerpts from EAST/WEST

by Max Millard

Dressed in white pants and a T-shirt displaying a large alligator, Deems told of his long struggle toward musical success. Born and raised in Seattle, he began playing professionally right after high school. . . Occasionally breaking out in cackling laughter, he clearly demonstrated how he has charmed his way into numerous TV and radio stations throughout the West, promoting his personality as much as his infectiously rhythmic mainstream jazz. . . Deems calls his style"contemporary soul jazz". His first album, released in 1983 under the title "deems",. . . continues to sell. Its classic combination of piano, bass, drums, and saxophone, he said, is "timeless," unlike the "faddish" synthesizer.

In both his albums and in the two singles that preceded them, he is not only the pianist, but the band leader, producer and chief songwriter and arranger. He started his own record company, the Seattle-based J-Town Records, and along with his wife Jean, has promoted his own work to create a demand for his live performances and recordings.

The diminutive 34 year-old artist is the son of George Tsutakawa, a celebrated sculptor and painter. Deems studied classical music from age five to 15, then turned to jazz. His brother Marcus, plays bass on the albums and is a songwriter as well. While Marcus has a master's degree in music, Deems has no degree. "My credentials," he said, "are those disks and these calluses on my fingers."

Deems' music is a blend of rock, pop, rhythm & blues and classic jazz. He avoids atonal music and jazz fusion, calling his style "very marketable." . . .

Sometimes he dreams that he is performing, and wakes up with a song in his head. It's not always necessary to get up and write down the notes or record the idea on cassette. "If I really like a song, I give it a title as soon as I can," he said. "When I see this title, it brings back the image and the feeling that I have, and then I can remember the song."