I am writing this letter while sitting on the high speed Shinkansen line from Kyoto back toTokyo. It is my last full day here before I head back to Boston tomorrow morning.
So many of you have read these annual letters that I write while on this train. I have been doing this for 15 years! I used to write them in long hand. My fascination with and enthusiasm for Japan, its culture, and my wonderful friends here remains unflagging.
I have written many times about my admiration for this civilized place and the way this country seems to operate. One observes over and over again a caring for the group, and for each other, and I feel that extended to me, an obvious outsider as well . This is manifest in people’s manners, their sensitivity and their adherence to laws and norms. You can see it even in something as simple as waiting for a traffic light as a pedestrian on an empty street! Harmony is a huge value here. And one can relax into it and feel very safe. And with a little bit of Japanese language you will immediately experience the basic friendliness of people here. These are some of the most thoughtful, considerate, patient, and funny people I have ever met.
The music we played on this tour was thrilling for me. Not only was I happy to be reunited with my old friend, Kazumi Ikenaga, the drummer who has invited me to come play with him on tour each year, but we were joined on bass by our old friend Masa Kamaguchi for the first time since he left Boston for New York and now Barcelona 20 years ago. Masa and Kazumi both went to school at Berklee in Boston at the same time 25 years ago. Masa has worked to develop his own characteristic sound and open way of inhabiting the space of the music. He often interjects unexpected bursts of notes that move through the time rather than mark it. He also sometimes sings and growls as he passionately goes for something – making this part of his sound giving a kind of primitive flavor to the proceedings.
Both Masa and Kazumi have a deep feeling for this music, and how to propel it. There is no doubt that Masa’s strong sense of rhythm and his open way of expressing it made us all listen more deeply and let us be more comfortable at the same time. This was a kind of willingness to accommodate all things that allowed us each to take many more chances than we normally do. A deeper curiosity arose that revealed more about each of our personalities as well, each one coming through as an equal part of the conversation. So even though I had written most of the music, it felt less like a piano trio per se, more of a trio trio – each of us taking the lead or following moment by moment. Our audiences of long time fans commented on this at each show as well.
For me, knowing that the music was being cared for in a deep way, kept me less preoccupied and more available to all of life during the rest of the day when I wasn’t playing. A trip of this kind is a special privilege, getting to come to a foreign land and playing in ideal situations for enthusiastic audiences made up of many friends. But also, as challenging and rewarding as life on the road can be, it didn’t really seem all that different from the rest of my life. Sure the conditions are different, but in the sense of learning about life, and about oneself, one is always just attending to what is in front of one wherever one is. I felt the kind of ordinary magic that life and a smile and a tune bring each day.
In a very real sense then, being anywhere with curiosity and warmth, is the perfect situation: a place to observe, to interact with the environment, and to practice getting out of one’s own way.
Below (Kazumi Ikenaga, Masa Kamaguchi, me – March 17, 2015 after our gig at Dolphy Jazz Spot in Yokohama, Japan)