Hozumi Nakadaira (with Hybrid Soul guitarist Chris Young at a Tokyo gallery, which recently had a retrospective show) has been taking photos of jazz musicians for decades.
His photos of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and other legends are a documentation of history _ and gorgeous testaments to their art.
He was one of the few who had bothered to take their photos _ legends making history.
Only the musicians appreciated he was there, snapping away with so much creativity their moments of creativity.
What’s even more amazing, Nakadaira has never made any money off his photos.
Making giant prints for exhibits is very expensive.
He can’t sell them because they don’t fit in any homes.
He sells smaller prints at a fraction of their cost at a several hundred dollars a piece, or replica post cards at cheaper prices even I can afford.
They don’t make up for what he has had to spend on travel to take photos at concerts and clubs around the world.
Nakadaira complains people don’t understand photography is art.
They ask to borrow his negatives _ for free _ as though the fruit of hours of effort and talent and work of love is an accidental commodity at a push of a button that can be borrowed and returned.
Nakadaira runs a cafe called “Dug” in Tokyo, where he used to have concerts by musicians you wouldn’t expect to hear up so close.
But he had to stop the performances. His neighbors didn’t like “the noise.”
He still doesn’t expect to make money from his photos _ those photos he takes carefully on old-fashioned film, those photos that have become album covers of famous artists, some taken right at Dug, transformed in his photo to a dramatic backdrop that claims its rightful place in the history of art, no longer a tiny, dark basement cafe.
There is no money. But he won’t stop.
May 13, 2009 was an important day for our son and taiko drummer Isaku Kageyama.
He played with Japanese jazz trumpeter Toshinori Kondo at the Kuonji Temple up high in the Minobu mountains _ a spot close to the sky, filled with green, air and playfully warbling “uguisu” nightingales and looking so much like a brush painting with mushroom-shaped trees you’d expect God to come down any moment.
Kondo takes the crowd on a journey _ part pilgrimage seeking salvation, part exploration of a multicultural artist’s emotions, sometimes gut-wrenching rage, sometimes sheer ecstasy.
He plays over several electronic soundtracks that have been worked out in advance for tunes, each of which expresses Kondo’s thoughts about the earth’s place in the universe, Japan’s place in the world of self-expression, and the individual’s plight and mission within that planet and place.
Kondo has always explored his Japanese roots and forged a Japanese sound.
But he has also always kept his eyes on what goes beyond race/nationality/genres _ looking for answers in the cosmic.
Taiko with jazz trumpet and a DJ track is a combination that’s a bit unexpected.
But it worked _ splendidly.
It was something I had never seen before but yet it seemed the most natural thing to be experiencing.
In one segment, Kondo told the audience he did a collaboration sometime back with artists that included Nobuyoshi Araki and Seitaro Kuroda for an anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima.
He said they were moved that the people of Hiroshima referred to the A-bomb as “Pikadon,” an onomatopoeia alluding to the “flash” or “flick” of blazing light and the “boom” or “bang” of its lethal sound.
A Westerner would certainly have injected some outrage or maliciousness and called it what it deserved: a mother-fucking etc. … Kondo said.
But the people of Hiroshima just called it Pikadon.
“We found this extremely moving,” he said.
The Japanese language is filled with onomatopoeia.
That’s why some people think the Japanese language is “primitive.”
But I don’t think so, he said.
The Japanese language is very beautiful and musical, and Earth is a very musical planet filled with the sounds of the birds, insects and the wind, according to Kondo.
And he goes into song.
There is never a dull moment.
And it’s never the same.
Isaku felt the joy of sharing such a stage.
Kondo was generous and motioned politely to hand him solo spots. He even told the audience “Kageyama-kun” is nervous and this is the first time we’ve performed together but isn’t he doing a pretty good job?
That evening, Isaku followed Kondo on that journey, every step of the way.
He didn’t pull his leg, and he didn’t tumble down any crevice.
And he was happy.
But looking back, he wants more, he says.
What he wants now is to grow as a musician so he will be able to add something of his own to that trip.
It’s a beginning, and the endeavor will be long and arduous.
But as Kondo says, it is a joy _ just to be born.
And to be playing with Kondo _ that’s nothing but bliss.
“Oh, my Buddha!” was what Toshinori Kondo kept saying.
That was back in the 1980s, when he was in his IMA band stage, fresh from his return from New York, where he had built his fame, and now out to forge his own Japanese jazz sound.
Instead of looking to the West (as in “Oh, my God!”), a musician must look to his/her Asian roots (and start saying, “Oh, my Buddha!” instead).
He was one of the most fascinating people I have ever interviewed.
Maybe he felt sorry for me that our interview was about to end, and I could have been in his presence forever.
He began to clown around and disappeared into the narrow crevice between the wall and a soda vending machine.
“Oh, my Buddha!”
I don’t know why, but this was terribly and perfectly charming.
In his recent book “Inochi wa Sokkyo da (Life Is Improvisation),” Kondo says he studied the lives of Buddhist monks and spiritual leaders when he was younger to find out for himself what made Japanese and Japanese thinking great.
Otherwise, he couldn’t feel confident that, as a Japanese artist, he would have something unique or competitive to say in the world of jazz, dominated by Americans.
The Buddhists all led pretty wild and crazy lives, it turns out, fasting, becoming hermits, wandering penniless, chanting in a frenzy.
Best of all, they had a unique view on the meaning of life and spirituality, which remains key to Kondo’s approach to music today.
Kondo wasn’t satisfied with the Japanese music scene, despite his great success, because it was so insular and it wasn’t trying to say anything universal.
He was hectically busy.
But artistically, he felt he was going nowhere fast.
This is when he started living in Amsterdam, partly to get away and collect his thoughts.
In recent years, he began his “Blow the Earth” project, in which he goes to forsaken but gorgeous places like Machu Picchu and Bali and basically plays his heart out.
No one is there to listen.
He feels at one with the Nature around him as though the pulse in the mountain air is beating in time with his blowing, down to the tiniest pulses in every cell of his body.
It is a true high.
This is about getting to the music that is the origin of life.
It is totally divorced from the usual assumptions about music _ how its success is calculated by how many CDs you sell _ about trying to commercially reach hordes.
One time, Kondo travels to Kenya with a Japanese camera crew and wades into a lake filled with flamingos and pelicans.
Be sure to roll the cameras when I start playing, he says. Thousands of birds are going to take flight. And it will be beautiful.
He starts to blow.
But the birds don’t take off.
They just start to dance.
Why are young Japanese so worried? Kondo wonders in his book.
And they aren’t even worried about what might happen decades from now.
They worry about what might happen next year, tomorrow.
They are so privileged yet they are so afraid.
He was never so afraid.
He kept going for half a century and has never turned back and is still going.
My son plays with this very important Japanese musician WED May 13 at a temple near Mount Fuji.
American singer Tiffany appears at an opening party for a photo exhibit by Hozumi Nakadaira at Art cafe in Tokyo, Oct. 6.
Her voice is at times sparkling like crystal, sometimes sultry like velvet — wow, what cliches. Hey, what they say about great jazz voices happens to be true.
Tiffany has that voice, and all the nice techniques to match, which go to show that great jazz is live and well in Tokyo _ of all places.
It was the perfect place to hear a voice like hers _ surrounded by the gorgeous black-and-white prints of jazz giants like John Coltrane, Theolonius Monk and Miles Davis.
Nakadaira says digital photos aren’t real photos.
For one, they are just coding and are apt to even vanish _ like a glitch or virus, if you don’t watch out.
Photos _ the kind that are painstakingly, lovingly printed in dark rooms _ they are real.
Like art works, they may fade but they last an eternity, he tells me, noting he still has rolls and rolls of film of concerts he can barely remember the dates and places of, although, of course, he remembers the Music, note for note, almost, maybe not quite, but ringing years after the musicians have died, in his ears, in his photos.
Cecil Taylor’s fingers are genius crazed mice, appearing and disappearing, light speed flashes of moments. Cecil himself, his shirted back, trickling sweat, then soaked wet, is a giant uncaged animal, arching, crouching, sometimes lovingly, but most of the time viciously, from the right side of the grand piano, where crystal clear sparkles of notes are triangularly cornered stars falling upon keyboards, all the way to the left hand side, groaning heavily with the growls emanating from the dark piano, now breathing so deeply with life. His unpredictable colors unbelievable originate from a hidden almost perverse yet ultimate, space of soul, outside any
reality. That penetrate, fill your wholeness, that has already forgotten to resist. Concentrated muscle tense that is relaxing, freeing in the numbed hypnosis of his drugging power. Drinks lie untouched on the night club tables. Ears become one. And all other music, all other sound, all other thought can suicidally stop in shame before Cecil. When he rests, and he doesn’t rest, he releases you to sigh in lyrics of relief, the beauty of jazz rhythms, only to thrust you back into the irregularly regulated chords he hears. Till you hear his hands, parting seas, red and black, back and forth. The mad jerkings of perpetual tears choked confusion in your chest are muted in an overwhelmed one-ness of peace. You are tiny, fantasy-filled, merely deformity caught in the immatured evolutionnary stages, but you are ecstatic to have stayed alive long enough to experience what you just experienced. So that the world is no longer a void. But an eternal feeling blanketing cities, skies, machines and
From Yuri Kageyama, “Peeling,” Berkeley, Calif: I. Reed Press, 1988.
First published in Oro Madre.