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Pet Sins January 2010

Jazz fusions with Asian music

As the United States exported jazz and jazz musicians to Asia and worldwide, local musicians in Asia began playing jazz. Some ventured into fusing jazz (and other African diaspora musical influences) with indigenous Asian musical styles. The cultural influences went both ways. Jazz composers of color in the West, such as John Coltrane and Duke Ellington, were also open to incorporating Asian influences into their music.

In the following sections, we take a look at a number of meetings between jazz and various Asian cultures. (No attempt is being made to represent all of Asia, a vast and diverse continent, in this article.)

Indo-Jazz Fusion

Fusions between Indian traditional music and jazz are nothing new. A number of well-known collaborations have occured between white jazz artistes from the West and traditional Indian artistes, such as English jazz guitarist John McLaughlin's collaborations with players traditonal Indian musical instruments, including Zakir Hussein and Ramnad Raghavan.2

However, without denying the contributions of European and Euro-American jazz musicians, we would like to focus this section on collaborations between artistes of non-European descent in the field of Indo-jazz fusion.

Jamaican-born UK jazz musician Joe Harriott and Indian-born UK composer John Mayer formed the group Indo-Jazz Fusions in the 60s. 3 The ten-member band featuring a jazz quintet and five Indian musicians released three albums - Indo Jazz Suite and Indo Jazz Fusions Volume 1 and 2.4

In 1969, Harriot collaborated with Indian-born jazz guitarist Amancio D'Silva on the critically acclaimed album Hum Dono.5 D'Silva had been heavily influenced by African American jazz greats such as John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, but he developed a distinctly Indian style of jazz.6 In 1970, Melody Maker said of Amancio: "D'Silva's grasp of both styles ensures that his blend is far more authentic than a lot of the jazz/raga which is hawked about. His playing too has an individual stamp."7

Indo-Jazz fusions were not limited to the United Kingdom. American jazz legend John Coltrane studied Indian music; in 1965, he recorded Om -named for the sacred syllable in Hinduism - a 29-minute recording containing chants from the Hindu epic Bhagavad-Gita.8 Jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders featured the vocals and tabla playing of Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu in his album With a Heartbeat.

Gurtu also teamed up with African American jazz trumpeter Don Cherry for two years.9 In Gurtu's debut solo album Usfret, Don Cherry performed on "Shangri la/Usfret" with classical Indian vocalist Shobha Gurtu.10 In 1997, Trilok Gurtu recorded his last Indo-jazz album Glimpse as a tribute to Don Cherry, who had passed away in 1995.11

Indo-jazz fusion, or rather, the fusion of South Asian music and jazz, is still alive in the 21st century. Indian American saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and Pakistani American guitarist Rez Abbasi have come together in the Indo-Pak Coalition, a jazz band that combines classical North Indian rhythms with contemporary jazz melodies.12

Chinese-Jazz Fusion

Shanghai of the pre-WWII era has been described as "the jazz capital of Asia".13 In the 1920s-30s, The Chinese city hosted a large expatriate population that include African American jazz musicians.14 However, the dominant expatriate presence on the Shanghai jazz scene were the Filipino bands15, jazz having being introduced to the Philippines by black American soldiers in the early 20th century.16 The first all-Chinese jazz bands emerged in the 30s and 40s17, but the fusion of Chinese folk music and jazz in the dance halls of Shanghai had apparently started earlier.18

Jazz was banned after the communist takeover but in recent years, Chinese jazz is experiencing a revival.19 In the 21st century, some of the WWII era Chinese jazz players from the famous Jimmy King band are performing jazz again in the Peace Hotel's Old Jazz Band.20 A younger generation of Chinese jazz musicians is also stepping up to the plate. Jazz singer Coco Zhao released a 2007 CD Dream Situation, featuring modern arrangements of standards popular in Shanghai more than 70 years ago.21 Zhao credits the legendary African American jazz vocalist Betty Carter, whom he met in at a 1997 international jazz festival in Shanghai with guiding him. At a time when people were "laughing at [him]"; Zhao was doubting his own artistic course, but Carter told Zhao to follow his heart instead of following what other people say.22

Western musicians of color have also combined jazz and musical influences from China in their work. In 2006, jazz saxaphonist Kenny Garrett released Beyond the Wall, inspired by his visit to China and his interest in East Asian music.23 Chinese American music producer Dave Liang started the Shanghai Restoration Project, taking inspiration from the 1930s Shanghai jazz bands, but creating a decided modern multicultural sound through the meeting of East Asian instruments with hip-hop, jazz, and electronica.24

Japanese-Jazz Fusion

By the 1920s, jazz was being played in Japanese dance halls, and since then Japan produced some internationally-known jazz performers such as Fumio Nanri, Keiko Matsui and Toshiko Akiyoshi.25 Black jazz musicians of the West provided inspiration for their Japanese counterparts. One of Fumio Nanri's early influences was the music of Louis Armstrong. 26 Nanri later met Armstrong's former colleague, the African American jazz pianist Teddy Weatherford., in Shanghai and studied with him.27 Nanri, who made a US tour, became known outside his native country, and Louis Armstrong nicknamed him the "Satchmo of Japan".28

Jazz pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi began to study jazz after being exposed to jazz through a record of black American jazz pianist Teddy Wilson.29 Her talent was later discoverd by black Canandian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson.30 Akiyoshi's first album was recorded in collaboration with Peterson and American jazz men Ray Brown and J. C. Heard, amongst others.31 In 1974, Akiyoshi's former mentor Duke Ellington died.32 Inspired by Ellington's efforts to explore his African roots through his music, Akiyoshi sought to do the same, fusing Japanese influences and jazz in her later work.33 Duke Ellington himself had paid tribute to Asia his 'Far East Suite' , which included "Ad Lib on Nippon", composed in 1964 for his band's first trip to Japan.34

Other Japanese jazz-fusion artistes include:

  • Award winning jazz pianist and composer Keiko Matsui is also known for the East-West fusion in her music.35 African American jazz saxaphonist Paul Taylor appeared on a number of her records before launching his own successful career.36
  • Award winning guitarist Kazumi Watanabe, regarded as the precursor of jazz-fusion in Japan.37
In recent years, musicians trained in traditional shamisen music have also began to integrate jazz, blues, and other foreign musical influences into their shamisen pieces. Some notable players are:

  • The Yoshida Brothers
  • Keisho Ohno38
  • Agatsuma, whose 2002 album Beams was described as an "innovative fusion of Tsugaru-Shamisen with present day influences including ... jazz, blues... funk."39

  1. Classic jazz on ChindaDaily.com.cn
    Jazz in China
    African-American Jazz Musicians in the Diaspora (Studies in African Diaspora, V. 2)
  2. John McLaughlin on wikipedia
  3. John Mayer on wikipedia
  4. Joe Harriott on wikipedia
  5. Amancio D'Silva on wikipedia
  6. Amancio D'Silva biography - Early Years
  7. Amancio D'Silva discography
  8. John Coltrane on wikipedia
  9. Trilok Gurtu biography on trilokgurtu.net
  10. Peter Lavezzoli, The Dawn of Indian Music in the West, p 329
  11. Peter Lavezzoli, The Dawn of Indian Music in the West, p 329
    Don Cherry on wikipedia
  12. Rudresh Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition(The World, PRI, Dec 19 2008)
    Life After the Death of Jazz (The Walrus, Jul/Aug 2006)
  13. Shanghai Jazz
  14. Jazz in China
  15. Classic Jazz on China Daily
  16. Pinoy Jazz: The Story of Jazz in the Philippines Documentary
  17. Shanghai Jazz
    Classic Jazz on China Daily
  18. Shanghai Jazz
  19. Shanghai Sizzles again with jazz (CNN.com)
  20. Jazzing it up and down (Shanghai Star)
    Survivors of Shanghai's Jazz Age Play Anew (NPR.org)
  21. Singer Brings a Modern Sound to Chinese Jazz (NPR.org)
  22. Singer Brings a Modern Sound to Chinese Jazz (NPR.org)
  23. Kenny Garrett: 'Beyond the Wall' (NPR.org)
    Beyond the Wall (allboutjazz.com)
  24. The The Shanghai Restoration Project Group on imeem.com
    Shanghai Restoration Project: Hybrid Backbeats (NPR.org)
  25. Japanese jazz on wikipedia
  26. Fumio Nanri on jazz.com
  27. Fumio Nanri on jazz.com
    Teddy Weatherford on wikipedia
  28. Fumio Nanri on wikipedia
  29. Toshiko Akiyoshi on wikipedia
  30. Toshiko Akiyoshi on wikipedia
  31. Toshiko Akiyoshi on wikipedia
  32. In conversation with Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin on jazz.com
  33. In conversation with Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lew Tabackin on jazz.com
  34. Far East Suite on allaboutjazz.com
  35. Keiko Matsui on wikipedia
  36. Keiko Matsui on wikipedia
  37. Kazumi Watanabe bio on Hilltop Studio
  38. Keisho Ohno's Shami Spirits on Far Side Music Ltd
    Keisho Ohno on Youtube
  39. Agatsuma profile in Beyond album insert