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Improvijazzation Nation - Issue # 45
INTERVIEW with Satoko Fujji (& Natsuki Tamura)
Zzaj: What is your "driving force" for improvised music? In my own case, it's because I have limited training, and that certainly doesn't seem to be the case for your playing. So, with that in mind, your motivation must be a deeper one... is it cultural, spiritual, purely personal, or something else?
Satoko: I had been learning classical piano from when I was four years old to twenty years old. When I was nineteen years old, I have found that I couldn't improvise. I mean, I of course could play difficult written music, but I couldn't play anything without music paper at all. I remembered I had so much fun to improvise before I began to study classical piano, and was so depressed, because this sounds like a well trained dog that can do so many things if they are told to do so but cannot do anything if they don't get commands. The reason that I tried to improvise is that because I began to ask to myself whether all written classical music is my expression or not. I stopped playing piano at all then, and began to have a band that all players improvise by their voice and by clapping. We didn't t use any musical instruments. I took this way because I knew that I couldn't improvise by playing piano. It was great experience for me to release myself and listen to myself carefully instead of playing the STYLE. Improvisation is still based on this experience for me. Instead of reading music, I try to hear my voice. My voice includes all about myself... everything... cultural, spiritual, purely personal...etc.
Zzaj: What are your feelings on musical training? Is it an absolute necessity? I know (from having lived in Korea for about 15 years) that having degrees in anything you pursue brings much more respect. How important is formal training to any musician, do you think? Does formal training make for a better improvisor?
Satoko: I think there are so many ways to get some point, not only one way. There are so many great musicians who doesn't have any musical academic training. To be a great improvisor, I think we should listen to ourselves. If some feel they would like to have formal training, they should follow their feeling. But if others feel they don't want to have formal training, they should follow it. Well... there are so many ways to get a train station from my place.
Zzaj: One reason we've been so impressed with your compositions is because they seem to blend the true freedom of improvisation with a concrete musical structure? How do you "balance" the 2 concepts?
Satoko: I do like both written and un-written music. As I wrote I had been studying classical piano (all written music) for fifteen years, and went to extreme to improvise even without musical instruments for several years. Now I do like both, and would like to use both. When I compose I don't make strict plan, try to compose like improvise. When I write something I just do so, and if I would like to have improvisation part, I just put it. Making musical structure can be improvisation in this manner.
Zzaj: Some of the folks I've played improvised music with seem to play better when they're in another "mind zone". Do you think you get into that zone in your playing, or is it an important aspect of improvising?
Satoko: Before I play music, especially improvise, I try to feel my heart strings. This may sounds affected. But I think many musicians have their own manner to set themselves in this mood. Some of them don't eat before they play, and some others meditate. If I can get certain mind zone before I play, I am sure that I can play something. Sometimes I can set myself in the zone right after I began to play, then the things would be easy. But even I cannot get in the zone, the music can be great. I think there is no rule to play.
Zzaj: How do you see digital music (particularly online distribution) affecting the way you produce/distribute/sell your material 5 years from now?
Satoko: Are you asking about music business or music itself? Well in both case, I really am interested in digital scene. These days, I cannot imagine I do the things that now I am involving without computer. I do have a website, and have got many responses already. I am sure we can do more with computer. But I think CDs or some other real format will not be gone even MP3 gets easier and faster. People like to touch something, I guess. The booklet in the CD and the disk itself is the things that people can touch and be attached.
Zzaj: You've mentioned that you'll be touring in Europe during November and December? What's your schedule after that?
Satoko: I do have some gigs in Japan that has been already booked. And also am planning to go to New York sometime in the beginning of the year 2001 to record some new music.
Zzaj: What is your definition for "good" improvised music? Does it really matter, or is that strictly up to the ears of the improvisor (or the listener)?
Satoko: When I listen to music, I would like to be thrilled. I call these music "good music". Again, there might be so many ways to be thrilled. And I know all of us don't have same way to feel it. For example, I was so thrilled but some people would not be and would sleep in same concert. Music is like that. Everyone has different feel and taste and sense. And then all of them can be true.
Zzaj: Some folks are not aware that you're married to Natsuki Tamura (another fabulous jazz player from Japan). Does the music affect your relationship? Positively, negatively or both?
Satoko: So far...our music affects our relationship positively, and our relationship affects our music positively. It is so great for me to have someone very close-by who likes and understands my music. I can be strong to express my voice into my music because of that. I haven't found any negative affection.
Zzaj: I've noticed that you're collaborating with a lot of musicians in other regions of the world. Any exciting recording projects coming up soon?
Satoko: Yes. Duo music with Mark Feldman will be released soon from ewe that is Japanese label. We have recorded this in New York in last year. I am extremely happy with the music we made.
Zzaj: This magazine is dedicated to the idea that music "belongs to the people", & not to the record companies. What are your thoughts on that?
Satoko: I agree. I don't make music for record companies. Well... Fortunately or unfortunately no record companies has asked me to do so. With their characters, any art including music cannot be in the system of capitalism. Well... sometimes we have to eat mist, not bread. But we also have to eat real bread to make music. Getting bread may be more difficult thing for musicians than making good music.
Zzaj: How vibrant do you think the jazz scene is in Japan these days? I've reviewed an ever increasing number of experimental and improvising players from there in the last 10 years. Do you think jazz and improvisation is changing any attitudes or aspects of your culture?
Satoko: I have moved back to Japan from New York three years ago. I still am doing back and force between Tokyo and New York. In this situation, I am able to see many things in Japan that I probably cannot see if I spend all my life in Japan. This year I have released two CD set, by my NY orchestra and Tokyo orchestra. I really wanted to show the differences. There are so many great musicians in NY and in Japan, but they are different, doesn't mean good or bad, high or low. I have to tell I am kind of disappointed with Japanese Jazz business scene, record companies and magazines. Most of them are too busy to make money not to make good music. There are so many great musicians who are not famous at all in Japan, because record companies and press don't make any attention to them. BUT, they are here anyway. And I am glad there are musicians like them in Japan. I think good music can change our culture, these days many people seems like they don't want to change at all, even in better way though. But I also know several people including me can get a lot of energy from good music.
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