Great 1970s Japanese Jazz Mixtapes: 4 Hours of Funky, Groovy, and Fusion-Y Music

Like American jazz, Japanese jazz began with earlier styles like foxtrot and ragtime. Jazz was international music, spreading across the Atlantic to London, Paris and Berlin and across the Pacific to Shanghai, Manila and Tokyo. Luxury liners crossed the ocean and their house orchestras carried with them new styles of dance music. “There was very little improvisation,” in early Japanese jazz, “but it wasn’t as prominent, as you know, in American jazz of the 1910s or 20s,” said historian E. Taylor Atkins at NPR.

Japan even had its own jazz era. The word first entered the country in a “popular 1929 song attached to a film called March from Tokyo“says Atkins. “The lyrics refer to jazz, and… that’s kind of where it entered the mass consciousness. It was associated with dance halls, it was associated with “modern girls” and “modern boys” – the Japanese version of flappers and dandies – and with urban recreation classes: excess, and dogs and cats sleeping together, and all these kinds of omens. of a future disaster.

When calamity struck in the form of World War II, jazz was banned in Japan as enemy music. On August 15, 1954, when the Emperor went on the radio to announce Japan’s surrender, Hattori Ryoichi, “Japan’s premier jazz composer and arranger”, found himself stuck in Shanghai, “the city which since the end of the 1920s, was the mecca of jazz. of Asia,” writes Michael Bourdaghs in a history of Japanese pop music. “From now on,” Ryoichi reportedly toasts his fellow musicians upon hearing the news, “we can conduct our musical activities freely.”

How Ryoichi could have predicted the kind of musical freedom that Japanese jazz would find. But first there was a period of imitation. “In the early post-war years, Japanese musicians basically copied the Americans they admired,” notes Dean Van Nguyen at The Guardian. Some of the most popular bands on TV and in movies were comedy groups like Frankie Sakai and the City Slickers, a big band formed in 1953 in imitation of Spike Jones & The City Slickers. Another popular jazz comedy number, Hajime Hana & The Crazy Cats “is important”, writes Atkins, “in capitalizing on and conveying an image of jazz musicians as clownish, slang-singing scoundrels”.

Pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi was “the first Japanese artist to break away from simply copying American artists and develop a distinctive sound and identity that incorporated Japanese harmonies and instruments”, writes Van Nguyen. In the late 1960s and 1970s, economic development led to a “renaissance” of Japanese jazz, writes the Sabukaru Guide to 1970’s Japanese Jazz. “The unique creative landscape of the jazz community, along with Japanese music as a whole simultaneously becoming more experimental and more traditional, led to an abundance of excellent Japanese jazz music in the 1970s.”

In the four playlists here, you can hear hours of this groundbreaking music from some of the biggest names you’ve probably never heard in Japanese jazz. Among them is trombonist Hiroshi Suzuki, “one of Japan’s most revered jazz artists,” notes the Pink Wafer Club blog, “even though most listeners know of his work only from the number of times his music has been sampled”. Suzuki’s 1975 album Cat is one of the funkiest jazz albums from any country released during the decade.

These playlists also include fusion keyboardist Mikio Masuda, saxophonist Sadao Watanabe and other musicians who, like Akiyoshi, helped “steer young artists away from Blue Note mimicry towards free jazz, fusion funk , the spiritual, the modal and the bebop,” writes Van Nguyen. . “These daring virtuosos implanted rock and electronic elements, or took influences from afrobeat and flamenco music.” Their international influences mirror 1970s jazz experiences around the world. Music also benefited from the excellent recording quality of Japanese studios and the rise of smaller labels, which allowed more experimental artists to record and release albums.

Find out above why “many young Japanese musicians cite the jazz innovators of this era as influences,” writes Sabukaru. Read about ten of the best Japanese jazz records from the 1970s here. Check out a massive guide to Japanese jazz from all eras at Rate Your Music, and find track listings with timestamps for each of the playlists above on their YouTube page.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him on @jdmagness

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