JAZZ IN JAPAN
This website is dedicated to all the jazz musicians, club owners, small label owners, managers, fans and wait staff who form the amazing world of jazz, blues and improvised music in Japan. The site is created for anyone and everyone who has an interest in good music and creative artistic expression. The site focuses on jazz in Japan, but in the broadest possible sense.
No good or complete definition of jazz has ever really been established, so it’s better to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Jazz means all the types of jazz, but by expanding the boundaries a bit, can also bring in blues, Latin, improvised music, and even a distinctive approach to life. This website will cover all of those.
The site offers one view of what is happening in jazz in Japan. Most of the focus is on Japanese musicians, their live performances and their recordings, but the focus cannot be so narrow, and includes interviews, essays and writings on jazz as a way of being in the world, if that is perhaps the broadest possible statement. Tokyo brings in a huge amount of jazz of all kinds, though, and shows of foreign artists that take place in Japan are put next to shows by local artists who perform in the smallest of clubs. Which can be very small in Tokyo!
As for editorial policy, we do not write about music we feel is dull. We are not creating an encyclopedia here. We are writing about music that moves us. Listening with “big ears” is essential, but certain styles are more appealing than others. Any style can be good, if it’s good. That means, any music with organic energy and human spirit can be good, regardless of its category, sound or intention. However, we don’t cover music that communicates its own desire to just make money. That would be as pointless as describing a fast food hamburger or beer made by a big company.
The point of this site is not to attack poor quality music as much as it is to point out what is better and special. Why waste space on writing negatively about poor quality or intentionally commercial music? In writing about music, it is a lot easier to find what is wrong than to appreciate what is right. Like the song says, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive/Eliminate the negative/Latch on to the affirmative/Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.” So much music is really “in-between.” This site is about the good stuff.
Many websites devoted to special topics suffer from slack thought and sloppy writing. They become mired in a defensive prose or jargon-laden narrowness. Many articles here stretch back many years and were written for places that had certain demands on style. The world does not need a lot more bland sentences, stilted information and tossed-off opinions; it needs strong writing, deep feeling and clear thinking. Good music deserves good writing.
As independent journeymen in the world of music, we have to spend a lot of our own money. Paying means freedom, in one sense. The decisions on what to include on the site are our own. A lot of great people and their music are not covered, sad to say, but the ones that are included have been chosen with a lot of care and thought and time. This site is not attempting to cover all of the jazz and improvised music in Japan. There is simply too much to get it all down in words. But we are doing the best we can.
Music writers should follow their instincts, at first listen at least, and try to articulate how the music moves them. A lot of music is fascinating, but leaves a cold feeling. “Nice try!” Other music takes time to understand. A lot of jazz writers strike poses to prove how hip they are, how far into free jazz they can go, or how close they are to the musicians. That approach to music writing is pretentious. Duke Ellington said there are only two kinds of music, good and bad. We stick to the good.
This site is run by Michael Pronko and Marco Mancini.
Michael runs the writing side of things.
Marco covers the visual and editorial aspects.
Read about them below.
About Michael Pronko
I listened to jazz from when I was very young. I fell asleep every night with music coming up from the living room. My father had an enormous collection of records and I gradually had my own, too. I always went to the Kansas City Jazz Festival and all the music I could when I was young. Then, as I got older, I went on my own, borrowing a fake ID to get into clubs in Kansas City as soon as I could drive.
I took piano lessons for many years, taught myself the guitar, and fooled around on a few other instruments. I had great music teachers, and picked up fake books on my own to figure out how to play. I still do, but not much. I sat in with my high school jazz band, though keyboard players were numerous and high level, and jammed with friends in rock bands and upstart jazz bands, too. Mostly, though, I listened.
While studying philosophy at Brown University, I went out to hear music in Providence, which was on the tour circuit for big and small artists both, everything from Dylan to the Dead Kennedys to Albert Collins. Boston was close by, with all its many musical options, just an hour away. I went dancing every weekend. It seemed the opposite of philosophy at the time, now I’m not so sure.
New York was and is jazz heaven so the first chance I got after getting to Brown I headed down there on the train and went to the Village Vanguard to hear Phil Woods. I could barely afford the entry fee and a bottle of beer, but when Phil Woods sat down next to me during the break, I offered to buy him a drink. “No, man,” he said in a gruff voice, “Thanks, but I drink here for free.” Hearing him and sitting right next to McCoy Tyner’s piano as he played was a treat. It became an addiction.
After the absurdities and readings of graduate school, I traveled and traveled, finally ending up in Tokyo. I currently teach American Literature and Culture at Meiji Gakuin University. My seminars are on Kurt Vonnegut, Don DeLillo and Ernest Hemingway. I teach a course in American film comedy and drama, and another in American music and art. Music? Yes, going to hear jazz is one of the homework assignments for my students.
I have written about jazz for over 15 years, and about Tokyo for ten years. I have written for many sites about jazz, but currently focus on Jazz in Japan, essays on Tokyo and on fiction, including novels about Tokyo.
Information on all my other writing is available at:
Contact me here:
About Marco Mancini
My father had a big and beautiful collection with thousands of LPs, 78 rpm, books and magazines, mostly about jazz and Brazilian music.
When I was around 13 years old, I was checking my father’s stuff and I found what I think was a jazz festival catalog or a jazz magazine, I don’t know for sure, but what I know for sure is that publication gave me a clear and strong direction to my life.
That was a big-size publication with beautiful pictures laid out carefully in well spread pages, photos in duo tones and great typography. Those graphics really caught me. From that point I started to be very curious about jazz music and graphic design. I can say that my entrance to the jazz world was from the graphic door. Enjoying the beautiful covers as well as the music that came from inside of it.
When I was 18 years old, already a big jazz fan, I started to study saxophone and to work as a graphic designer. My first published work as graphic designer was the posters for the bands that I had with my brother Flavio on bass and for my musician friends’ gigs. Since then I never stopped working as a graphic designer and art director.
As an art director and graphic designer, I worked in many publications in Brazil and Japan. My past work included Folha de S. Paulo (daily newspaper), Revista da Folha (weekly magazine), Claudia (women’s magazine), Super Interessante (science magazine), SET (cinema magazine), Mais Jazz (jazz magazine), Jornal Tudo Bem (newspaper), Made In Japan (magazine about Japan), Tokyo Classified (entertainment magazine), Metropolis (entertainment magazine), and my own very first as editor, JAZZNIN magazine (bilingual music magazine).
It was here in Tokyo, where I have lived and worked since 1996, that I had the chance to go deeper into my relation with jazz. The jazz scene in Tokyo is excellent with dynamic jazz clubs and great musicians. In Tokyo, I have been blessed to keep producing my jazz graphics, including my “dream come true” JAZZNIN magazine.
My visual, design and creative work can be seen here:
Contact me here: