In Tokyo, a YouTube Contest Brings Out Secret Jazz Fanatics – Speakeasy – WSJ

A recent YouTube contest brought out Tokyo’s secret jazz lovers.

Tokyo is a city filled with secret jazz fanatics. There’s always a chance that the non-descript, suited salaryman sitting next to you on that train has a room in his apartment that’s packed to the ceiling with old Miles Davis and John Coltrane vinyl LPs.

To cater to this demand, jazz clubs, coffee shops and bars are scattered across the city like dandelions. The Blue Note Tokyo jazz club, an offshoot of its New York City counterpart, is the reigning grande dame of the scene here.

So it came as something as a surprise when the entrenched Blue Note hosted a performance recently of winners picked from a YouTube contest. Last November, musicians uploaded their performances on YouTube and 27,000 jazz buffs in Japan voted on their favorite set. Call it the democratization of jazz in Japan.

The Blue Note, located in swanky Aoyama – think Park Avenue, not the East Village – is not your typical intimate, smoke-filled jazz club filled with students clad in black. It’s more Disneyland than Beatnik these days, with strobe lights enhancing performances that usually cost around around $100. It’s strictly non-smoking and its guests are usually established, working professionals. Last week, the acclaimed pianist Hank Jones, 91 years old, performed at the Blue Note.

From November of last year, the Diners Club – the credit card company – hosted the contest on YouTube, which 422 people entered. The nine winners played alongside Bob James, the fusion jazz musician best known for composing the instrumental theme song to the sitcom “Taxi”.

Though some of the musicians were still rough around the edges, it was a treat to see young, talented up and comers playing at the storied Blue Note, if even for one night. A Japanese vocalist with a shocking platinum blond bob belted out “I’ve Got Rhythm” in English with so much gusto and authenticity – channeling Ella Fitzgerald – that my partner turned to me and asked: “Are you sure she’s Japanese?”

The Japanese blond bombshell, whose name is Dynamite Miki, told the crowd she was extremely happy to have won the contest, particularly as she’s an unconventional choice. “When you think of a jazz singer here, it’s usually a sister with her boobs hanging out of a strapless dress,” said Miki, who’s pleasantly zaftig (by Japanese standards) and was wearing a demure pink shift dress.

James, the jazz musician who played with the winners, was once part of a similar contest himself: while in university, he participated in a competition and was judged by the great Quincy Jones. “This brought back so many memories for me because I remember how nervous I was,” he said. “I know how hard it can be as a struggling jazz musician. It’s a wonderful chance for me to be a part of this.”

Follow Speakeasy on Twitter at  @WSJspeakeasy.

    Posted via web from The LP Revival Blog

    ~ by lprevival on February 27, 2010.

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