Kaze means ‘wind’ in Japanese

The free-flowing Japano-French jazz quartet blows into town this week.

Natsuki Tamura (photo credit: Courtesy)
Natsuki Tamura
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Will Shakespeare’s popular Sonnet 18, which starts off with that oft-quoted romantic opener “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” also notes, two lines later, that “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.”
We may be a full four months later in the year, but next week at least two members of the Kaze quartet will be doing their best to blow as creatively and evocatively as possible through our heartstrings and mindsets as the free-flowing improvisational Japanese- French foursome brings us some of the most open musical offerings heard on these shores for quite some time.
“Kaze means “wind” in Japanese,” explains 53-year-old Japanese pianist Sakoto Fujii, who will be joined by husband trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, French trumpeter Christian Pruvost and French drummer Peter Orins on a three-date tour of Israel that takes in Beersheba (Sunday at Ashan Hazman), Tel Aviv (Monday at Levontin 7) and Jerusalem (Tuesday at the Yellow Submarine), with two master classes to boot.
While not taking the credit, or blame, for the band’s name, Fujii feels it certainly fits the bill. “I am not good with names or words, but Natsuki is.
He gives names to tunes and also to albums, and I think Kaze works well.
We have two trumpeters, so there is their breath, and also wind has no shape. It’s something like music, which you cannot touch but it is there.”
That’s as good a verbalized introduction as you could hope to get about a band whose creative forays know precious few bounds.
Considering the meandering nature of Fujii’s artistic development to date, there really was no other way she could evolve than almost every which way. She got an early start to her musical odyssey when she began studying classical piano at the age four. She was a devoted student of the keyboard and, over the next decade and a half, made decent strides.
However, eventually she began to become disillusioned with the confined creative possibilities offered by compositions by the likes of Mozart, Chopin and Rachmaninov and started to look for wider open musical spaces. That, combined with her naturally inquisitive approach to life, led her straight into the arms of jazz.
Somewhat surprisingly, rather than one of the titans of the more roots-oriented jazz scene, such as Louis Armstrong or Benny Goodman, the first jazz artist Fujii came across was saxophonist John Coltrane, one of the towering beacons of the avant-garde jazz scene of the 1960s. She was introduced to the latter by a piano teacher. “He was a very special teacher,” Fujii recalls. “He was a well-known classical composer but he also liked jazz, and he loved Coltrane. I was in high school and I didn’t know anything about jazz, but I saw a poster of Coltrane on my teacher’s studio wall. I was very curious about who he was because I really respected my piano teacher.”
Like Fujii, the teacher was an ardent seeker of alternative pathways to artistic inspiration. “He played in jazz clubs and cabarets, which was very rare in Japan,” Fujii continues. “Most people in Japan want to get good qualifications and a good career and earn as much money as they can. But my teacher was 65 years old and he wasn’t like that.”
Fujii, it seems, was made of similarly stern stuff. “I wanted to play jazz, but I didn’t know anything about it,” she says, adding that Lady Luck soon came to the rescue. “One day, about six months later, I went home and turned on the radio and I heard Coltrane playing “A Love Supreme.” I was so moved by the music. I was moved by something I didn’t understand.”
That was the catalyst for Fujii’s eventual break from the classical genre. “When I was four years old I could improvise, but after 15 years of classical training I couldn’t do that anymore. I decided to give up classical piano.”
The quest for other modes of musical expression was on. Fujii put together a purely vocal band. “I couldn’t improvise on piano, but I could with my voice,” she explains.
“Also, I wanted to see what music was like before there were instruments. We perform in jazz clubs, of course, so we just sang and gave vocal shows in parks. I felt free, like I could do anything.”
As she became ever more immersed in the intricacies of her newfound musical love, Fujii decided it was time to head for the homeland of jazz. “I was a piano player and I came back to that. I went to the States and studied at Berklee [College of Music in Boston],” she says, adding that she did her utmost to toe the line.
“I worked hard at learning bebop, and I finished my degree in two and a half years.”
However, something still wasn’t quite right for Fujii and her musical muse. With her bachelor’s degree in her suitcase, she headed back to Japan for another five years, during which time she became frustrated with the lack of avenues open to her, for her own individual expression within the jazz domain.
“I am slow with everything I do,” she notes. “It took me 10 years to realize that straightahead jazz is not for me.”
With that important epiphany, Fujii returned to the US, but this time to study under pianist Paul Bley at the New England Conservatory (NEC). “Paul told me that if I wanted to be a professional musician, I should not play like someone else.” Fujii took that important lesson on board and began to carve her own niche. She has released scores of albums over the last 25 years, many together with husband Tamura, and occasionally with large ensembles, such as the 15- piece Tokyo Orchestra with which she recorded Zakopane in 2009.
She says she is delighted to work with the Kaze quartet. “We all compose music, especially Peter [Orins], and we take the music anywhere we want. That’s the way we all like it, and that’s the way I like it.”
The audiences in Beersheba, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are in for something of a magical mystery ride next week.
For more information and tickets: Ashan Hazman at 077-764-4218 and http://ashanhazman.co.il.

Levontin 7 at (03) 560-0112 and www.levontin7.com. Jerusalem at (02) 679-4040 and www.yellowsubmarine.org.il.