Uchina Jazz All Stars: Uchina Jazz Goes On

It’s not all shimauta in Okinawa. Many other musical genres and stylistic mixes are popular too and one of these is jazz which became widespread during the American occupation of these islands after the war. In fact, top American jazz musicians such as Count Basie and Louis Armstrong came to Okinawa to play on the military bases. Jazz became widely known and by the 1960s there were jazz clubs around the island as well as on the bases.

Uchina Jazz All Stars are a collection of jazz musicians from Okinawa, and this is the first Uchina Jazz release for 14 years. Some of the musicians gathered here were active in those early days of jazz on Okinawa, and among those who play on this album are 92-year-old tenor saxophonist Alan Kahipe and 86-year-old drummer Shoei Uehara.

The album offers 15 tracks and more than an hour of music plus a couple of songs, and the CD comes with a 28-page booklet. The recordings were all produced by Naha trombonist Eiki Maezato whose many credits and involvement with the music scene include playing for Diamantes.

The essence of the album is in its big band style, and this is given a workout on several instrumental performances of Okinawan traditional songs. There are also some originals and a couple of classic jazz standards. Maezato composed the title track which begins the album, and it appears again later in a different version.

The two vocals here are both by Takako Afuso. The first is on ‘Getto’, a song of peace with lyrics that reference the tragic events of the Battle of Okinawa in an impressively poetic and oblique way. The other Yafuso vocal is for the Okinawan song ‘Endo no Hana’

There is also a 17-piece big band version of ‘Hiyamikachi Bushi’; a recording of Misako Koja’s much loved ‘Warabi Gami’; a very different jazz arrangement of the Yaeyama traditional song ‘Densa Bushi’; and the American standard ‘My One and Only Love’ inspired by the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman version.

This is a mixed bag of compositions and influences firmly rooted in the Ryukyus but with its heart in the American jazz first introduced to these islands following the Second World War. The release coincides with the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. The reversion itself is no cause for celebration, but Uchina Jazz Goes On is confirmation that jazz is still alive in the Ryukyus.

Uchina Jazz Goes On will be released by Respect on 22nd June.


Explore posts in the same categories: Okinawan Albums

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