Date: Mar 29, 2011
Title: With thoughts on Japan, musicians will help by doing what they do best
March 25, 2011|By Howard Reich | Chicago Tribune Arts critic
The day after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Chicago's Asian-American jazz community began to mobilize.
Phones rang, emails flew, texts twittered — and a day later, the first of several upcoming benefit concerts was on the books: a "Japan Earthquake Relief Fundraiser" featuring stars of Chicago's jazz and blues, Friday at one of the city's most prominent musical addresses, the Chicago Cultural Center.
For the next several weeks, musicians of all stripes will be donating their services for Japanese disaster relief (see accompanying story), but Chicago's Asian-American jazz artists quickly have taken a leading role in organizing the events.
Considering the psychic pressure they have been under, there was nothing else they could do, they say.
"I can't stop crying, just watching those people (on TV)," explains pianist-singer Yoko Noge, a leader in Asian-American jazz in Chicago. "Some people are just dying because of the cold weather, and that's tough to watch."
Spearheading the Chicago Cultural Center concert, adds Noge, "gives me the way to express my emotions and to contribute to something. Otherwise, I'll go crazy."
Adds bassist Steve Hashimoto, who leads the band Mothra and has organized a benefit April 12 at the Jazz Showcase, "An album we put out four years ago was called 'Giri,' which is a Japanese concept of an obligation you carry in your life. That's what it was for me. I felt I owed it to Japan, even though I don't speak Japanese, and I'm a third-generation here in America, I owed it to the country of my ancestors."
So, Hashimoto, Noge and others decided they would help in the only way possible from thousands of miles away: play music, in hopes of generating more funds than they possibly could contribute individually.
And jazz, they believe, is uniquely situated for this perilous moment.
"Jazz and creative (improvised) music are very multicultural and multiracial — a lot more than other kinds of music," says bassist-bandleader Tatsu Aoki, a longtime force in new music in Chicago.
"The people who play this music come from different backgrounds … and it welcomes people from different backgrounds."
The point of presenting concerts for disaster relief, in other words, is to unite distinct communities behind one cause, and jazz always has been about shattering barriers separating races, cultures and other social divides