The International Connection: Tommy Flanagan and Hisayuki Terai

The International Connection: Tommy Flanagan and Hisayuki Terai

Pre-publication excerpt
from The Heart Within: Jazz Journeys to Japan

by Bill Minor

copyright © 2001 Bill Minor

On my wife Betty's last day in Japan (she had to return to the States, for the school at which she's an aide was about to open), in Osaka, we went to Shitennoji Temple (the name shortened to Tennoji), which was preparing for its annual 1000 candle matsuri (festival), and where, on the 21st of each month, a popular flea market is held. Tennoji, founded by Prince Shotoku in 593, claims to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan. A deep pool, on which prayers for ancestors were cast, had drawn a sizable crowd, as had the food booths: hot chestnuts a popular item, fortune tellers, displays of cheap china and a stall that sold every type of carnival plastic gewgaw imaginable, for 300 yen. I bought a bamboo flute.

After Tennoji, our escort, Mr. Matsumoto (my daughter-in-law Yoko's uncle) took us on a fancy shopping tour, to a craft store that sold beautiful items for, actually, fairly reasonable prices, and then wrapped them in paper sporting my favorite woodcut artist Shiko Munakata's prints. I saved the paper. I also found a seductively shaped sake jar with a dark brown glaze on the bottom and a egg-blue top flecked with black and brown. Betty found great toys for our grandchildren.

As it turned out, there was a method to Mr. Matsumoto's "madness" (extravagant lure) of bringing us to this shopping area, for a jazz club, called Over Seas, was located nearby. I'd told him about this club, not knowing just where it was located, for it was owned and run by an excellent pianist whose CDs I'd discovered and purchased in the States: Hisayuki Terai.

Entering the Over Seas Club, even at noon, you can tell that it combines the best features of a restaurant and a night club. A splendid black grand piano, its lid erect at a 45 degree angle, stands to one side, beside a set of tucked back brocade drapes. Framed photos of visits by Tommy Flanagan -- Hisayuki Terai's mentor and hero -- dot the walls. A long somewhat narrow room extends all the way back to the kitchen. A number of tables are placed discreetly about the room, in range of whatever music would be provided that night, but also compatible with dining and low key conversation.

The Over Seas Club is hosted by pianist Terai, dressed now in faded jeans and tucked in Hawaiian shirt with an intricate bark design, his face sporting a nattily trimmed beard, his hair pitch black and luxuriant. His wife, Tamae, is the same height as Hisayuki, her own hair trimmed short, her smile spry and pleased and pleasing. She wore a long sleeved blouse with a light blue silhouette of a grand piano with OVER SEAS embossed in white upon it. Hisayuki and Tamae were two of the most immediately likeable people I met in Japan.

Because we were taking Betty to the airport that afternoon for her return trip to the States, and because I would be coming back to Osaka for a few days before I too left Japan, I did not attempt to conduct a full interview with Hisayuki Terai at this time, but did arrange to do so later. He was very cordial to Mr. Matsumoto and his daughter Emi, and Tamae, whose English is very good (she seems shyly proud of the fact that she picked it up from visiting musicians such as Tommy Flanagan and not a school), served as translator while her husband told me a bit about the club they've run for seventeen years.

"I turned to jazz, from classical music, in 1972. At that time in Japan, McCoy Tyner was the most popular pianist. All the jazz journalists talked and wrote about him -- only McCoy Tyner. After him, Chick Corea came onto the scene, and everybody in Japan was raving about him. Every Japanese pianist became, first, McCoy Tyner, and then, Chick Corea. This was very frustrating for me. The jazz scene in Japan is really controlled by journalism and the mass communications industry, the record companies. The musicians don't have enough faith in themselves. So everyone tries to be a McCoy Tyner or a Chick Corea -- whoever is it from time to time. But when I was young, I really loved the Detroit bebop style. I wanted to play in the style of Tommy Flanagan. But nobody would accept that style at the time I began playing piano. I thought, What shall I do? And I decided to open a jazz club by myself [they both laugh]."

"Good solution," I said.

"Yes. And that was the start. That was in 1979."

"If the others were so popular, if Tyner and Corea dominated the jazz piano scene, how had you managed to discover the Detroiters: Tommy Flanagan? Hank Jones? Barry Harris? Sir Roland Hanna?"

"At that time in Japan, I could get LPs put out by Prestige. The Detroit musicians didn't record for Blue Note very often (those recordings were available), but mostly for Prestige. So at the time I was able to get quite a few LPs. But they don't make them anymore."

I mentioned the coffee shops -- kissaten -- that Toshiko had gone to, in order to listen to and study Bud Powell.

"We called them 'Jazz Coffee Shops,'" Hisayuki Terai said. "That was in the '70s. The early '70s. The Jazz Coffee Shops were booming. There were lots of them in cities like Osaka and Tokyo. You sat and sipped coffee and stayed for two to three hours, just listening to jazz. It was like Zen practice [laughs]."

"Zazen. Staring at the wall. Emptying your mind -- of everything but jazz."

"Right! It's a kind of meditation on things." "Was it just a fad, or were the people who listened seriously absorbing the styles they heard, taking notes, et cetera?"

"Some were very serious. Before 1970, there were not so many concerts. American musicians started coming to Japan while the coffee shops were still booming. They started coming one after the other. From 1972 until 1977, so many groups came to perform that it was known as the Golden Age of American Jazz Musicians. They didn't just play at festivals. They would give concerts with their own groups. Tommy Flanagan. Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah Vaughan. Johnny Griffin. Barry Harris. Jimmy Rainey. I was in college at that time, and I was able to see and hear all of these groups on stage, playing their own music. So I was exposed to, and found myself accepting, many different styles of jazz. But from the '80s on, jazz festivals -- that style of concert -- became more popular. A number of different musicians came together at one time, and the concerts were like jam sessions. I didn't like that type of concert. Promoters didn't want to invite interesting jazz groups with more serious styles anymore. So the opportunities for young musicians to see great performances grew less and less. Of course you can always study styles by listening to records, but jazz music is very different in live performance. The musicians are doing very different things on stage and on a bandstand than they do in a recording studio. Much different. Especially the intros and the endings. Totally different."

Unfortunately, we had to cut our conversation short at this time. I had many more questions I wanted to ask this thoughtful and articulate (assisted by Tamae's good English) pianist; so we agreed to meet again in a few days, after I returned from Yokohama, Nagoya, and side trips to Nikko and the Ise Shrine. I would also have a chance then to hear him play, live, and experience -- first-hand -- the difference between recordings of him (which I'd listened to at home) and "on stage" performance.

That night, after saying sayonara to Betty at Kansai Airport, I returned to Tennoji temple with the Matsumotos, for the Feast of a Thousand Candles-which proved to be a perfect way to close out this Osaka phase of my own journey to Japan. The impact of the scene in the night is such that an estimate of a million candles seems more accurate than a mere thousand. The candles are arranged on four tiered stands that, side by side, encircle the grounds, surrounding the temple's five story pagoda, the candles glittering, casting soft golden shadows, attended by acolytes dressed in black happi (traditional Japanese work jacket or coat) with white sashes tied about their foreheads. Emi employed her calligraphic skills to inscribe a candle she acquired for Betty and me, our names written in katakana: bi-ru mi-no-ru/be-ti. I could have wandered up and down the brightly kindled rows, which seemed to spread a blush through the night air, all evening; families standing attentively and reverently before their oblational offerings, paying homage to the wind-wafted flames that topped the throng of lovingly inscribed white candles. When you stepped back from the crowd, the sacred enclosure, as I did to take a photo of the whole, the effect was overwhelming, the candle-lit rows resembling avenues of light, of ignited hope and love -- or the appearance of a city you return to as home, viewed from an airplane when you clear the cloud cover and prepare to land. I said a prayer for all the people I love -- living and dead -- and returned to my new friends Katsunori and Emi Matsumoto.

Following my visits to Yokohama, Nikko, Nagoya, and the Ise Shrine (and having heard much fine jazz in each place, aside from the Shrine), I returned to Osaka and spent my own last night in Japan at the Over Seas Club. I'd promised Hisayuki and Tamae that I would come back before I left -- and here I was, albeit soaking wet, drenched by a sudden rainstorm I'd got caught in.

"Do you take requests?" I asked Hisayuki-san when I walked through the door.

He arched his brows, watching the moisture descend from my clothes and accumulate at the edge of my shoes.

"'Singing in the Rain'?" I asked, and Hisauki laughed as his wife rushed off to find some towels for the dripping gaijin (foreigner).

The Over Seas Club is located on Hommachi Dori, just a couple of blocks from the Sakaisuji subway station. No sweat. But I was early for theb interview I'd scheduled with Hisayuki at five o'clock, so I started wandering (my first mistake), found a pleasant park, and decided to sit andstudy Japanese for an hour or so. Next thing I knew I was standing beneath a small gazebo that hosted a child's merry-go-round made up of plastic animals (a frog, a pony, a cat, and a swan), sharing it with two children trapped there also while rain beat hard on the gazebo's roof. We all had run for cover beneath this structure when the deluge hit -- one that showed no intention of stopping, but I eventually said "baibai" to the kids with whom I'd shared this shelter from storm, and raced to the nearest subway, thinking I'd take the Midosuji line back to Sakaisuji station and just show up early for the interview. However, I somehow managed to take the subway in the wrong direction. Getting off in what was now a thick, persistent drizzle, I saw Osaka Castle in the distance, and realized my mistake. By the time I arrived at the Over Seas Club, I was soaked through and through with rain, sweat, and humiliation.

"Here," Tamae said, handing me two towels with which to dry my face and hair. She took my sport coat back to the kitchen, to parch it before an oven, I suppose. She also rewarded my folly with a delicious meal: a tender salmon appetizer (with small bits of pickled something within it), scallops cooked in a sauce well worth getting caught in the rain for, and an additional plate of seafood tidbits: ebi (shrimp), tako (octopus), and ika (squid). Tamae also completed the process of dehydration, fending off any signs of chill, by way of hot sake. Tamae is a woman of many accomplishments. Having learned English from American jazz musicians rather than textbooks, she was one of the best, most thorough, most accurate translators I found in Japan. So what ensued was a family affair, and I shall present it that way.

Me: "Tell me why you started the Over Seas Club."

Tamae: "He needed a place to play [laughs]."

Me: "Has it been difficult, keeping the club alive, keeping it going?"

Hisayuki: "It's probably about the same as it would be in your town in the States. Very hard. I am working very hard here, from morning until late at night."

Thinking of a potential audience, I mentioned the gap between generations of jazz fans in the States, but how impressed I'd been, on the previous day, by the Arrow Jazz Orchestra Music School, and the number of young jazz fans I'd seen at the Mount Fuji Jazz Festival in Yokohama.

Me: "The place was filled with kids. I was one of the oldest people there!"

T: "Is that right?" [offering her great warm laugh]

Me: "Is there a new generation, of young people, who are genuinely interested in jazz in Japan?"

T: "It's a slow thing, yeah. The young people do like music. Older people tend to stick or listen to music they already know, standards like 'Autumn Leaves' or 'I Remember Clifford,' tunes like that. But the young people are very open-minded."

Me: "I thought it interesting that, at Yokohama, the largest crowds had turned out for Jackie McLean and Junko Onishi, not just 'Ponta' Murakami and his quasi rock group. They were there for good solid jazz."

T: "Yeah, they really appreciate it. And they are open to Bop, beyond the standard tunes."

Me: "Is this a good time in Japan for jazz?"

T: "No, no. It's very hard now. Probably the hardest time [laughs]."

H: "I am afraid that things are getting worse. As a player, I had to start out by 'copying' or transcribing the music. That was the best way, the only way, for me. But it's no good to just play a transcription of what's on the record albums. The most important thing for young musicians is to see and hear musicians playing jazz live. To see how they count the time, how they breathe. If a young musician can see this he can understand what's happening, what's going on. But the great American masters are dying off, one after another, these days. The chances for young musicians to hear them are getting less and less, I'm afraid. Young musicians have a hard time now, especially in Japan."

T: "And the music schools in Japan are very bad. The educational system is very bad. There are a lot of schools available to young musicians but they are so ... old."

Me: "Old? What do you mean?"

T: "They are fake ... because of the sensei (teachers)."

H: "In Japan, the teachers are the second class players. The teachers are people who can't play music." [they both laugh]

T: "The jazz scene is very different now. That's Hisayuki's view."

Me: "How about finding sidemen, good sidemen, people to work with you: is that difficult? Good bassists, good drummers ..."

H; "Yeah. [in English]. The bass player I have now is the sixth bass player I've had. And I've had five drummers. They were all young."

T: "They like to come here to play with him. For the love of it, not the money."

Me: "What's their background? They're not all Berklee graduates I take it."

H: "You have a different cause if you wish to be a real jazz musician. There is one bass player in Osaka who is a great bass player. Tommy Flanagan was amazed when he listened to him."

Me: "What is his name?"

T: "His name is Sumi. And he's working, playing in Osaka. He was once a cook. A chef!"

H: "A Chinese chef." [laughs]

T: "When he was twenty, or something like that, he went to a jazz club and he was amazed by the music, so he started playing. He has an incredible ear."

H: "And great dexterity. He's been playing here for sixty years now. He plays a hell of a lot [Tamae's translation] of music still! New York musicians call him 'Little George.' For George Mraz." [they laugh]

Me: "He must be much in demand ..."

T: "Right! Louis Nash, Peter Washington ... they are all amazed by his playing, and they all know him by name."

Me: "Do you audition players, sidemen, or do you find them mostly by hearsay? You know, word gets out that someone is really good ..."

H: "Once someone tells me he wants to come play here, I ask him for a tape. And I check it out. Then I play with him to check him out."

We discussed the issue of "imitation," as it relates to jazz musicians in Japan, and that led, inevitably, to the high regard that Hisayuki has for American pianist Tommy Flanagan, his influence on him.

H: "At first I did not have my own style. I just loved Tommy Flanagan. I was Flanagan crazy. I collected all of his work, over 350 recordings by Tommy Flanagan. I learned even the shortest phrase he played as a sideman. I feel now that this was a really silly thing to do, but at the time, I wanted to be Tommy Flanagan. [laughs] I first heard him live in 1975, when Ella Fitzgerald came to Japan with Tommy. He was her accompanist. He was forty-five years old. I was twenty-three. At that first concert, Tommy's trio played for about forty minutes. And right after that, Ella came on stage and sang for one and a half hours."

Me: "People forget what a marvelous accompanist he was for her, for years."

H: "Tommy told me to send a tape to him in New York. Before this happened I thought it was okay just to copy Tommy Flanagan, but once I got his request to send a tape, I tried to establish my own thing. Once, long ago, whenever I played, it was Flanagan, Flanagan, Flanagan. But after playing Flanagan, Flanagan, Flanagan, I thought, "This is my own." Before, one day I couldn't recognize which of us was which ... and that day was probably the start of establishing my own style." [Tamae laughs with appreciation, as she has been throughout this account]

Me: "What happened when you sent him the tape?"

H: "Whenever I asked him, 'How did you like the tape I sent you,' Tommy always responded, 'Well, good.' Just 'good!'" [we all laugh]

T: "That doesn't sound good to me!"

H: "For ten years I kept sending him tapes. Tapes and tapes and tapes. When Tommy finally came to my house, on one of his tours of Japan, he asked me to play for him. So I started to play in our room that has a piano ..."

T: "You can see that in a photo here." [pointing to a phonograph on a wall filled with Flanagania]

H: "Tommy listened to me. I turned to look at him. I played some more. And he said nothing. At one point he came over and pressed a note, my back to him still. He said, 'That finger, in your left hand, you are using it wrong. ' He hadn't even been looking at me. He wasn't watching me. He just heard that. I was flabbergasted!"

Me: "Was he right?"

T: "He was right!"

H: "I played very rapidly at that time. I used just four fingers of each hand. So Tommy came over and said, 'Here's what I do.' And he gave me a lesson. He showed me how he played that part, how he used all of his fingers. This was my first lesson: the first time, after sending him tapes for ten years, he'd teach me something. He had never said anything -- except 'good' -- until that night! But after that he would teach me at any time, anytime I needed advice -- on the phone, in a coffee shop, wherever. Any time. It became very easy for him to give me advice. How to do intro, how to do endings. He taught me how to play."

Me: "And you and Tommy have become very close friends ..."

T: "Right!"

H: "I think he probably recognized what I'd been going through for ten years. It was all very moving for me."

T: "And I think Hisayuki got much better after that. As if, after that moment, he rocketed!" [laughs]

Me: "Has he heard your CD Flanagania, your homage to him?"

T: "Yes."

T: "He said, 'It's much different than what I do, but it's a very nice interpretation.' And Hisayuki also has a CD called Dalarna. The title tune is one by Tommy that he recorded in Japan, in 1957 -- thirty-eight years ago."

H: "Thirty-nine."

T: "Thirty-nine years ago. So Hisayuki made a CD and used 'Dalarna' as the title tune. Right after that, just a few months ago, Tommy made a recording and did 'Darlarna' again. But he hadn't recorded it or played it in any jazz club for thirty-nine years! Hisayuki is very proud, because Tommy called him and said, 'I've just recorded for a Japanese record company, and guess what tune I did?''Probably 'Dalarna'?'Yes, I did!" [we all laugh] We actually had Tommy here, at the Over Seas Club, in May. This May. He played here. And that was amazing!"

Although he does not perform, or record, outside of Japan, Hisayuki Terai's three CDs -- Flanagania, Dalarna, and the more recent Fragrant Times -- are available in the states through Cadence magazine. Flanaganiafeatures three original pieces by Tommy Flanagan ("Minor Mishap," which he would play later, for me; "Rachel's Rondo," and "Mean Streets"), plus two fine tunes by Tadd Dameron ("Smooth as the Wind" and "If You Could See Me Now"). "Smooth as the Wind" is just that: showing fine accord between Hisayuki Terai and bassist Masahiro Munetake, whom I would hear later that night, a young musician who has been studying, and working, with the pianist for ten years. Hisayuki belongs to a tradition of what might be dubbed "aristocratic jazz piano" (Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Kenny Barron, Fred Hersch, Jessica Williams, Lynne Arriale), musicians who combine deft touch, intelligence, taste, eloquence with firm, resolute, no nonsense, totally dedicated purpose or drive.

I have a feeling Tadd Dameron himself would think highly of Hisayuki's interpretation of "Smooth as the Wind" (its essence distilled yet made up of dazzling particulars), just as he would "If You Could See Me Now," one of my all time favorite tunes, an elegant "reading" by Hisayuki with just a touch of slightly "decadent" delight added, the tune both tough-minded and tender -- and it swings. And I think Thelonious Monk would approve of what Hisayuki does with "Pannonica," another precise, respectful homage, Terai's own unique chords, tasty dynamics, and a bright veneer -- a fine glaze with a host of shades and hues within mixed with appropriately abrupt or staccato effects. George Gershwin's "Embraceable You," after its smooth start, gets converted into Charlie Parker's "Quasimodo," as arranged by -- guess who? Tommy Flanagan.

To my surprise, Tamae produced a copy of an August 1996 issue of Cadence that contained a review of Hisayuki Terai's Darlarna. It was a very favorable review that praised the pianist's tribute to "one of the most musical -- precise, responsive, and tasteful -- of jazz pianists," Tommy Flanagan, adding that "Flanagan's qualities include a certain self-effacement that says much about what Terai values." Stuart Broomer's review was one of few I'd read that seems to comprehend the unique nature of the sensei system on its own terms. "For all his deference, even reverence," Broomer continued, "there's nothing stiff or staid about Terai's playing. He has a developed sense of bop piano language ... It includes the essential amalgam of passion and rhythmic and harmonic nuance that is the hallmark of its best early players." The reviewer did raise some questions about the role of "interpreter's interpreter," saying, "Terai may sound more vital than many pianists, but whose vitality is it?" A fair question, given music that walks so worshipfully in light given off by its master, but I'd answer, "The vitality is Terai's, totally."

We discussed the "level" of jazz performance in Japan, imitative or not. Hisayuki Terai's response surprised me.

H: "I really think the level of musicianship is much lower than that in the U.S. The Japanese have a handicap when it comes to being jazz musicians. It is very difficult for Japanese children to get a chance to hear jazz music in Japan. So we tend to hear the music for the first time when we are already grown up. But Tommy Flanagan grew up listening to jazz music when he was a small child. That never happens in Japan. Hopefully, from now on, the handicap will be less, because the situation is balancing out ..."

Me: "Because of more exposure?"

H: "Right. And hearing jazz music live is not such a major thing anymore. For example, George Mraz grew up in Czechoslovakia and became a great musician -- probably the greatest bass player in the world. So a Japanese musician could become number one also!"

I mentioned a jazz writer in Boston who felt Japanese graduates of Berklee College returning to Japan might produce a unique form of "Japanese jazz." I also mentioned Makoto Ozone's interest in tango, but his indifference, now, to traditional Japanese instruments. How did Hisayuki feel?

H: "You are an American, Mr. Minor. But what do you think is going on in a Japanese musician's mind when he plays jazz? I think most Japanese first hear melody, not chords. After that, they recognize the rhythm. And then comes harmony, the chords. Melody first, then rhythm, then harmony. It takes time for them to recognize all of the elements. Japanese, traditionally, ethnically, have an ear for melody, just melody. Single tones."

Me: "As in gagaku [traditional court music]?"

Both together: "Yes, yes!"

H: "So it takes a lot of time to absorb everything, all of the various aspects of jazz. And after all the musical elements have been absorbed, they finally recognize the lyrics. They discover the lyrics, but when they sing, they don't really understand what they themselves are saying, or singing [laughs]. You must recognize the lyrics and the melody together, as uta (song). Plus the rhythm and harmony. Everything! You must think, 'I really want to play it all.' But that really takes time. Even more time for Japanese musicians ..."

T: "Hisayuki is forty-three years old and he really wants to have all four elements present in his music, all at the same time ..."

H: "I'm forty-four. But the most important thing for me just now is the lyrics. It is very challenging to have the melody and the sense of the lyrics come together, emerge at the same time. Even if it's English with a Japanese accent! But I want to be able to make my feelings come across to an audience."

I confessed that the major difficulty I'd had with the jazz music I'd heard in Japan was with singers, vocalists: the difficulty of attempting to communicate intense emotion through vocal inflection and intonation in a language you may not fully understand.

T: "They have to study, yes. It really does present a problem in jazz."

H: "But not all Japanese know karate either, or do Zen practice."

Me: "Or engage in the Tea Ceremony."

H: "So when you think about the meaning of a song, you are showing your very own view or feelings, as a Japanese. For me, revealing Japanese tradition comes across as playing who I am, expressing my own feelings, my own views, my own relation to the music."

Me: "Kokoro ni? (from the heart within?)"

T: "Right."

H: "I really love the song 'I Cover the Waterfront.' But when I play it, I want to show the Japanese way to cover the waterfront." [Tamae laughs, in appreciation]

Me: "Honto wa (Wow, really!?). What is the Japanese way to cover the waterfront?"

H: "That would be really difficult to express in words. But there are so many styles. Perhaps the Japanese umi (sea) would be different -- the experience of living by the sea."

Me: "But it's something of a traditional love song, in any language. 'Will the one I love be coming back to me'?"

T: "Right."

H: "The lyrics would be the same, yes, but the interpretation of them -- from a gaijin (foreigner or American) and a Japanese point of view -- would be slightly different. Just to stand by the waterfront might, from a Japanese point of view, be more of a minor key feeling. Kanashii (sad). Tommy has said that, at the end of the song, you 'get back down to earth,' plain earth. Tommy would perhaps think that his lover will never come back again and accept that, so he'd better get back down to earth. He could even return to the waterfront, and still think his lover isn't ever going to come back. But to me -- playing with a young bass player and a young drummer as I am -- I would want to give a yume wa de tagara (dream quality) to the song. I would want to present an optimistic view to the young musicians, so I would not make the song quite so sad, because I expect these two lovers to get back together! I believe that, some day, the lovers will be united again. It's probably not all that much a Japanese/American difference, but I believe it's very important to teach this other meaning of the song to young Japanese musicians. What is this song all about? American musicians don't even have to think to understand the words, for they know the meaning easily."

Me: "Perhaps, but I'm not so sure they always do." [they laugh]

H: "The most important thing I got from Tommy Flanagan is the importance of uta (the song, the lyrics). He always told me to listen to Billie Holiday. All the time, all the time. Billie Holiday has had a lot of influence on Tommy's music."

Me: "She's influenced the music of a lot of people!"

T: "She doesn't sound like anybody else. And it seems as though she is telling a story, just to me."

Me: "So, how about the future? Another CD? Will the Over Seas Club be around for another eighteen years? If I come back in eighteen years will it still be here?"

H: "I hope so."

T: "But I don't want to be over fifty." [laughs]

Me: "Hey, it's not so bad! I'm an akachan (a special Japanese word that literally means 'little red thing,' or baby, as applied to people who've just turned sixty -- as I had -- and are no longer supposed to "carry" any worrisome cares or responsibilities).

Hisayuki Terai and bassist Masahiro Munetake made my last night in Japan an absolute treat. They played Tommy Flanagan's "Minor Mishap" (Hisayuki introduced me as "a journalist from America," and reassured me at break time, "You're not a minor mishap"). It was all there: the deft touch, the forward momentum, the fine bop lines: speed, dexterity, passion, a certain infectious gregariousness. If I make Hisayuki Terai out to be one of my most pleasant surprises, or "discoveries" in Japan, a musician of exceptional merit, it's because he is. His music is some of the most engaging I encountered: the epitome of Japanese craftsmanship: years of discipline resulting in skill that disclosed the success of his quest.

When I left the Over Seas Club, dry, well fed, musically sated, the rain had stopped. It wouldn't have mattered: I was ready and willing to get soaked all over again, "singing in the rain" if need be, for I'd found more than sufficient shelter from the storm with Hisayuki and Tamae, a hood/All over," a "mothering wing," their hospitality putting me in mind of the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins that begins: "I remember a house where all were good/To me, God knows, deserving no such thing:/Comforting smell breathed at very entering."

I had been thrice blessed in Osaka: at the Over Seas Club, at Tennoji temple (by way of Emi's calligraphy), and, when I first arrived in the city, at a street corner, waiting for the light to change. There, I was detained by an old woman, a crone actually, who must have felt compassion for the state of my luggage (I had shoved my single suitcase in a small locker at the train station, but when I retrieved the piece, I discovered that one of its two wheels had been ripped off, so I was escorting my mobility-impaired luggage with anxious acrobatic alacrity: the sort of care and touch Tommy Flanagan and Hisayuki Terai lavish on a piano). The old woman, or crone, asked if I understood Nihongo, and when I said, "Taihen heta desu" (I speak poorly), she proceeded to bless me, right there in broad daylight, the Japanese people waiting at the light -- which seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time not changing -- amused by this scene I'm sure. The crone blessed my migi no te (right hand), then my hidari no te (left hand), and probably would have done my entire body (and soul) had the light not -- blessedly -- then changed.

I had nothing but warm and cordial thoughts to accompany me -- along with the music of Hisayuki Terai (by way of Tommy Flanagan) -- on the train ride back to Kaizuka, and my final departure from Kansai Airport.

Bill Minor, aka the JJA Contract Doctor, is the author of Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union and Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years. The Heart Within: Jazz Journeys to Japan (from which this piece comes) is still in search of a publisher. Minor 's CD For Women Missing or Dead, his piano and vocal performance of original songs, and a book of poems -- Our Peasant Life and Moker -- is forthcoming from Chatoyant press.

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