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Hiroshima At The 32nd Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival
Hiroshima is internationally known and loved for their infusion of Asian sounds into contemporary jazz for the last three decades
By Michele Wilson-Morris
(more articles from this author)
2009-06-15
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Hiroshima, internationally known and loved for their infusion of Asian sounds into contemporary jazz for the last three decades, is an interview that any writer would love to have. It took some finagling because of their busy schedule, but their tour director was able to squeeze me in to talk with Hiroshima co-Founder Dan Kuramoto on Saturday, May 23rd. Mr. Kuramoto was as gracious and down to earth as anyone I've ever met, and he gave Charles Smith (photographer and huge Hiroshima fan from the early 1980's) and I an insight into Hiroshima that I think you'll enjoy.

[Michele] How do you feel about being declared the fulfillment of Duke Ellington's proclamation that the whole world is going Asian?

That's a very interesting thing. I would never imagined the Duke saying that. I find that very curious, but he was so far ahead of the entire planet. I think he was anticipating what we see today which is the world as a very small planet, basically because of the internet. Globalization is a good thing and entitles us to access more richness because of the cost and the diversity of the planet. It affords us the opportunity to partake of many different cultures.

[Michele] What was it like working with Miles Davis?

Very, very interesting. We opened for him; we didn't directly work for him. We shared the same stage, and it started about being as intimidating a situation as you could ever be in. I mean, it's Miles, and Miles being who he is, his reputation preceded him. Every time he came out of his dressing room, we could hardly look him in the eye. It took us several dates on the tour before we were a little less intimidated.

We were in New York and we were hanging out by Miles' dressing room because he would play constantly (he didn't believe in practicing just performing and creating). He came out of the dressing room and he takes the elevator down to the main stage and we're sitting in the main hallway and he's like this god, right, and he gets in the elevator and he's playing and when he gets to the elevator he didn't touch any buttons or anything and he just looks at us with a look that says "Lighten up."

People didn't understand how serious Miles was about being a creative artist and he demands that of everybody that's playing with him. He maintained a commitment to playing, not practicing, all the time. He was just real serious about the music but in every other way, he was just like any other guy. I knocked on his door and had his biography and asked if he would sign it for me. He took the book, and just closed the door. Then he brought it back to me and had drawn a picture of himself in it.

It's such a blessing to have been around such pure genius. He was so inspiring, always progressive, searching for the next thing. That's what we learned about music, most of all -- do what you do, do what you believe in, and along the way, people will find you.

[Charles] Back in New York, we danced to your music. Are you guys even making dance music anymore or thinking about collaborating with a rap artist?

I love writing songs about the grooves, and I believe we're in that time. Legacy comes out in September and we'll start a one year tour then. It was really difficult to pick 12 or 13 records out of 200 songs for that CD. The Legacy album encompasses songs from the first two years and includes 2 gold records. We might do a Legacy Part II. We re-recorded songs from the first ten years and re-recorded them as the band is now, which is totally instrumental. We take things a step at a time. Little Tokyo has been our best reviewed record of all time.

[Charles] How did the album Obon come about?

Obon is our 13th album and marks the 25th anniversary of Hiroshima as a band. It also pays tribute to the 60th anniversary of the imprisonment of the Japanese during World War II. There was a prison camp where my grandparents were held during the time of war. My mom told me about it. She didn't understand it because she was a young child. There was barbed wire and they were out in the desert.

We've come a long way though, man. We have Barack as President, and forget the fact that he's a black American, he's a true American. I'm very hopeful about it. But most people, in this land, we understand that we're not here by choice. We're at some point or another, slave labor. We have yet to settle what happened to 40 acres and a mule. Coming to a heritage where if you go back, there's a notion that the continents were connected, and you look at the continents now, they look like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. African and Asia were not. We just found out about two or three years ago at a jazz festival that we have African Americans in our family.

[Michele] What you do you when you're not performing?

I like sports. I went to college on a sports scholarship and probably the thing we have most in common is that we all love to eat. We'll say, let's get a hotel and a place to eat. At this point in our lives, it's about exploring what we can do for fulfillment, the gift we have, and trying to take advantage of life and how short it is. There's always more to do, more interesting rather than less more challenging than less, especially in these tough economic times. But we remember that the end of the rainbow is also the beginning of the rainbow.

[Michele] Who were your influences in the jazz genre?

Miles, Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, Jimi Hendrix. Like Miles, he was a complete genius. I love so many people -- Donny Hathaway. Everything begins and ends with Donny to me. There are a lot of great artists in Latin music and Salsa, and I'm a huge Salsa fan.

[Michele] Which artists do you listen to?

There are so many, I couldn't even begin to name them.

[Michele] What are the differences between your music today and your music from decades ago?

That's a really intriguing question. Two things: our growth as human beings and the way that the planet and society has changed. We don't live in a vacuum, so when we see things, they affect us. My own personal mentor is James Moody, who played the saxophone. He always told me it's about the vision, and it's about the commitment to do these things. Music is something that brings people together. We're not a smooth jazz band, we are who we are.


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