Again, with feeling


The term “Jass” first appeared in print in the Chicago Herald in 1916. Within a year its spelling had changed to the familiar “Jazz”. I learned this from a Japanese drummer.


I was walking the streets of Roppongi, where I live, looking for something to do when I stumbled across a small jazz-club tucked away between topless bars. Inside a single room was a table built around a piano and five, free-standing tables built for four. A drummer, base player and pianist supplied the music accompanied by one of five vocalists / hostesses. While one hostess sang, the others took care of their respective tables; pouring drinks, providing conversation, and so on. There were four Japanese parties sitting at the tables, middle-aged couples mostly. I was the only westerner in the place; I sat at the otherwise empty bar.


They played from a surprisingly wide repertoire, and the vocalists sang in both English and Japanese. To my ears, the music was quite good – lyrics of well-known songs sung in Japanese actually work.


Between sets I struck up a conversation with the drummer and base player. I speak very, very little Japanese and they spoke even less English. Nonetheless, we had a very enjoyable conversation. When we reached an impasse, which happened frequently, the bar tender, who’s English was slightly better then my Japanese, was usually able to fill in the gaps.


They explained how much the Japanese like Jazz, and I assured them that Jazz still enjoys popularity in America. We decided that, besides Jazz, Blues and blue-jeans were some of America’s gifts to the world whose greatness was balanced by the miserable Old Milwaukee, Budweiser and McDonalds.

<America no biiru wa takaii mizu des ne!> American beer is expensive water, isn’t it! .


They were sure that I was a musician even though I repeatedly insisted that I was not. In Japanese when you want to indicate that you don’t have something, you use either <__ ga armimasen> or <___ ga imasen>. You use the first for inanimate objects and the second for animate ones. I wanted to say that I have no rhythm. Is rhythm animate or inanimate? I think of rhythm as being animate… at least I do after having a few whiskies and sitting in a Jazz club..., so I said <kono hito ni rizumu ga imasen> as in, this person aint got no rhythm. I don’t know if I made a mistake or if I used the correct form. Perhaps I made a meta-comment about rhythm by using the animate form over the inanimate one – of course that would depend on whether you believed I intentionally chose <imasen> over <arimasen>. I will ask my Japanese teacher on Monday.  


From time to time they asked the room for requests; I resisted the temptation of picking a song with the word ‘Blue’ in it. I’m a good boy.


It’s late, I’m going to bed


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