In February of 2015, I set out with one of my jazz composition classmates Connor Steck, to schedule a tour of Japan. The idea came to me after I was hosting a “crowded” jam session at my place, where we had maybe six horn players, four guitarists, a bassist, three drummers, and two pianists. I had just finished touring from San Diego, CA to Seattle, WA, and was looking for my next big trip, confident in my managing abilities. After a short agreement, we set the dates for July 15th – August 1st, and decided to start putting the final band together.
I had recorded an album with my jazz-fusion band Unidentified Fusion Orangement, and knew that the sound from this group could have a large impact on the music community in Japan. I decided to select musicians for the band that I knew would be a good fit musically, and also personality wise, so that we’d have good synergy in the band. I invited Tomoki Sanders on tenor saxophone (who was from Ibaraki, Japan), Will Lyle on bass, Juan Chiavassa on drums, and Masato Shinohara (Berklee alumni living in Kobe, Japan) on electric guitar; along with myself on synthesizer and piano, and Connor on soprano saxophone. After everyone was on board, the real testament of dedication began.
We met with the director of Global Initiatives at Berklee, Jason Camelio, and he gave us some amazing pieces of advice and information in planning this trip to be a success. He also told us that Berklee does not fund tours, and that if we wanted to receive financial support from Berklee, we would need to involve an educational, cultural aspect to tour trip. This is when we remodeled the whole mission of the trip from a concert tour, to a cultural outreach trip, where we would be teaching clinics, hosting jam sessions, and visiting cultural sites throughout Japan in addition to performing almost every night.
I personally spent many late nights, long hours, and early mornings putting together the calendar, with Connor Steck as my translator, before we received any support in any way from Berklee, the US Embassy, or any other organization. This was a complete grass-roots, DIY operation. I was emailing hundreds of venues in Kobe, Osaka, Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kyoto trying to set up performances. I spending lots of money making international phone calls to the US Embassies in Osaka and Tokyo, international schools in Japan, music conservatories in Japan, volunteer organizations, and other organizations trying to put together events for the band when we arrived, and also receive funding for our trip.
We determined a rough budget for the trip, which estimated that the trip would cost $11,000 in total. This was a very small budget for an international trip for two weeks with six musicians, but still not something that we as college students could pay out of pocket. We started an indiegogo campaign to help raise money, and spread awareness about our mission and goal. We also put together a formal proposal which we used to apply for grants at Berklee, the U.S. Embassy, and the U.S. State Dept. The administration at Berklee put us through some hoops, but ultimately gave us their full support and helped fund the trip with $6,500 to cover the cost of hotels, transportation, and for the most part, food. Tom Riley, Kevin Johnson, Jason Camelio, and Matt Marvuglio, in particular, were monumental in making the trip a success! The four members in the band traveling from Boston to Japan, were able to get the money to pay for their own plane tickets, which was a huge relief for me personally. The rhythm section is key! Once the tickets were purchased we did what we could to promote the concerts, which mostly consisted of flyers, social media, and asking the venues/schools to do what they could to promote the events. Jason Camelio helped put us in touch with the Jikei-COM group, the largest educational network in Japan, who invited us to perform some clinics at the Osaka School of Music and the Tokyo School of Music. Matt Marvuglio connected us with a famous shakuhachi player in Japan by the name of Akikazu Nakamura, who graduated Berklee in the mid 80’s. By this time we had 12 gigs booked for July, so the whole trip was really coming together in a few months of really planning! We had our final rehearsals, and were ready to set off for eastern Asia!
The actual trip was an entirely different learning experience than planning the trip. Immersed in the culture, tradition, and the heat of Japan, we quickly developed a very tight relationship as a band that never left us. We had two rehearsals, followed by nine performances, and 3 clinics, in two weeks. Each day was a new learning experience. The concerts varied from a dead room with a few people listening, to really energetic crowds with 50-60 people all dancing and focusing on the stage. Everyday I felt inspired from visiting some ancient shrine or temple, that would help me realize how special Japan was, and how amazing it was that we had made the journey all the way from America, at such a young age, to pursue our passion. The three clinics we had done at Apple Guitars, Tokyo School of Music, and Osaka School of Music were particularly exciting. The staff and students really treated us like rockstars, and I think we were all happy to share contemporary American music, along with the tradition of jazz, with the young music students in Japan. They seemed genuinely impressed by our level of musicianship, and we had a great time playing some tunes with them. It was also a great pleasure to be on the Tokyo School of Music talk show, “Chris’ Room” and perform with the Los Angeles native, guitar instructor Chris Juergensen. We shared a lot of Berklee flyers, pamphlets, stickers, cowbells, and experiences at these clinics as well as at our performances to help spread awareness as to the great programs happening here at Berklee College of Music.
The first night we arrived in Tokyo, we were guests of Joe Lovano at the Blue Note Tokyo where we saw McCoy Tyner, Joe Lovano, Francisco Mela, and Gerald Cannon perform! It was inspiring for everyone in the band, and after the show we went backstage and hung out with the band, and got to meet McCoy Tyner. This was a really historic day in my life and I’m sure the other band members as well. The best thing was meeting complete strangers, who could not speak the same language as me, but who were affected in a positive way because of my music, because of my vision. I was constantly inspired by so many amazing musicians I met along the journey, and especially being around Akikazu Nakamura. He told us stories about Art Blakey, Jaco Pastorius, Elvin Jones, and other jazz legends he performed with. He also gave me some great advice on working towards being a cultural ambassador, as he is regularly summoned by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to perform all over the world, all expenses paid. Overall, the cultural outreach program was a great success, and I’m looking forward to bringing Unidentified Fusion Orangement on tour in Japan again spring 2017! Thanks for taking the time to read this, I think that all music students can hopefully learn something from our experience.
The complete details of the trip can be found on my website: www.alexanderandersonmusic.com/japan
Written by Alexander Anderson 9/9/2015