Review of E. Taylor Atkins. Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001. xiv, 366 pp.
"Thank God for Japan! It's turning out to be a second Nevada" (209).
These words of an American booking agent in the 1960s capture some of
the paradoxes of jazz in Japan. On one hand, it is a jazz paradise-where
else can one find jazz coffee shops (jazu kissa) that prohibit talking, but offer
patrons the opportunity to listen to extensive record collections over
state-of-the-art speakers? And the Japanese are not only fans. Some of
japan's jazz musicians have achieved success in the international jazz
world, notably pianist Akiyoshi Toshiko, who in 1980 received three top
awards from Down Beat magazine. But still, for many musicians and commentators
in the West (and for some in Japan as well) there persists the
enduring image that Japanese jazzers, both the fans and the musicians
alike, are somewhat akin to the faux Venetian canals in Las Vegas. Aren't
they trying to be something they cannot be?
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- November 19, 2014