Martin lives in Saitama City, northwest of Tokyo and among his many talents is painting with oils and acrylics. In addition to the display of his art, there would be a live quartet playing jazz with a Latin twist, and after, food. It was an offer we could scarcely refuse and most of all we looked forward to meeting Martin in person.
A combination of too much caffeine from drinking tea late in the day on Saturday and some noisy thunderstorms that night kept K and I from sleeping well Saturday night (grouchy Panda alert), so with about 3 hours sleep, we set off for Kashima City Hall where we would catch a bus to Tokyo. Normally we would shorten the bus trip some by driving to nearby Itako City, but unless one gets to that terminal early in the day, there is likely to be no place to park.
First stop was the mall, where K donned a mask and robbed the bank. Well, no, actually, K has had a cough that doesn't seem to want to go away (time for the health clinic K) and wears the mask to keep from spreading it.
The bus ride gave us a chance to relax and rest if not sleep for the hour and forty-five minute trip to Tokyo Station. Buses in Japan are quite comfortable and used by many people including business commuters. There a buses from Kashima City to Tokyo every ten minutes. In all, the trip by bus and train a short walk would take us 3 hours and twenty minutes.
From Tokyo Station we took a train, changing once to catch an express for Saitama City. I made K promise not to rush through the stations. I hate that. My attitude about travel is, if you want to get somewhere earlier, you should leave earlier. In between, walk, cycle, drive, what ever, at a comfortable pace - without getting into anyone's way of course. The trains leave every few minutes, some are only 2 minutes apart, so there is no reason this Panda can fathom for people rushing around a train station like their hair is on fire.
I know people in other countries often picture Tokyo trains as being crammed full of people with railroad employees shoving in the last passengers as the doors close. That happens on certain routes at rush hour, but it isn't all the time. Sunday was the middle of a three day weekend (Monday was National Foundation Day), so there were not so many people. In fact we only had to stand for a short distance. The rest of the way, plenty of empty seats were available.
Above is the Yono Honmachi station in Saitama City. Note all the bicycles. Across the street was a two story parking garage - for bicycles only. In some sections of Tokyo, 80% of the people own bicycles and many commute by riding them to a train station and taking the subway or train to a station within walking distance of their workplace. Owning a car in Tokyo is an expensive proposition and generally not very convenient. Just a parking space in a garage can cost what you might expect to pay for a studio condominium.
Anyway, the Yono Honmachi station was just a few blocks from our destination, Bokuryuuutei - a small restaurant owned by a retired high school teacher (he taught agriculture I think) and friend of Martin. The doors were to open at 2:30PM but we wanted to make sure we found the place and arrived about 20 minutes early. We were about to head off for a cup of coffee to kill some time when Martin came out to set up a reception table. So, we met at last. It was interesting to finally be face to face with someone I'd communicated with through blog comments and a few emails. I'm happy to report that in person, he was the same guy I has come to be friends with on the internet. While we were talking, the band pulled up and unloaded their instruments and equipment. When the set up was completed we went inside.
As we found a seat and took a look around at the paintings (and musical instruments that were set up), and had some coffee, more and more people arrived - about 30 in all. Martin had some oil paintings hanging and several acrylic ones painted on clear acrylic panels with a second panel behind separated by spacers. This created some interesting shadow and lighting effects. Many of them were paintings of red hibiscus flowers which he had seen here in Japan, but which is a favorite of mine being the official State flower of Hawaii. My pictures of the paintings are a bit blurred as I didn't use flash, so you'll have to settle for what you see in the backgrounds. Here is one example:
The windows had been covered with heavy paper to darken the room and with lighting coming only from spots above, one soon forgot it was afternoon. It felt like evening and set the mood for the music.
About 3Pm, the band came in and started with a long time favorite of mine - "One Note Samba" which was written by the Brazilian composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim. This song was on one of the very first music albums I ever purchased that featured Stan Getz on saxophone, with vocals by Astrud Gilberto. This group played it really well, and the sax player, Sguru Miyaji (on a Selmer Mark 6 tenor sax) sounded almost as good as Getz as he employed the full range of his horn. I have linked the names of the musicians to their individual websites (in Japanese) so you can take a look at those if you like.
They were led by pianist Miho Nakada who calls her group Descarga Corazon Latino, which can have several more players (trumpets, trombone, etc) depending on the gig. My Spanish is a bit rusty but I think that translates to something like "delivering latin heart". Miho's personal motto is "No Challenge, No Success; No Music, No Life!" and she lives up to it on the keyboard. A graduate of the Kunitachi College of Music, she has been to Cuba three times to study playing Latin style music.
After the Samba, Sguru switched to his Yamaha soprano sax for the tune "Mercy, Mercy " which was made famous by Cannonball Adderley and later the Buddy Rich Big Band. But this arrangement, while starting out like the original soon adds a Latin twist that really mades it sound fresh.
This song introduced the other musicians with solos by bassist, Kazutoshi Shibuya (playing a Fodera Emperor 5 Elite electric bass) and percussionist Yoshihiko "Mizalito" Miza on conga drums. Bass solos are notorious for being difficult to make interesting, but Kazutoshi was up to the task. Mizalito was likewise awesome and had some interesting instruments in addition to his two congas. His seat, which looked like a wooden box, was a Peruvian "Cajon" which he also used in his performance. He had a third drum from Dominica and attached to it an African percussion instrument made up of metal rings.
The next tune was the old Neal Hefti standard "Cute", which I've always played in big bands as written for Count Basie. But this arrangement picked up the beat and added Latin rhythms. Spicy.
Then came a dedication to Martin - "Greensleeves". After a break they played "Never Ending Story", "Isn't it Lovely", and "Para Cachero". This last is a lively number and the restaurant owner soon got everyone up on their feet to dance. There wasn't much room, so everyone did so in place. It was still a lot of fun.
Miho was skillful at entertaining the audience between numbers with humor and talk about the instruments and so on. For you non-musicians, this is only partly to establish a rapport with and inform the audience. Its most important function is to give the musicians a rest between numbers.
A couple in the front row announced that they were getting married, so Miho started playing a very straight rendition of the wedding march, but subtly segued into "Loving You" as she was joined by the other instruments. Finally, they finished the second set with "Ojos de Rojo".
Everyone shouted for more of course, and we weren't disappointed. The encore was "La Bamba" with everyone clapping and singing along.
Martin speaks with Sguru and a friend of Martin's wife.With the music over, the chairs were rearranged and some tables brought in and food was served in buffet style. A nice spread of veggies, chicken, boiled eggs, pesto pasta, edamame, etc.
It was an interesting mix of people. A number were artists, some were involved with charities, consumer protection. We also met his wife, Akiko, who is a researcher for Greenpeace and can tell you all about GMOs. I spoke with one young man who was a designer for an architecture firm and another who just graduated from college as a computer engineer. The band members joined the party too and it was fun to speak with them. In talking with Sguru, the sax man, I learned that he had gone to college in Boston and lived in New York for a while. He was interested to hear about the music scene in Hawaii.
All too soon it was time to head for home. There are return buses until about 10 PM, but if you don't queue up by around 8:30 or so, there may not be enough to handle all the passengers and you might get stuck for the night.
It had been a long day and while we still felt energized by the event everything was kind of a blur going home. We Pandas are a reclusive lot and that was most socializing I'd done in ages. It was a great afternoon for us.
Yawn. Just push me onto the train, dear. After it stops of course.
On the train, three little girls bouncing on their seat (and their dad) and playing "Jun-ken-po" (the rock-paper-scissors game) kept us entertained and from nodding off.
Though the outdoor line for the bus to Kashima was 45 minutes or so long and the air was a bit "nippy", they added an extra bus, so we were on our way by about 9PM and could catch a few Z's. We would have no trouble sleeping this night.
Later, looking over the pictures, we realized we had neglected to get one of the four of us, or at least Martin and I together. Ah, well. Next time. Our turn to be hosts.