Masumi Jones, the Tokyo Tsunami, has been in the U.S. for only a little while. She played drums with big swing bands in Japan and is quickly making a name for herself in Austin where she is in demand for recording sessions and gigs. I catch up with this talented musician to touch upon a variety of topics! Read below for the full interview…
Being from Austin myself, you and your band are generating a nice buzz in the city. How has this current tour been treating you?
Masumi: I toured with Jitterbug Vipers around the northwest area (Oregon and Washington) the past two summers. [Other] music scenes are different than Austin Texas, I felt, but they loved us. We had some great press, articles and met lots of cool audiences. I, too, want to tour with my band in the future.
I think you guys have a pretty neat feature, where every Wednesday you host an online Jazz concert. How did this idea come about and how has the response been thus far?
Masumi: I was playing for Alex Coke – Rich Harney Quartet and we used to jam every Wednesday afternoon at Alex’s studio around 2009-2010. It was such a great jam, after Alex went off to Amsterdam, we kept jamming at Rich’s house because he has a great piano. We are busy individually, so we were jamming but we didn’t have any gigs for this band. I thought I should make gigs by myself somewhere, so I made this jam into our gig, broadcasting live show from where we play.
You’ve been known to offer musicians in the audience to come sit in with the band. What kind of result does this entail? What kind of music can be created with including such an unexpected element?
Masumi: Playing jazz is like talking in English (much easier than English for me). If you can speak English, then you can talk with people who speak in English. If you can play jazz, then you can play with anyone who plays jazz. You just need a common subject to talk with people you don’t know; weather, economy, culture, fashion. Same [goes] for jazz! We just pick up jazz standard tunes we all know, and talk about what they think and feel about these tunes while playing instruments. So, having unexpected musicians is really fun, as we can talk with more various ways together. This is one of the most fun aspects to being a musician. We can communicate without language.
Sticking with your band, you also play with contemporary big band music members as well. What kind of music are you able to pull from an ensemble like this in terms of ensemble skills versus jazz soloing?
Masumi: Playing big ensemble bands is really important to understand music, especially concept and structure. Bigger ensemble has less freedom to play drums than jazz combos. [You] need charts because it will be chaos without it (there is free jazz though). We need directions and minimal rules to make the sound better, to let music make sense. Jazz drumming is free style and we can play so many different ways, so playing big band (old style to contemporary) is the biggest education to develop my music sense.
It’s funny, I played piano for several years and quit as a teen as well. Luckily for you, you had interests in other instruments such as harp, drums, etc. Was it difficult carving out a career in jazz since you weren’t solely focused on one instrument?
Masumi: A lot of musicians play multiple instruments. Some play several instruments all great. I do not. If you have music in you, you just wanna find your way to express it. I couldn’t handle piano or clarinet as much as drums, so I ended up a jazz drummer. I don’t really like soloing on drums. I like to make music and I am not so interested in playing drums alone. I think I am having difficulty to pursuit my career as a jazz drummer…. I don’t really care though…
You briefly dabbled in film scoring, did you have an opportunity to work on any projects?
Masumi: Not as a composer or engineer, but I played film music in one movie called “A Swingin’ Trio“. It is love triangle movie. Our band got featured in one scene and the trailer.
I know that right now there’s a sort of flourishing movement of drummer-composers; is that something you have much insight into?
Masumi: That is a great thing. I believe a lot of drummers play other melodical instruments, so it is very natural I think.
After moving back and forth between here and Japan, what originally brought you to Austin a few years ago? Did you have to make a hard decision to leave your record deal?
Masumi: I moved around US and Japan, because of family issues, so it was always hard to me to move and re-start my career at a new place. I am not in the position to make decisions where to live, but I had always found good friends, work and life experiences, which made me stronger and rich in music. So I am happy.
Do you have any favorite Asian films you could share with us?
Masumi: I grew up with Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, so I like his movies. Also I like Ozu Yasujiro’s movies, those are so calm and sadness is beautiful. Of course Kurosawa is a great director, I like “Yume–dreams”. I lately watched “Okuri-bito”, I don’t know English title, but the main charactor was a classical musician, and he gave up being a musician and became a Japanese traditional funeral conductor. It contains beautiful sadness also.
Lastly, aside from tours, do you have any special projects or performances we should be on the lookout for?
Masumi: I up-graded my on-line live show in this month. I only had one program every Wednesday called “Jazz at Noon — Lunch With Masumi and the Gentlemen” at “Lunch with Masumi” website. Now I broadcast every Monday at noon (CT, USA) at same site “Lunch with Masumi”, and “Jazz at Noon — Lunch with Masumi and the Gentlemen” is my piano trio, every 1st Monday.
“Vipers at Noon —Lunch with Slim and his Hidy Hidy Hos” is every 2nd Monday, featuring the Jitterbug Vipers, which specializes 1930’s swing dancable music.
Every 3rd Monday is “Funky at Noon — MJ and the Funky Dudes” featuring my guiter trio and guest funky musicians in Austin TX.
“Guest at Noon” is every 4th Monday, I will have bands in which I play as a side woman.
You can watch all these programs at http://www.lunchwithmasumi.com/ Please watch my online live show(s).