Launched in 2003, Japan’s premier crossover jazz music festival is setting a new world standard for large-scale parties of its kind. This year’s festival rounded up 35 artists from around the world and included a special jazz session with the great Gilles Peterson, who was appearing for the first time; Shuya Okino’s United Legends session featuring Josh Milan (Blaze) and Navasha Daya (Fertile Ground); as well as DJ support from stars like Dego of 4Hero and 2000 Black. Those who were able to make the show at Ageha were treated to a full four sets of excellent music. Between the dynamism of live music and the innovative DJing, the genre of jazz took on whole new meanings and the crowd danced the evening to perfection.
Jazz has been big in Japan for a century. Fumio Nanri, Ryoichi Hattori, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Yosuke Yamshita, Tadao Watanabe, to name a few, were all stellar musicians in their own right who sought to overcome criticisms of being derivative. Anyone can play a horn, pluck a bass, strum a guitar or pound a snaredrum, and a vast majority of Japanese jazz musicians were able to do so, finding themselves to be almost freakishly good at technical playing, but were missing the intangible touch of flair that was new and exciting, the j’ai ne sais quoi still good enough to remind fans of the masters from before. Music thirsts for artistry beyond mere musical ability. Jazz needs soul.