I just returned from a trip of a lifetime. In February I was the winner of the Seattle-Kobe Jazz Audition and this past May through the Seattle Sister City Association I had the opportunity to travel to Kobe Japan where I was a guest vocalist for Kobe’s equivalent competition.
The journey started as soon as my name was announced at Jazz Alley. Standing there holding my plaque, being interviewed and having my photo taken was just a taste of what was yet to come.
Two weeks before leaving for Kobe, I attended a meeting to prepare for the journey abroad. I was instructed on customs of the country from handing out business cards with two hands to giving small gifts rather than tipping. This meeting was extremely helpful because if I had not been warned about the taxi doors opening out towards the hailing passenger, my Kobe tour would have ended on the first day.
Upon arrival at the Kobe airport I was warmly greeted by my host Yumi Imai and escorted to the Crowne Plaza Hotel where I would spend the next four days. After a day of recovering from the time change and long flight, I was invited to one of the finest jazz clubs in Kobe, Sone. At the club the owner warmly welcomed me, and introduced me to the musicians and the vocalist scheduled for the evening, who graciously offered me a chance to perform a song. The singer, along with the other performers, I watched at other clubs focused on the traditional sounds of the jazz standards. There was very little scatting and most of the songs were performed in English close to their original melodies. The audience at Sone and the other clubs were also extremely welcoming and attentive. It was not uncommon for people watching a performance to spontaneously start clapping to keep time with the swing tunes.
This feeling of jazz appreciation was felt throughout my tour of Kobe, especially the next day during the Kobe Jazz Queen Competition. In Shinkaichi, a music festival was happening outside the studio where the completion was being held. On one corner you could hear a high school jazz band playing American jazz standards and on another corner a small trio was performing The Girl from Iponima. Even the lampposts, which had speakers built in were projecting a light serenade of songs like Autumn Leaves and Bewitched.
The completion itself was a true tribute to the American Jazz Standards. Not only was I impressed by level of talent from the ten Japanese competitors, I was once again amazed by the attention and appreciation the audience paid to each performer. From 3pm to 7:15pm a crowd of 250 people diligently sat without an intermission. As the last performer of the evening I was concerned that no one would be in the audience by the time I my name was called to sing. When I walked onto the stage, felt the warm lights, the mist from the smoke machines and the powerful energy from the audience, my fears dissipated and I knew I was in the right place surrounded by people who love and appreciate the art of jazz.
At the end of the evening, when the new jazz queen was crowned and the interviews and group photos were once again taken, I was a bit saddened my journey was coming to an end. But I was also filled with gratitude and hope knowing that jazz is strong and vibrant in Kobe, our sister city, where I hope to one day to return.