Sunday, February 16, 2014

Encounters With Louis: Yoshio Toyama

Earlier this month, I debuted a new series on this blog, Encounters With Louis, where I ask readers to send in their memories of spending some time in the presence of Louis Armstrong. If you have such a story, please send it to me at dippermouth@msn.com. One person who did that was one of my favorite human beings on the planet, Yoshio Toyama, also known as the "Satchmo of Japan."

Yoshio is simply a beautiful cat from start to finish but he's also a marvelous player, the closest I've ever heard a trumpeter approximate Louis's gigantic sound. Here he is doing justice to Pops's chop-busting "Chinatown, My Chinatown" solo, backed by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in August 2011:

See? "We are prisoners of jazz for the rest of our lives, being fascinated by the romance of jazz history and the extraordinary life of Satchmo," Yoshio wrote. "'Hello Dolly,' 'La Vie en Rose,' 'When the Saints go Marching In,' 'What a Wonderful World.'  That’s Satchmo. We play a lot of his numbers and we just love every thing about him as do millions of people all around the world. No matter how many times a day we play these tunes with our band, we never get tired of them. Each time we play them it’s such a delight to see people in front of you enjoying the music so much. All smiles! It means we’ve come a long way in our lives, getting to be more matured musicians."

A love of New Orleans jazz and Louis Armstrong in particular grabbed hold of Yoshio and his future wife, Keiko (who plays banjo and piano), when they were inspired by visits from Louis and the All Stars and clarinetist George Lewis to Japan in the early 1960s. Yoshio and Keiko even lived in New Orleans from 1968 to 1973, where they really learned the style from all the early pioneers who were still active in that period. Yoshio wrote a wonderful book (in Japanese) on these experiences, titled in English, "The Holyland New Orleans, The Saint Louis Armstrong." Yoshio translated (with the help of Bob Greene) his section on meeting Louis backstage and sent it along to me so I could share it with my readers. Here 'tis....thanks Yoshio!

Wonderful World of “Real Jazz” by Yoshio Toyama

I blew King’s trumpet!

1963 What a year for us! George Lewis’s dream band from New Orleans was enough sensation for us, but that same year Louis Armstrong made his visit to Japan with his All Stars. And that was not all. Adding to George Lewis and Satchmo, from 1963 to 1965 jazz giants such as Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Ella Firzgerald, Eddie Condon, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey all came to Japan, one after the other. For most of them it was their first time in Japan, except Satchmo. Thanks to my broken English, my stage door experience taught by Allan Jaffe, plus my nerve, I found clever ways to enter the concert halls through the dressing room entrance. I could listen to the performances often from a side of the stage backstage and even visit the musicians in their dressing rooms. I can never forget my brave visit to Satchmo’s dressing room when he came to Japan in 1964 with his world hit, “Hello Dolly.”

During his Kyoto concert I sneaked past security and went back stage. I managed to find his dressing room and knocked on the door. “Come in!” I heard that hoarse voice on the other side. I opened the door and there he was! Satchmo was smaller than I thought, just sitting in the room. I don’t remember what I said with my broken English. I said hello or something, and on the table by the door I found his trumpet case open, with his shinning gold trumpet lying there. “May I see it?” I asked. “Yes,” he said with that VOICE! I picked up KING’S HORN, feeling it so light like a feather perhaps because I was too excited. And then I looked at him and saw him smiling. I wanted to blow it so bad!!! And I blew KING’s Angel Wing feather light gold trumpet!

I tried to play the famous solo of “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” his jazz classic recorded in 1927. But his mouthpiece was much bigger than mine and it did not work so well. I grappled with the mouthpiece for about a minute. Then the trumpet was taken away by KING with that VOICE. I told him, “Thank you.” I was shaking with so much excitement that I came out from his dressing room almost frozen!

When I look back I really wondered why he just watched an unknown young kid, who had intruded into his dressing room, pick up and blow his trumpet. But somehow, I think Satchmo might have understood my enthusiasm for his music and New Orleans. Somehow he knew. It was three years after this unforgettable incident that Keiko and I left Japan on an immigrant boat for New Orleans.



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