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Lakeland University Japan News

The Lakeland Lecture Series Presents: Tokyo Jazz Joints, by Philip Arneill and James Catchpole

The Lakeland Lecture Series Presents: Tokyo Jazz Joints, by Philip Arneill and James Catchpole


The Lakeland Lecture Series Presents: Tokyo Jazz Joints, by Philip Arneill and James Catchpole

Thursday, July 20 at 7 PM. LUJ Lecture Hall, 6th floor.

The event is in-person…but for those who can’t make it, Zoom is available.

Zoom Link:

From the poster…

"Japanese jazz coffee shops are insular worlds where time ceases to exist, removed from the speed and chaos of the modern urban landscape. These dedicated jazz listening spaces are slowly vanishing in the face of changing trends, aging customers, and gentrification.

Tokyo Jazz Joints is a visual chronicle of this unique culture that captures the transient beauty of these spaces.

This July Lakeland Lecture will explore the wonderful world of Japanese jazz kissa and introduce Tokyo Jazz Joints, an audiovisual documentary project started in 2015 by Northern Irish photographer and writer Philip Arneill, in collaboration with American broadcaster and writer James Catchpole, both long-term residents of Japan.

The Tokyo Jazz Joints photobook, published this month by Kehrer Verlag, preserves these living museums before they disappear forever."

We had a chance to chat with James Catchpole and Philip Arneill before their talk at the LUJ Lecture Hall. If you’re not yet into jazz, or are thinking about it, their answers just might whet your appetite.

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1) How or when did you first get into jazz, and which musicians first inspired you?

CATCHPOLE: I think like a lot of 80s/early 90s kids, my trip into jazz was backwards. I grew up with hip-hop, which led me back to soul & funk to explore a lot of the samples in so many songs from that time. But that also kind of led into the jazz world, or at least a sub-set of it, particularly the Blue Note label.

SO many famous rap songs use drum breaks and other snippets from a whole range of Blue Note releases from the 60s and 70s. The CD compilation Blue Break Beats documented this over four volumes, so I dove into that when I was 18, in college.

Then one day I was introduced to a live Cannonball Adderley album, and that was enough to hook me in for life. From Cannonball it was a short jump to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, enough for a lifetime just from the two of them, let alone all the other greats I fe[ll] in love with. Bobby Hutcherson, Mal Waldron, Grant Green…and many many more.

ARNEILL: I started listening to hip-hop music in high school and then through university, and as for many people, it provided a gateway through sampling to a whole new world of soul, funk and jazz music. While I still have fond memories of the hip-hop of the era – Tribe, Gang Starr, Hieroglyphics – and listen to it regularly, my tasks continue to progress further into soul and jazz music. I love many artists and type of jazz but often my go to is the more spiritual side of things: Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Nat Birchall and Billy Harper.

2) So, it's 2015, and the two of you have decided to embark on this fascinating project. Where did the idea originally come from, and how did you choose to start?

CATCHPOLE: Well I had been profiling jazz kissa and jazz bars on my home page Tokyo Jazz Site for about 7 or 8 years at that point. For quite a while I had been exploring more and more of these places, getting further away from the center of town.

Philip and I were acquaintances, with some mutual friends here and there but we hadn't really hung out together before. He approached me with the idea, as he's a photographer and thought it would be a good idea to start taking proper pics of the old joints before they closed down.

He has a different view of that first chat but I was intrigued! What few pics I had on my site were from a flip-top cell phone, hardly good quality, and I knew that it would be valuable to get some visual record of these old joints. Japan attracts a lot of overseas scholars/compilers/experts whatever you want to call them, documenting pretty much everything EXCEPT this old part of the jazz world.

Now it's taken off and become much more well known around the world but when I started my site in 2007, then we started this photo project in 2015, there were only a couple websites in English about jazz here in Japan, and really only a couple of academic books. I like to think we've helped spread the word about them as there is certainly a mini-boom going on now about jazz kissa and Japanese listening bars in general.

ARNEILL: The origin story of the project is well documented in interviews and on our popular podcast. We even cover it in the two introductory essays to the Tokyo Jazz Joints photo book which is out this month.

The mind plays tricks and none more so than memory, so [as he mentioned] I have a different take on the first meeting when I pitched the idea for the project to James than he does! As a photographer, I’m interested in documenting changes in the urban landscape and diminishing cultures.

As a long-term resident of Japan and jazz fan, I became really interested in recording photographically the unique and widespread culture of jazz kissa in Japan, and initially set out to document as many of the joints as I could before they vanish forever.

James had a long and respected pedigree in visiting and cataloguing these joints for himself and visitors to Japan through his own website, and as we were acquaintances from different music scenes in Tokyo, he seemed like the perfect partner with whom to visit these places.

3) During your research, what might you say were some of the struggles as you put this book together? You mention that these places were 'disappearing'...was that happening at the same time as your research?

ARNEILL: Very much so. Apart from all the effort and money and long journeys that the project has taken to get to this point, there was also an element of a race against time. Approximately 20 of the joints I have photographed since beginning in 2015 have now gone, and there are likely to be more that will follow.

CATCHPOLE: Yes, most definitely. Several places we made just in time really before they closed for good, Jazz Pepe in Shinjuku [and] Fat Mama in Meguro [are] a couple examples. It's always sad when we hear about places closing, and in fact just yesterday I read that a great old place near Gotanda called Jazz Snack Matsu is closing after 50+ years; very sudden news and quite a shock.

But it also kind of validates what we are doing, as we go increasingly around the whole country to obscure places, like a race against time to visit and get the photos snapped. I really would not describe it as difficult though, as it was always fun and the joints were worth it.

I personally hate driving or even being in cars for the most part, so our car trip through Kyushu was at times uncomfortable and long, but then the payoff of getting out of the car after three hours and walking into a place like Naima in Oita City, Kyushu, what a feeling.

People often do ask me 'why go so far just to hear a record you may already have?' but it's not about just the records of course. it's the spaces, the atmosphere and of course, the people who run them that make these jazz joints so special.

4) There are of course different versions of jazz in other countries, such as American jazz in New Orleans and Memphis. How might you compare the experience of Japanese jazz kissa with the experience of listening to jazz in other areas of the world?

ARNEILL: I will leave this one to James to answer!

CATCHPOLE: It's not universally so, but certainly a fairly high majority of the jazz kissa will feature a lot of original albums from the 60s and 70s, up to the 80s. You'll always hear a lot of jazz giants like Art Blakey or Miles anywhere you visit, though some joints do have their own particular focus. Another spot now closed, the old legendary Mary Jane in Shibuya for example played a lot of European jazz. And Candy in Chiba or Eigakan in Hakusan (central Tokyo) will play Japanese jazz albums, which many joints do not.

5) What's your ideal drink when listening to jazz in this particular setting? Or does it depend on the jazz being played?

ARNEILL: For me it’s probably coffee. I have no doubt that James will have a different answer (ahem), but particularly on long days where we’ve visited multiple joints I need to keep my wits about me and make sure that I get the photographs that I want – that’s even more pressing if we’ve travelled long distances, and for any number of reasons, may not get to that joint again any time soon, or indeed ever. Cheap beer or whiskey will not help in that regard!

CATCHPOLE: Well for me, it's going to be a cold beer no matter what kind of jazz (or any music) is playing!

But most spots will have at least a fair selection of whiskey, and of course coffee and tea for early afternoons when it's too early to get the proper drinks out.