In September, Heads Up International allowed not only the jazz population, but the music world the pleasure of this projects presence. "Spirit of the Season" simply brings out the thoughts in us of what was so warm and eloquent from holidays since past. From the fires on a chilled Vermont twilight eve to a child’s tender giggle as they realized the jolly one visited their tree, these images leap into our minds within these compositions. Multicultural in arrangement, this holiday treat brings a new warmth and consideration of the songs from those thrilling days of yesteryear.
As well as music is a tradition at this time of year, so is the creative genius of Hiroshima as it pertains to jazz, a genuinely dynamic group of highly insightful and gifted musicians, with the sole purpose of offering music with meaningful substance. Some just do it for the cause, cash and charisma, however, this ensemble speaks to a higher source and does it for you. With that in mind, let’s get into the mind of June Kuramoto between sets
JazzReview: How did you select the cuts for "Spirit of the Season?"
June Kuramoto: Our primary arrangers are Dan and Kimo of this group. Cuts were selected with a conscious effort of not emphasizing on religion, but the "spirit."
JazzReview: Talk about how the title cut was developed. Was that cut the catalyst for the rest of the project?
June Kuramoto: Dan originally wrote the song "Spirit of the Season" for a Christmas compilation with other artists. The song was so beautiful and so meaningful and the message so important that we all agreed that we should follow up in doing an album with this concept.
JazzReview: You talk of the message of Christmas. Is the album a vehicle to rekindle and bring us back to what is important at this time of year?
June Kuramoto: Yes, "Spirit of the Season" can be a vehicle to remind us and bring back what is important, especially during these turbulent times; but my heart has always been that we should be in the spirit of the season all year round-not just during the holidays. It’s the every day that counts most and that’s what I keep striving and working for.
JazzReview: What is your favorite cut on the album? What cut brought the most joy to perform?
June Kuramoto: My favorite is of course Spirit of the Season. I love the serenity of Silent Night and the frame of mind it puts me in, and that feeling the band around me gives.
JazzReview: What cut took the most work and walk us through the process?
June Kuramoto: For me it would be White Christmas. It was the hardest because of its simplicity. There was no band to hide behind. The challenge to play with a great player like Brian Kessler on slack key guitar and also to come up with a tuning that would accommodate the scale of this song, and do the double pressings on the koto. With technology as it is now, recording is very clean as you can hear every little thing. You can hear me take breaths the chair creak the bridge move.
Then we explored the group itself, from philosophies to what was the makeup of the band. Some may think they understand a band of this caliber, but one at times needs to be ready for the unexpected.
JazzReview: Define the so-called Hiroshima signature?
June Kuramoto: The Hiroshima signature would always be the Tao the yin and the yang.
JazzReview: When you start a project is there an overall statement or philosophy that is attached to the project such as was with this one?
June Kuramoto: Usually Dan (our leader) has a concept and we start building around that idea, each one of us contributing in different degrees and different ways.
JazzReview: How much of a percentage does innovation and risk take part in a Hiroshima arrangement and composition?
June Kuramoto: Considering we named our group Hiroshima, we knew there would be a large risk and hopefully innovation from the beginning.
JazzReview: What factors are most important when deciding on a future piece of work?
June Kuramoto: Always heart and soul.
JazzReview: Is there one concept or technique you would like to add in a future composition?
June Kuramoto: I’m always striving for perfection, but more importantly creativity.
JazzReview: Talk briefly about the members in the band.
For a group to climb to the success of Hiroshima, each single contribution has to be well defined and most importantly fit the character of the group. One superstar does not do this by a team of unselfish and giving individuals whose goal is clearly defined. Such is the case as June talks about each peddle in this well nurtured rose.
June Kuramoto: Dan is the leader of the group. He has the concept, [he is] the innovator, the analyst, and the main songwriter - as well as plays flutes, woodwinds and keyboards. I saw the other night, by chance, a special on the Southern University’s band. They were superb! But what was so impressive was their passion, tightness and spirit, and it didn’t happen over night. They worked hard and Dan is like their leader-drives us hard, but the payoff comes at performance.
Kimo is a genius keyboardist. He blows me away every time he plays. Everywhere we tour, other band members all know him or of him because he’s sooooo good! Kimo also is one of our principal songwriters. He’s from Hawaii-very laid back unless it’s his music-then he’s really fussy!
Danny is our drummer-but he’s also a keyboardist. I used to call him "Schroeder" since every chance he gets, he’s on a piano! He’s very quiet and reserved.
Dean is our bass player the groove man. We’ve played together for so long, I wouldn’t know what it’s like to play without him!
Shoji-ah-the new kid! He plays taiko and does throat singing. He amazes me since he has both the old and the new in him. He’s energetic, creative and aspiring-not afraid of hard work or helping and always growing-thirsty for more knowledge and absorbing like a sponge. Watch out for him. He has his own group called On Ensemble. Check out his website: www.OnEnsemble.org.
JazzReview: Terry Steele genuinely compliments the compositions he is involved in. Will we hear more from him in future Hiroshima projects?
June Kuramoto: Terry is truly a fabulous singer, songwriter and human being. Unfortunately for us, this will be his last year performing with Hiroshima. He is so gifted and talented; and with so many other projects, including a solo career with another CD, video and book, that he no longer has the time to work with us. We wish him our best with love and in friendship. He will always be a part of our family.
JazzReview: Who was the mentor in your development as a jazz musician?
June Kuramoto: As a traditional, classical koto player, my Sensei [teacher] Kazue Kudo is my mentor, as well as other koto players such as Michio Miyagi and Tadao Sawai. As far as jazz-I must confess that my band mates, especially Dan and Kimo, are my mentors and then [it]expands to Dorothy Ashby (true jazz harpist) and Gerald Ostuffa. Then there’s Mocair Santos and Derek Nakamoto who first encouraged me to write.
JazzReview: Has the popularity of Hiroshima arrived as expected?
June Kuramoto: Amazingly the popularity came sooner than I expected. When we finished our first ever recording, we heard ourselves on the radio!!! That was a first! What chills! And then to tour! Our first tour across country starting at Howard University-it was sold out! I remember distinctively during the second song of our set, Kokoro, the audience was clapping so hard (with standing ovation) while we were playing, I didn’t know if I should stop just didn’t know what to do. But I had to keep playing because I was afraid I would lose my place.
JazzReview: What is the next project?
June Kuramoto: We are now working on our second album with Heads Up. It’s called "Obon" and is scheduled to be released spring of 2005. "Obon" is a tribute to everyone. We are so grateful to be here and now, having a career in music for over 25 years!
JazzReview: If you could have a guest musician/vocalist sit in on an album, who would that be and why?
June Kuramoto: This is a tough one since I have many dreams. But if I must narrow it down, I love Jimmy Scott for his impeccable timing and phrasing-so soulful, and Eva Cassidy for her purity! As far as guest musician, I would have to say I would love to sit in on cut The Thrill is Gone with BB King!!!! Not that I can play the blues, but I always thought
JazzReview: Hiroshima is what a jazz ensemble should be, expressive, insightful, coveting a diverse array of talents. This makes for a different journey every time the mike goes hot! Their sound is a gift year round, year after year. Musically and philosophically, they exemplify the true "Spirit of the Season."