April 20, 2024


Website about Jazz and Blues

Interview with Fumi Tomita: I interpret Murakami’s stories as 20/21st century modern blues stories: Video

Jazz interview with jazz bassist Fumi Tomita. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Fumi Tomita: – I grew up in NYC. I got interested when I discovered Led Zeppelin and rock when I was 14, which soon prompted me to play drums and then guitar, before settling on bass later.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

FT: – Good question! One thing that affected my sound was changing the strings on the bass. Like many beginners, I was learning on steel strings and didn’t care about it, but later I discovered that many of the bass players I admired (like Charlie Haden, Paul Chambers, Mingus, etc.) all played gut strings and so I made the switch. It’s a more natural sound and soulful and affected the way I played. I’ve since reverted back to steel but I like that old school sound.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

FT: – I don’t do it anymore but I used to have a serious scale routine – all major, minor, modes, harmonic and melodic minor modes, in thirds, fourths, to sevenths … I don’t do it as much anymore but I was into it. Today I always practice classical stuff because it never fails to kick my ass! Have been working on Bach cello suites (all 6) and his sonatas. Regarding rhythm, I’m a strong believer in the metronome and have practiced all kinds of hemiola rhythms, odd meters, etc.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

FT: – Good ear! I do love harmony and perhaps because I practiced so much Bach and classical I really hear the scales and harmonies falling on strong beats. I tend to go for color tones – emphasizing major sevenths, #11, b9/#9 but I will usually release the tension rather than prolong it. I’ve discovered that on bass dissonance is tricky because in the wrong register and even a little bit out of tune can sound very wrong! My high register is decent so I will throw in some diminished ideas.

Not sure what you mean which harmonies I prefer – as a composer I like standard jazz progressions as much as I like spacier/stream of conscious-type progressions. As a soloist/accompanist I like to slightly vary the harmonies a little for surprise mostly or just a new texture.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

FT: – Disparate influences? Not sure what you mean.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

FT: – Ha! You ask good questions! I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through the compositions and through my improvisation. But in the moment, when the band is there and we’re playing, we’re all going on instinct and relying on each other to make music. The soul is there and hopefully all of the work that was put into the various aspects of the music comes out. To answer your question, I think there’s needs to be a good balance of both – you are just conscious about each one at different times: one in practice/rehearsal and the other in the performance.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

FT: – Yes I am. I am of compromise so I am willing to meet the audience half-way.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

FT: – Memories from gigs! Man, I’ve tried shut some of them out! My friend has an apartment in NYC where he converted part of it into a jam room with a grand piano, drum set, and a bass (my first bass which I sold to him). He hosted (and still does to this day) jam parties and all kinds of people would come and we would play until late. It was a lot of fun because we used to really dig in hard and play. I remember Joel Frahm would be there, bunch of other people from Manhattan School of Music. That situation is kind of uncommon in NYC because most people don’t have the space or the neighbors to tolerate you playing music. With a close group of friends, good music was made.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

FT: – Good question! I myself got into playing straight ahead jazz via fusion. Despite the rock rhythms, I got used to hearing those jazz harmonies that helped me a lot. Even though I love swing/bebop-based jazz, I find that young people are not used to the harmonies.  Actually on my record, I made a conscious effort to simplify my harmonies and ended up using triads and slash chords for the first time. I still love Pink Floyd and Yes and those groups, so I’ve tried to bring that to my music which is essentially unpure straight-ahead jazz. You can hear it a little on ‘Barn Burning’.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

FT: – He knew what he was saying! I agree with that. I used to live, eat, breathe, sleep jazz (still do to a certain extent) and it has become a part of me. I’ve always wanted to play what I hear and perhaps the ability to do that involves connecting the spirit with the music.
Meaning of life: Charlie Haden quote from his album with Hampton Hawes: “There is a godlike creativity within every human being that is creativity.  As long as there is music, there will be a way for people to discover that quality in themselves.” Wise words from a very wise man. Somewhere in the music inside is the meaning of life.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

FT: – Tough question. I don’t think I’d change a thing musically. But in the big music world that includes the industry, I might call for changes for performing musicians. There are less and less opportunities for musicians and it’s very difficult for anyone of any style to maintain a living. I would call for a change that would make the lives of performing musicians easier – what that could be though I’m not sure.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

FT: – For teaching I’m always listening to different forms of jazz. Currently I’ve been inspecting 1980’s jazz: especially Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time and acts on the JMT label. For pleasure or my own musical curiosity. I’ve been listening to soundtrack music – John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams etc. With streaming music services I’ve been enjoying the freedom of listening to modern classical music: Ligeti, Steve Reich.

JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

FT: – A peaceful healing, message I guess. My music tends to be very happy so I purposely wrote mostly in minor keys to tone down the positivity. I interpret Murakami’s stories as 20/21st century modern blues stories and so I wanted the music to reflect this. Not so much blues in the sad sense, but in the thoughtful and melancholy sense.  There’s a lot of sadness in the U.S. right now and morale is very low and seems desperate.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

FT: – Probably somewhere in the past. I love old things. Wherever I go, I would like to know that I could come back. World’s not great today, but I’m happy with what I’ve got. I would probably go back to the 1970s and re-see things that I once saw as normal and today see as ridiculous – like the clothing for example.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

FT: – Why me?  How did you find my music and why did you choose me as a subject for your site?

JBN.S: – Thanks for answers. We have all new CD’s and in turn we says with all musicians. Bilateral happens perfectly when musicians cooperate with us, and there are a lot of them.

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

FT: – Putting that all together? I’m not sure what you mean. In terms of putting together my thoughts on the interview, feels like you have a keen ear.  I like the questions and appreciate your interest.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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