Written by Becca Pulliam from National Public Radio
In May, JazzSet host Dee Dee Bridgewater emceed three nights of concerts held at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater as part of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival in Washington, D.C. Chihiro Yamanaka and Jane Bunnett opened the first night; they come from Japan and Canada, respectively, and each has a compelling story.
Both Yamanaka and her drummer, John Davis, are alumni of Betty Carter‘s Jazz Ahead training for young musicians at the Kennedy Center, and Yamanaka has performed here with the big band Diva as well. She’s someone to see.
Last year in JazzTimes, Giovanni Russonello reviewed Yamanaka’s performance at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy: “Opening for the Tribute to Miles band with her trio, the Japanese pianist tore into two originals at the top of her set. Right and left, jaws were dropping.” As Bridgewater says from the stage at the end of Yamanaka’s set, “I was sitting on the side and just watching how she combines her classical technique with the jazz, and I thought she was going to fly off the stool, didn’t you? I’ve never seen such footwork.”
Yamanaka centers her set on an original piece for the people of Fukushima, Japan, where she grew up. Fukushima was the site of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Yamanaka’s composition, “It Was a Beautiful Eight Minutes of My Life,” begins quietly and builds disquietingly; it will move you. This piece is also our concert pick. Yamanaka’s album, Reminiscence, won the Nissan Presents Jazz Japan Award in 2011.
Personnel: Chihiro Yamanaka; Yoshi Waki, bass; John Davis, drums.
Jane Bunnett is from Toronto, yet for 30 years, she’s championed Cuban music and musicians. She’s made dozens of trips to the island, studying and working, bringing instruments to schoolchildren, and inviting players to return to Canada with her and her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer.
In 1991, Cuban pianist Hilario Duran joined Bunnett’s band for Spirits of Havana. Duran already had a high profile in Cuba. He had replaced Chucho Valdes in the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, toured with trumpeter Arturo Sandoval for a decade, and co-led Grupo Prospectiva. In 1998, Duran moved to Toronto, where he’s currently a professor in the thriving jazz department at Humber College.
Bunnett (on flute and soprano) and Duran invite a Cuban-born guest to join them. He’s a 91-year-old NEA Jazz Master. In the 1950s, conguero Candido Camero made his first U.S. recording, “Mambo Inn,” with the Billy Taylor Trio. Candido knows a thing or two about show business. Making their entrances together, he tickled Jane Bunnett with the line, “As Jackie Gleason says, ‘Here we go!'”
Bunnett and Duran have an album out called Cuban Rhapsody; with Candido, they’ll tour the U.S. in early November 2012. Watch Jane Bunnett’s website for details.