I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Gentle Forest Jazz Band -- A Samurai's Money/Tsuki Miru Doll(月見るドール)

Japan was indeed the place where I finally admitted my interest in jazz. I have mentioned this in a past article but I bought my first jazz album at the long-gone massive Virgin Records store in East Shinjuku in the late 1990s. It wasn't even an "official" album but a cheap compilation CD of Bill Evans' work. Of course, cheap or not, it had his landmark "Waltz for Debby". After that, I started looking for some more of the masters of the genre such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis and then even going into some of the more contemporary entertainers including Diana Krall and Michael Buble.

The Japanese and jazz have also had an underlying relationship for many decades. Of course, there are the jazz artists and vocalists like Sadao Watanabe and Kei Kobayashi but I've noticed that jazz had even seeped into kayo during that time. And to my observation, it would seem that once in a while, various singers have simply gotten that urge to do a jazzy number, whether it be a cover of one of the classics or a new creation. However, the music that I've heard through those particular numbers have usually followed the Be-Bop, Cool Jazz and Bossa Jazz from the late 1940s into the 1960s.

Over a decade ago, there was a movie in Japan titled "Swing Girls" about the trials and tribulations of a group of high school students who create their own stomping jazz band and so there was a bit more attention paid, for a little while at least, to the earlier Big Band Swing sounds. Although I didn't bother with the movie, I did buy a compilation disc filled with hits Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and other famous swing jazz musicians that must have been inspired by the movie.

A couple of nights ago, I discovered that aside from the singers and songwriters who liked to pay tribute to the jazz of the 50s and 60s, there was a Japanese band who loved to dive down into Swing. This is the Gentle Forest Jazz Band led by the congenial Gentle Kubota(ジェントル久保田), a man in his 30s who had once aimed to become some sort of gardener before deciding that it was simply not for him. Instead, his career ambitions made a right-angle turn into the Jazz Age via Wako University in Tokyo's Machida City where he entered a Big Band club and really got into playing the trombone. He ended up creating the Gentle Forest Jazz Band in 2005 which now has around 21 members including a trio of vocalists known as the Gentle Forest Sisters.

In October 2011, GFJB released a single called "A Samurai's Money" although the original title is the slightly more confusing "Endo - Ru - Money"(エンド・ル・マネー)which is a humourous riff on "Yen, Dollar, Money". Along with the percolating music, Kubota has got quite the charm and panache in the video as he does his need-more-moola patter and Chaplinesque comedy routine with the feeling of a sketch in an old-fashioned TV variety show in the United States.

Actually, my first encounter with the band was with this song that is their most recent effort as part of their 4th album "GFJB" which just came out late last month. This is "Tsuki Miru Doll" which has the English title of "Dolls Look The Moon". Forgiving the title for its lack of a needed preposition, I was impressed with the song and the music video as "Tsuki Miru Doll" features the Gentle Forest Sisters singing with the boogie-woogie of the Andrews Sisters while Gentle Kubota does his enthusiastic conducting of the swinging band.

I gotta say that Kubota is quite the showman and I think he's channeling some of the pizzazz of Duke Ellington as he pumps his shoulders frenetically and prances across the stage. In fact, his own J-Wiki article mentions that he's been nicknamed "The Dancing Conductor". And looking at the video, I couldn't help but think that this had all the atmosphere of an NBC jazz radio show from Manhattan. The only thing missing was the baritone-voiced announcer standing by that microphone. But there is the dancing couple on the floor and some melodic shoutouts to "As Time Goes By" and "Sing, Sing, Sing", the latter being the hallmark song for Swing Jazz.

Good golly, more albums to consider for the shelves.


  1. Pretty cool post - are you familiar with the "Club Nisei" CDs? Japanese-Hawaiian swing orchestra music from the 40's and 50's; and they're really good. Many/most of the songs appear to be adaptations of more traditional music; I'd be interested in what you hear (on YouTube). Way back in 2001 I was in Hawaii and picked up a few CDs for the parents of a Sansei friend (they had been born in Hawaii); brought back quite the memories for them. However, when purchasing them (and a pair for myself) the (very) young counter-man looked at them, broke into a huge grin, and said "Oh Wow! My Grandma loves this stuff !"

    1. Hi, T-cat.

      Nope, I can't say that I've ever come across the "Club Nisei" discs. I will have to check the songs out on YouTube then.

      Yup, I realize that we do like the old stuff but hey that's perfectly fine with me. I've always felt that I was a bit of an anachronism. :) And we do have one young lady as a collaborator who loves enka and older kayo even more than I do. It's been fun realizing that there are folks out there who have been cottoning onto the older Japanese music in recent years.

  2. All I have to say is...good lord, is the Japanese music rabbit hole on YouTube mindbogglingly deep. I let YouTube music recommendations take the wheel one day while browsing the site and ended up discovering "Tsuki miru Doll" completely by accident as a result. After getting my daily fill of city pop I somehow found myself listening to the most delightfully-anachronistic song I could find this side of YouTube; and let me tell you, I had absolutely no idea what I was in for when that music video started playing.

    I'm not too knowledgeable on jazz, I'll admit, but I am familiar with enough 30's, 40's and 50's movies to recognize and appreciate the distinctive big band sound for what it is. I've always had somewhat of a soft spot for it even though I'm more of a rock kind of guy myself, and here it's employed wonderfully throughout - it's almost as if I'm listening to the Benny Goodman Orchestra or the Andrews Sisters given the Gentle Forest Sisters' impassioned harmonizing. In fact, if there's one modern-day Japanese song I could probably compare "Tsuki miru Doll" with it would probably be "Onnanoko wa dare demo" by Sheena Ringo, but at more of a superficial sort of level, I'd say. They're both old-fashioned swing ditties released in modern times, yes, but whereas "Onnanoko wa dare demo" is more of a "Singin' in the Rain"-esque Broadway show tune than anything else, this, on the other hand, is very mid-1940's in terms of its sound.

    1. Hello, Matt.

      Yup, I think you're discovering what I've been discovering about the 9/10ths of that Japanese pop music iceberg below the surface.

      I had my dalliance with jazz during my stay in Japan but not so much anymore. However, I have my "legacy" of those times in the form of CDs that I did collect of some of the legends such as Bill Evans and Miles Davis.

      The Japanese have always been very welcoming of a number of genres from above such as the ones mentioned above along with reggae, heavy metal and the like. As you said, Shiina has shown her jazzy side for a while now. I can also recommend the band Ego-Wrappin' which has given its due to jazz as well.


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