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.