Let us continue this 2016 with some more great jazz. Members of this genre are unique. Many are able to tinker with numerous different projects at the same time these days and several require diversity to stay afloat in their enormous careers. One such saxophone player is a well-known solo artist, member of the legendary band The Rippingtons and is also an educator for young aspiring musicians at Shoreline Community College. Recently, I had the chance to chat via Skype with the talented Jeff Kashiwa to learn more about his career and musical views on the craft that he hones so well.
To start, Jeff shared with me his immediate beginnings in music. “I was the product of music and art in the Shoreline public school system in the state of Washington. I remember playing my first plastic recorder early on and eventually learned the clarinet. My dad was my first music instructor. I loved sitting on the couch and feeling so excited to make sounds with an instrument. I continued to play in college, [shifting my focus] on the saxophone. Some of my most memorable moments were auditioning for the All-American College Band for Disneyland, which required not just musical ability but a stage presence. The best part was that the auditions took place at Carnegie Hall and that experience built out my desire to play music.” Now, that is a picture-perfect start to it all. I cannot think of a better way to jump into music.
Jeff did not end there; his extensive professional work is proof of that. “I continued to play in wedding bands every weekend and was focused on jazz. I attempted to play any contemporary jazz wherever and whenever I could. Eventually Steve Bailey, at the time the current bass player for The Rippingtons, became friends. He told me, no matter how many times I bothered him about it, to stay tuned for availability to play with the band. So, taking advantage of this, I hired him to play with me as I continued to bug the heck out of him [for a Rippingtons spot]. This went on for a year and in the meantime I learned all of their songs in the hope they I would be ready. One thing that worked in my favor was that even though I was not the best, I was the most prepared. Finally I was able to join them!” I think Jeff is a bit too modest, his talent is quite visible and his inclusion with the group only enhanced their sound.
To elaborate a bit on his experience with The Rippingtons, I asked if he had any memorable shows that he wanted to share. “It was my first tour with The Rippingtons. I remember it being in Houston at a venue called Rockefellers, an old style vaudeville theater. It was the first time playing in a room for people that gave off a feeling like we were performing a rock concert. It is great to be performing but also witnessing at the same time. Everything is easier when the people give you so much love and passion. It is just as memorable in tiny clubs with a small group. Simply put, it doesn’t matter if its ten people or ten thousand.” If the good vibe is there, the night will be well worth it.
In regard to the music world today, Jeff had an interesting take on it all. “The thing about being a jazz musician nowadays is that no one group plays all the time, there simply are not as many gigs as it used to be. I love the variety and love working with other musicians. I am a fan when I am not playing and am enjoying the concert all the same. [However], the popularity of ‘smooth jazz’ is a very specific and small genre in its limit with the audience. It is stylistically supposed to be made that way to meet a certain demographic of professionals coming home to relax to smooth jazz. It is limited because it is so tightly focused on that, so it slowly died. Radio stations lost their listenership. [Luckily] Music today is almost all built around the feeling that we are free to do what we want, which is what we should have doing in the first place. I am very optimistic about the music world today. For example, I went to Europe to play a show in the Netherlands and the promoter ordered me to play the songs that he wanted to hear. I had to re-learn my own songs. He kept reminding me that he likes the stuff I used to write. I was delighted to do my complex [material].” As long as there are people out in the world that love the music, there will be an audience who appreciates it all.
Case in point, my favorite solo piece of Jeff’s is Stride. I love the way it starts with a groovy bongo intro that is immediately supported by the great saxophone rhythm. It is the perfect tune to chill to. Jeff’s saxophone playing, when in its full blare, is powerfully slick. Even now listening to it, I find myself snapping my fingers and bobbing my head with ease. There is a raw power in the sax is always pleasing and can provide the ideal environment for some great down time. Is there anything cooler?
Jeff is a busy man and is still actively releasing new material. “I have my tenth solo album coming out, actually two tenths, one is a best of and another is new solo work. I also teach online tech courses on how to produce music on laptops as well as ensemble work within the funk genre. I have a group of 20 students who are a mix of singers, horn musicians, rhythm musicians and so on. We love to rehearse and play in clubs in Seattle. I am continually blown away and am so surprised by the talent these kids have.” Well, they have a great teacher.
To end he enlightened me with a simple joy of being a musician. “I will say this, when I am playing something original with my band and a cohesive feeling comes about, there is something special when that happens.” I can only imagine the genuine feeling that holds. To better familiarize the ability of this man, go listen to some of his solo tunes as well as his work with The Rippingtons. I guarantee each and every one of you will find something you like!