Akiko's playing is like watching a flower blooming, a bird spreading her wings in the music world.
Akiko is here to stay. Making Japan proud after just a few short years in the USA!
Dr. Lonnie Smith
I would like to dedicate this album to Japan, my home country. As you are aware, Japan was hit by a big earthquake on March 2011. Although I wanted to do something for the people in Japan badly. I couldn't do anything because I was here in the States. I would like to show my love with this album. Sakura is Japanese cherry blossoms that symbolizes the most beautiful season in Japan.
Akiko Tsuruga’s new music came to me while the news of Japan’s victory in the Women’s World Cup was still fresh in my mind. As I was imagining how proud those women athletes were to bring such honor to their country in such prestigious and timely fashion, I thought about the significance of Akiko’s music and how she, too, can say “Here’s something else to celebrate, something else to help us all heal”. In light of the traumatic events of March 2011, people all over the world are eager to extend love and support to Japan in these tough times and there’s no doubt that those who temporarily left Japan to work in the States now share a sense of yearning for the culture and the people they miss so deeply. Akiko wants her fans in Japan to know that she is doing fine after ten years in New York City - and just to drive this point home, she poses against a New York skyline wearing the beautiful kimono for her CD artwork … standing tall in the new day and sending hope and best wishes to everyone.
The Japanese soccer players could not have given their country a more meaningful gift; at a time when Japan truly needed something about which to celebrate and rejoice. And now it seems that Akiko has honored her country of Japan in a similar manner, albeit from the music studio rather than on the soccer field. How poetic this all seems as images of hope and renewal are now surfacing everywhere.
In this past decade, Akiko has absorbed not only the idiosyncrasies of American jazz organ but she has successfully melded her inherent culture with her acquired culture, using jazz organ as the catalyst. She has fused and linked traces of Japanese tradition with the phenomenon we know as jazz organ – switching her registrations at the perfect time and working her Leslie tone cabinet as it should be worked. Akiko was able to demonstrate these skills to her own parents the night they arrived in New York to hear their daughter play with Lou Donaldson and his organ combo at Carnegie Hall. She continues to play in and around New York City with Lou - a true legend of jazz and the jazz organ combo. Akiko has truly become one of the most talked-about and well-received jazz organists in the Big Apple. Akiko has played the lounges of Harlem to the debonair Dizzy’s Coca Cola room only to reap more and more positive attention and much-sought-after notoriety in the world of jazz organ.
As I listened to Akiko’s music, I realized how the little things in life, such as enjoying music, remain the most important things and how visualizing the Spring time cherry blossoms of Japan can lift the spirit of anyone in despair. This new CD from Akiko Tsuruga – aptly named ‘Sakura’ – exemplifies this. Spring time 2011 was also the time of year when Akiko‘s 95 year old grandmother passed away. She was a true inspiration to Akiko as she loved jazz music and encouraged Akiko to move forward and pursue the career that she felt was hers.
Upon arriving in New York, Akiko further developed her musical relationships with folks like Grady Tate and Dr. Lonnie Smith. She worked the clubs of Harlem and brought her own kind of energy to the bandstand. Word quickly spread about this ‘new’ organist in town and before she knew it, Akiko was in the recording studio herself, establishing a name for herself.
With Akiko on this recording date are some real all-stars and, more importantly, they all are alumni of legendary organ combos. Guitarist Bob DeVos might be the best example as he originally came out with Trudy Pitts but quickly moved through the ranks of Richard Groove Holmes and others before landing an extended tenure with ‘The Burner’, himself, Charles Earland. Bob’s feel is his own and the width and depth of his talent is certainly displayed throughout this session. He has the punch when needed and the cool, subtle sound all at his finger tips. Syracuse born, Joe Magnarelli, came through the Lionel Hampton band and wound up playing in an organ combo himself when Jack McDuff gave him the call. His trumpet work rivals any that is currently on the scene with experience galore and a fire from his belly that comes from years of hard bop and straight ahead blowing. Like Mike, saxophonist Jerry Weldon first learned his showmanship in the Lionel Hampton band. I first heard Jerry while he was with Jimmy McGriff and Hank Crawford. School doesn’t get more soulful than that. Jerry leans back and blows like the real showmen of yesteryear. On this session he brings his A-game straight out of Jack McDuff’s last band. Jerry’s solos are conversational and yet they pack a lot of excitement. I know the Japanese fans would love to see him walk that bar! Also in the last McDuff organ combo was drummer Rudy Petschauer. Akiko and Rudy have clocked plenty of hours as compatriots on the band stand, including work with the great Lou Donaldson. Rudy has the time and he has the pocket. Much has been said and written about the job of the drummer in a traditional organ combo and Rudy Petschauer could teach a master class in this!
In this CD, Akiko has recorded some unique American favorites and even a Japanese traditional tune: ‘Sukiyaki’. Fortunately for us, she also offers four of her original compositions: ‘Sweet Yam Potato’ has a low-down, funky feel and it serves to open this magnificent playlist. ‘You Betcha’ was named after an all-too- familiar phrase that Akiko would hear from her friend Dr. Lonnie Smith. It has a hard bop delivery in true organ combo style. Note the gentleness elicited by Akiko, Bob and Rudy in ‘Pretty Please?’ and the obvious nod to one of New York City jazz organ fans’ favorite hangs in ‘Showman’s Boogaloo’.
Recording ‘The Good Life’ was Akiko’s way in which to instill hope in the future. Japan has shown the world how to handle the most tragic and difficult of situations with poise and integrity. Knowing that the ‘good life’ once known will soon be restored is a potent message that all must hear. From the pop group, Carpenters, Akiko selects ‘I Won’t Last A Day Without You’. Here she gives it a Charles Earland feel (for lack of a better description). Having that infectious beat and horn accompaniment have always been conditions that have appealed to her. Actually, Akiko has always revealed an eclectic approach to jazz organ. She still plays the most subtle of songs and manages to give them such endearing quality. Listen to Akiko’s version of ‘Smile’ for just such a rendering. Then there’s the wild, straight ahead energy that Akiko brings us. With ‘S.O.S.’ she works behind her soloists, giving them pads from which to launch their explosive voices. Anyone who has seen Akiko in live performance can recall how her shoulders and hands move over the double manuals of her Hammond organ or digital clone while her long black hair thrusts back forth in the spirit of the moment … and then there’s always that fantastic smile that she flashes, as if to tell us, ”I love this music!”
This truly is a special CD for Akiko and for all of us who love jazz organ out of the tradition set forth by Jimmy Smith and his disciples. Enjoy this in the spirit of Spring time and ‘Sakura’. It is Akiko’s message to Japan and, for that matter, to the entire jazz organ lovin’ world.
KCSM San Mateo ‘The Bay Area’s Jazz Station’