Japan hosts some of the most established jazz artists in the world. Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, and many others regard Japanese jazz fans as probably the most appreciative and dedicated jazz audiences. It’s easy to notice the Japanese love of this genre by the multiple jazz festivals and clubs where audiences of all ages meet. This cross-generational appeal for jazz in Japan is what motivated Kawaguchi City authorities to manage and support the “Kawaguchi Street Jazz Festival” over the last seven years.
The fest offers a large main stage in the center of this 600,000-people city, as well as 12 smaller stages located throughout the city precinct with an average of six amateur and semi-pro bands performing at each. In addition, the local bars (izakaya’s) host smaller acts. It’s a major jazz celebration with artists’ styles ranging from Fusion, Funk, Jazz-Rock, Jazz-Pop, Latin, and R&B, and with many bands comprised of part-time musicians by night, and salaried-workers during the day. With almost 40,000 attendees in 2016 alone, “Kawaguchi Street Jazz Festival” has been primarily staged by amateur artists and some “name” local artists. Now, the fest is looking to expand its domestic focus to include “international” names – initially sourcing talent from prominent local foreign performers as a first step, and a staged growth in the coming years.
In 2017, the “Kawaguchi International Jazz Festival” plan was initiated, and a by-invitation launch party was held to draw local and state government representatives, as well as local businesses, to invest in a project which would see many benefits flow into the city. Staged at a well-known local jazz-venue “Shock-On”, it played to a full-house, including the City Mayor, City Counsellors, and Prefecture officials. They were treated to 100 minutes of some of the finest Jazz, Soul, and Blues by a band of foreign-artists each with their own impressive music pedigree – “The Philip Woo Band”. Seasoned professionals who perform independently, as well as backing many major artists on tour through Japan were Philip Woo (Keys, Vocals, Harmonica), Ashton Moore (Vocals), Gerald Painia (Drums, Vocals), Hank Nishiyama (Guitar), and Zak Croxall (Bass). All of them have called Japan “home” for many years. The audience sat in polite, stunned-silence, as Japanese audiences usually do, as no one wanted to break-the-spell during a song. But post-song, the applause would just erupt!
The launch event was produced by Michael Di Stasio (Amphion’s Tokyo-based Asia-Pacific Representative) – an expat with a long history in Japan and the music industry alike. ‘Kawaguchi Fes’ Committee reached out to Di Stasio to access his long experience in event production and his international network of artists, studios, and industry-links. “They needed a strategic plan and proposal that would be sufficiently appealing to attract large financial support from the government, corporations, and philanthropic organisations,” says Di Stasio. “As Amphion products are not only for engineers and studios, but also for home audio, it seemed logical to tie-up with this project, and bring the Amphion name to hundreds of music creators and artists, and thousands of music spectators.” According to Di Stasio, as Amphion is about bringing the joy of music to people, association with the Kawaguchi Fes gave the company the opportunity to be personally involved with music lovers. “This direct contact with artists and audience creates an emotional connection with the brand, as well as fulfilling their passion for music,” adds Di Stasio.
With Tokyo 2020 Olympics three years away, the Kawaguchi Fes Committee’s plan is to use the launch party as a springboard to capture sponsorship and follow the proposal’s blueprint of a staged-expansion of the “international” theme, culminating in a large 2020 show. Incorporating both foreign domestic-based artists, and inviting overseas artists, it is hoped that investors will be induced to join and contribute. Given the success of the Tokyo Jazz Festival, Yokohama Jazz Festival, Montreux Jazz Japan, and others, the merits for involvement by companies and musicians are a no-brainer in this nation of fabulous venues and ardent jazz consumers. The city-name “Kawaguchi” translates in English to “Mouth of the River”. Like the original great Jazz city located near the ‘mouth of a river’, the challenge for the Kawaguchi Fes people is to realize the dream to establish the “New Orleans of the East”.
Amphion will be a conduit and liaison for those international artists, ensuring that performance riders are met and cross-cultural communication issues are eliminated. Already, a number of notable North American and Australian jazz artists have expressed their intentions to join. The torch has now been passed to the Kawaguchi Fes Committee to perform the legwork and convert the potential sponsors to realize the project’s future aim in the Tokyo Olympic year. In 2017, Amphion’s support through the launch event made it the largest overall sponsor for the Kawaguchi Fes.
Meanwhile, Amphion continues its support for the jazz scene in Japan by producing a monthly event called “Club Amphion”. The Smooth Jazz/Soul evenings take part at prestigious hotels in Tokyo and have been running for almost a year. So far the events have attracted more than 1000 guests, showcasing local and visiting artists. The plans are that in 2018, ‘Club Amphion’ could expand to other countries in the Asia-Pacific area. “If the Japanese audiences are any indication, our formula of intimate “Wine & Jazz” nights should be very successful,” concludes Di Stasio.