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By Deems Tsutakawa
For The North American Post

Although I started playing for jazz engagements in the 60’s at hi school f unctions, night clubs and parties, these gigs were all ensemble settings. We would always h a ve a ba s s i s t and a d r ummer, and on occasion add a saxophone player, a guitarist and percussionist, too. It was very similar to the same band configuration that I carry today.

Like most businesses, economics plays a major role in deciding how big the jazz ensemble will be on any given day. Fortunately for me, pianists can do a lot of solo work, and I love having work.

In 1974, I landed my first solo grand piano job in downtown Seattle at The Benihana of Tokyo in the cocktail lounge. The gig lasted a solid seven months and was a great learning experience for me.

Being a solo artist gives one great freedom but has big responsibilities. The first thing I noticed was that there was no bass and drums to back me up and make me look good. It was still a fortunate situation as I could cut my teeth, as they say, and get paid to do so.

Although my playing was weak, and I had very little repertoire, the GM was very nice to me. The reason, of course, was that Frank Shobo Fujii knew him well and insisted that he hire me. Frank has been and will always be this type of person, the kind that is bent on helping people to get going on the creative arts like music and especially the visual arts such as graphics. He was an art professor and basketball coach at Franklin High School before moving on to eventually become the head of the board of directors at Seattle Central College.

Frank has always been into cool music and plays all the legendary jazz greats on his stereo whether at home or at work. Without question, the man has been a formidable influence on my life and for many others as well.

Thank you Shobo.

[Editor’s Note]

Deems Tsutakawa is a local Sansei musician. He can be reached at deemst@ deemsmusic.com.