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Whidbey Island

By Deems Tsutakawa

For The North American Post

Having a career playing jazz piano leads to many engagements doing background music as a means to make ends meet. A large percentage of my gigs are at restaurants, shopping malls, parties and fundraisers wherein people are eating, drinking and talking while I am pounding out tunes. It is a very small number of gigs that are actually concert type settings with an attentive audience. As they say–it comes with the turf.

On a recent fundraiser for The Japan-America Society of the State of Washington, which was held at The Bell Harbor Conference Center, Steve Yamasaki and I played our style of cool jazz while the attendees bid on silent auction items.

FYI–there is actually a lot of freedom to play music that we just love to play at these gigs, so it is always fun to do these engagements. Another item of note is that we usually do not rehearse for these performances as it is background music that we are providing that sets the atmosphere for the room.

In the middle of our set, I noticed that the saxophone solo that Steve was playing seemed to be in a different key than the piano chords that I was playing at the time. Being off-key was creating an unusual edge to the song.

When we finished that set, Steve said to me that he could not quite hear the key I announced during the song’s intro. The cool thing was that it did not bother me and, as a matter of fact, I actually loved the sound.

There is a biography of the legendary sax man, Ornette Coleman, wherein he talks about his musical concepts. One of his famous quotes was the following: “if the bass and piano are playing a song in the key of A, I am going to play the entire song in the key of A#.”

There is a certain organic beauty in the dissonance of this type of music as opposed to being all smooth all the time.

[Editor’s Note]

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