Alison Palmer: Kyodai Jazz Music Circle

My CIP was participating in a Kyoto University jazz music circle called Off-Beat. It was entirely student run, and every Thursday for three hours, they held a Jazz music session: this was basically everyone, using the same collection of jazz songs, rotating who would play and solo in the next song, with at least one piano, drum, and base player, and one soloist. Players were free to come and leave depending on their schedules, so all in all, each song and each session had different feels depending on the people who were there. Though everyone there was individually talented, the quality of songs varied due to their improvisational nature, but overall the group sounded good. I felt comfortable showing up because I have played flute for 7 years, I have been singing for longer, and I am ok at improvisation even though I haven’t taken music theory. I also love jazz music. If I was both unfamiliar with playing jazz music and unsure of my skill with an instrument, I would have been more careful making this my CIP. However, because of the optional nature of each session, the members there were very receptive to me sitting in for one to see how it worked before I tried to play anything.

In this CIP, when I didn’t play, I got to sit back and observe people interacting without feeling obligated to participate in a conversation, so I saw a lot of different levels of casual interaction outside of the typical sphere of “foreignness” that I bring in when I speak. Because this was a music circle, the people in it had different interests and personalities than the typical Japanese student interested in international exchange: which described most of the Japanese students I had met so far. We interacted on a more practical level where we all worked together, as opposed to me being separate as a foreigner, so I felt more accepted and part of the group here, rather than a special addition to be inspected. Not only that, but coming into KCJS unsure of my Japanese skills, being able to connect with people without language, and with music instead was a really amazing experience. There are still a few people I played with where their sole impression of me is playing my flute, and I think the musical element acted as a great equalizer between many different people, including me as the token foreigner of the group. Feeling accepted was a huge part of me having the confidence to not only start to casually talk to my friends, but also ask questions about Japan, its culture, and its language.

2 thoughts on “Alison Palmer: Kyodai Jazz Music Circle

  1. I’m honestly a little jealous that you had such a natural vantage point for observation of the group. During practice, was there a designated leader who decided what was going to happen, or was it all through the rotation system? When you sang, it was in Japanese right? Are there any special characteristics that distinguish Japanese singing from American? I’ve noticed that a lot of Japanese singers tend to enunciate each mora (, but maybe there are other noticeable phenomena?

    • So this group worked from the same book of “Jazz Classics”, and most of the songs were actually in English. But that books kind of sheet music followed the pattern of a lot of instrumental jazz, where words werent included unless its sheet music for a vocal part. I wasn’t the only singer there, and there was even a student there training in singing classical music. Her vocals actually had more recognizable Japanese syllables in them than another guy in the group, even though she could sing in a couple of different languages, so I think Japanese people singing and Japanese singing is more complicated than what I saw this semester.
      There was a more or less designated leader of the group (a fourth year drummer), and all the fourth years held similar weight: during the session, however, everyone that wanted to suggested a song they wanted to play. The leader picked which song we would actually play next, but usually it was from the list. If some people had been playing for a while, or not playing for a while, they would ask if they could take a break or if they wanted to play for the next song. People rotated in and out in that they choose whether or not to play for a song.