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JAZZ REVIEW : U.S.-Japan Ties Marked at Biltmore Hotel Party

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Japan is the land of the rising clarinet. So it seemed, at least, when Eiji Kitamura, the 63-year-old virtuoso of that horn, teamed with cornetist Bill Berry and Berry’s wife, Betty, to present the third annual International Jazz Party at the Grand Avenue Bar of the Biltmore Hotel.

Staged in three sessions Saturday and Sunday, the event consisted mainly of small group jams, with two big bands added for the Sunday evening finale.

Kitamura has been hailed as the man who saved Japan from allowing the clarinet to sink into oblivion there. Winner of countless polls on home turf, he has graduated from a Benny Goodman influence to become his country’s counterpart of Buddy De Franco.

In an odd choice of horns for the small group sets, there were no brass instruments except for Berry’s brief appearances. By the end of the party a surfeit of clarinet had been heard, albeit first-rate clarinet. Kitamura and De Franco both were ubiquitous, playing their own sets, duet sets and fitting in with the bands.

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There were many splendid moments during these sets but top honors went to Bob Cooper, whose tenor saxophone has never sounded better; to Kataro Tsukahara, a superb neo-bop pianist who backed Cooper; and to Yoshiaki Miyanoue, the Wes Montgomery-like guitarist who triumphed at the party last year.

Bill Berry’s band fielded its long dependable, predominantly Ellingtonian repertoire, with a couple of ringers--De Franco and alto saxophonist Akitoshi Ogarashi--sitting in.

The ambience at the well-organized party was one of general excitement. Several dozen fans had flown here from Japan to join this celebration of the musical bond that has long united the two countries.

The audiences responded with warmth to an amateur group, Rare Sounds, from Nagoya. These 15 men and two women gave a surprisingly professional performance. Snazzy in their white tuxedos, they showed admirable unity on arrangements of “Moose the Mooche,” “Old Man River” and “The Preacher.”

This is what’s known in Japan as a “kicks band"--they assemble every week simply for the joy of playing. There are several hundred such orchestras in cities and towns all over Japan. Not surprisingly, the party’s improvisational honors went to such men as pianist George Gaffney and Gerald Wiggins, bassist Andy Simpkins, and the entire Bill Berry saxophone team--seasoned pros all.


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