Jazz - Musician/Composer/Producer

Jazzing up the world of music

May 5 2008

Life!People The Straits Times Monday


Chika Asamoto broke gender barriers when she became the first professional sax player in Japan.


When Japanese jazz saxophone player Chika Asamoto was four years old, her parents sent to her to a Yamaha music school for piano lessons. “I hated it then.” she recalls with a laugh. “It put me off learning music.”


Years latter, as psychology undergraduate in California, she worked part time as a waitress in a jazz bar. After hearing American jazz saxophonist Art Pepper play, she was so impressed that she started paying the instrument. She eventually dropped out of university and enrolled in the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.


After graduating, she returned to Japan in 1985 and became known as the country’s first professional female saxophonist, first playing with jazz fusion group Crystal Moon before embarking on a solo career three yearn later.


Nowadays, the 47 year old is regarded as one of the finest female sax players in the world. “When  I first decided to pursue music full time, people told me I was crazy. I myself didn’t think I could be a professional musician," she says with a laugh. With more than eight albums to her name, she now travels around the world, playing her soprano sax.


She will be performing a series of preview shows in Singapore next month, followed by full concerts during F1 week in September. She also has her own record company. AMS Records, and has produced tracks for and promoted singers from the Asian region. They include Reza from Indonesia. Ning Baizura from Malaysia, Ash from Vietnam and Kim Johan from Korea.


Home is Bali, where she and her husband, Japanese artist Hutomo Ishii, run an art gallery cum live music venue. They have no children.


“We go back to Japan maybe twice a year, or we come to Singapore because it’s nearer… some times we need to experience city life,” she tells life! When she was here on a promotional trip recently.


8 questions with Chika Asamoto - Eddino Abdul Hadi
  1. What is it about the saxophone that makes it your instrument of choice?
    I think it’s sexy end it looks cool. Mr. Art Pepper was a giant on the sax; I was so impressed by his playing that I wanted to play it. When I heard him play, I was so touched I wanted to cry. A saxophone sounds like a human voice.

  2. The saxophone, and in general brass instruments. are mostly associated with male players. Was it a challenge for your to prove your self as a female playear?
    Yeah, of course. Alter I finished studying in Berklee, I went back to Japan and played with a band. Crystal Moon. We played so many places, we played very serious and experimental music but people still went “Waah there’s a female saxophonist” and other people in the band got so mad because all the attention was on me.
    Sometimes at concerts, promoters would say, “Okay, just hold your saxophone but you don’t have to play, just dance.’’
    When I was younger, it was an advantage   people bought my album because I was female, but I was very embarrassed by that.

  3. What goes through your mind every time yen play the saxo phone?
    I always enjoy the moment, the melody and the rhythm. I don’t l it, the audience cannot share the moment.
    Music cannot tell a lie, music can tell where you’re from and what you’re thinking

  4. If you could work with any musician, who would it be?
    Legendary American jazz musician Miles Davis but he’s dead. I really want to play with him, even if it‘s just one note, because he is always totally challenging.

  5. Why did you start your own independent music label?
    Seven of my albums were under major record companies but when the internet became popular in 1996, it created a totally different style of music distribution. In Japan, we have a lot of independent labels. The major record companies used to tell me what type of music I should play, how I should appear. With my own label, I am doing what I want to do.

  6. Having been trained America, where jazz was born, do you fell that the genre nowadays is not as well accepted there as it is every where else?
    Jazz is already traditional music in America. People there appreciate hip-hop more, but there are always roots music that influence other genres like R&B.
    A long time ago, people thought jazz was a difficult genre but now it has fused with a lot of styles  hip-hop, fusion, world music and we call all that jazz. The definition of jazz now is very, very wide.

  7. How did you end up going on tour with American rapper Guru in I998?
    Guru was looking for a sax player for his rap/jazz band Jazzmatazz, which was touring Japan.
    The project was great. I had a great experience playing with famous and legendary jazz musicians like Donald Bird and Lonnie Liston Smith.
    It was also the first time I played with an MC and a DJ, but all their essence is from jazz. Plus they had no music sheets; it was very free form.
    The tour made me very famous among hip hop fans.

  8. Complete this sentence. If I could live my life all over again…
    I want to do the same things.


Chika Asamoto will perfoming here at The Jazz Soul Sessions from June 13 to 15 snd from zSep 24 to 28.

Log on to www.worldjazzsingapore.com for more information.