It is unusual for any artiste to appear at the Club more than once or twice a year but as Mayumi was only coming to Brisbane for 7 days we took the opportunity of presenting her vocal talents to a very appreciative audience on each of three nights. Luckily our regular monthly Jazz Singers Jam Night on a Thursday and Brisbane Big Band night on the Sunday both fell in the same week and we were also able to organise an exclusive night for Mayumi with the Josh Hatcher Quartet on the Friday night.
Why would we go to these lengths to present an unknown international artiste at the BJC? Well, Mayumi Akasaki from Nagoya, Japan has made a somewhat historic event of being the first Japanese jazz artiste to be featured at the Brisbane Jazz Club. She has long experience as an accomplished popular jazz singer in her home country and the BJC is keen to honour every type of jazz available.
Mayumi’s appearances at the BJC proved her to be a first-rate ambassador for Japanese jazz, gaining the admiration and respect of her Brisbane audiences. Jazz in Japan has a minority but very dedicated following – just as in Australia – although it seems they take their jazz a little more seriously and regard it as a listening entertainment, rather than music to dance to, as is often the case here. Nevertheless the quality of Japanese jazz musicians is on par with jazz musos anywhere in the world and any other musicians in the USA, UK or Australia might never pick the fact that a band might all be Japanese from hearing their style of playing.
The degree of dedication to the art of jazz seems to be a phenomenon in all parts of the world. Possibly the need for the vocals to be sung in English to maintain their authenticity, to an audience with limited English comprehension, means that the quirky and humorous nature of some lyrics are not always understood. Mayumi has the advantage of a good command of the English language, both in speaking and singing, and her understanding of the lyrics gives weight to her personality and the warmth of her undeniably attractive voice.
As we are accustomed to hearing fairly high-pitched, thin voices associated with female Oriental singers, it comes as a very pleasant contrast to hear Mayumi’s well-rounded and low-pitched voice producing some very sultry sounds – well in keeping with the mood and feel of jazz. The other surprising aspect of her performance is that she chooses to sing many of the lesser-known but highly effective songs and obviously spends plenty of time in researching her repertoire. It is so refreshing to hear a singer steering away from many of the crowd-pleasing popular jazz songs, but pleasing the crowd just the same.
Her 2004 CD ‘Entrancing’ demonstrates such numbers as Ring-a-Ding-Ding, Moments Like This, Happy with the Blues, Nobody’s Heart and How My Heart Sings which are unlikely to be found on the song lists of many other jazz singers.
On all three occasions the audiences certainly took Mayumi to their hearts as she carried off her performances with poise and ease – even managing to raise a few laughs with some of her introductory remarks. Her two songs on Jazz Singers Jam Night broke the ice and gave a foretaste of the following night in her own show with Josh Hatcher, highlighting her comfort level of performing with a small group. On Sunday she actually drew applause from members of the Brisbane Big Band after performing all her big band charts with very little rehearsal time. Special mention should be made of her rendition of The Very Thought of You , with Bobby McGhee inserting a fine solo on muted trumpet.
For Mayumi herself these few days saw the culmination of a long-held ambition to appear professionally in Australia, and to reinforce her bond with Brisbane, so I’m sure she will be eager to repeat this experience again whenever the opportunity arises.