May 2000

Satoko Fujii

I think I use the Japanese sense of space and silence—which we call ma—in my music,” says pianist Satoko Fujii from Sayama, near Tokyo. “If you listen to Japanese improvisers, you will find many of them have a similar sense of space.”

Sense of space also comes from one of Fujii’s teachers: Paul Bley, master of the subtle phrase.

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Ryo Natsuki

Satoko Fujii

“He advises all his students to record their music, and listen to them with many people, “ explains Fujii, a Berklee grad who later attended the New England Conservatory of Music and studied with Bley. “If you record your music and listen to [it] carefully, you will get a beautiful influence from your playing. I became more like ‘me’ after I studied with him because of that experience.”

Generally, Bley and Fujii share little in playing styles, but the two blend beautifully on her 1996 debut, Something About Water (Libra), a collection of duets with her professor. Fujii often plays more aggressively, like a mixture of Don Pullen and Cecil Taylor, especially on the kinetic CDs featuring her sextet, Past Life (Libra), trio, Looking Out of the Window (Nippon Crown), and the eclectic Kitzune-bi (Tzadik), where she performs in solo, duo and trio settings.

The restless Fujii just released her second and third big band CDs: Jo (Buzz) features her N.Y.C. 15-piece orchestra (including her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura), while Double Take (East Works) is a two-CD set featuring one disc by the Yanks and one by her Japanese orchestra.

“The New York band has a lot of influences from world music and contemporary music, and the Japanese band has a big influence of free jazz,” she says.

Japanese culture developed “by getting many things from China, so [it] is very malleable,” Fujii says, explaining her willfully diverse ways. “It can get many other cultures in it and digest them easily. Because of that character, it is not so difficult to mix up with other cultures. In that way, I think it is kind of similar with jazz.”

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