Each year, in our March issue, we ask prominent musicians to pay tribute to fellow artists who have passed in the previous year. This piece appeared in the March 2016 edition of JazzTimes.
My relationship with Poo [Kikuchi’s commonly used nickname] started in Japan in early 1970. A representative of Sony Records wanted me to do an album, and so we connected, talked about formats and who we’d like to use. I’d heard Poo, and I told Sony that I’d do a trio album with him on piano. Poo said, “No, no, no. I’m not good enough for that.” But I said, “I want you to do it.” So that’s how that started.
There was a reason he was so self-effacing: He was never happy with his playing, until really the very end. He was always searching. And I think he had an enormous trust and faith that what he was looking for was available somehow, that he would realize what it was. One of the reasons I was attracted to working with Poo, though, was the searching. It gave him a willingness to go anywhere in order to find what he wanted to do. All the stuff we did with Paul Motian, the Tethered Moon series and other stuff, was an opportunity to listen and try to bring [his vision] to fruition.
Although he couldn’t put into words what he was looking for. There was one recording that I remember. We were in the studio, and we did a couple takes of one tune, and Poo wasn’t happy. I said, “Poo, what’s going on? What do you want?” He was looking at me and he said, “Uhhh … that’s not it. That’s not what I want.” I said, “You’ve got to give me something-I’m kind of lost here! All I can do is what I’m doing!” He said, “No, no, no. I want you to do that. But this isn’t what I wanted, and I’m not sure.” He couldn’t even verbalize it enough to give me a directive. That was a difficulty that was uncomfortable, but it was worth bearing with for both Paul and me.
In 2012, he released a recording with ECM, a trio setting with Paul and bassist Thomas Morgan. He sent me a copy of it and it blew me away. I said, “That’s him. He found it! He found himself!” It was a good lesson-his persistence, his level of energy and musical integrity.
He was a good friend. I liked him. He was very candid; when he criticized a piece of music, he wasn’t covert about it. And he was very self-centered. But there was also a lot of humor. I felt very comfortable around him. There was always a mutual sense of friendship, deep friendship, which we never had to work at.
We were in touch until about six months before he died. Our relationship was complete from day one. I wasn’t able to say goodbye, but there wasn’t any need to. He had a certain spirit and an energy that, for me, still live. I don’t want to say goodbye to that.
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