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Artist devotes life to merging Japan culture with Chicago music: From Tokyo

Sep 03, 2010


By Ko Hirano

A smoky-timbred voice floats through a bar in central Tokyo. Chicago-based singer-pianist Yoko Noge sings both in English and her native Japanese.


The audience applauds and sways in their seats as they listen to the fusion of Japanese music with Chicago jazz and blues. Some start dancing when Noge sings of the joy and sorrow of daily life, such as hard work and lost love.

About 60 jazz fans gathered for this Tokyo show in the final leg of Noge’s two-week, seven-city Japan tour late last year with her husband Clark Dean, who plays soprano saxophone.

In Chicago, Noge performs every Monday night with her seven-member ‘’Jazz Me Blues Band.'’ The rest of her weekdays she’s a journalist, reporting financial news for Japan’s Nikkei business daily.

Noge has lived this way for some 20 years. And the Osaka native wants to spend the rest of her life in Chicago because of her love for Chicago music, known for its rough, intense and gutsy sound…


‘’In terms of whether musicians can play music that is rooted locally, I think Chicago has the best to offer in the United States. While New York or Los Angeles tend to focus on commercialism in music, Chicago has an atmosphere that allows artists to try various experiments.

‘’And Chicago has an audience that supports local musicians’ pursuit of innovative concepts or new ideas in music. I really fit into this culture.'’


Noge’s band recently produced a CD featuring the combination of Japanese folk music with Chicago blues, a project she calls ‘’Japanesque.'’ It’s the group’s fifth CD since forming in 1987.

Performance involves traditional Japanese instruments — ‘’taiko'’ drums and ‘’shamisen'’ or Japanese lute. Noge made full use of shamisen during the Tokyo show with the help of shamisen player Chizuru Kineya.



‘’Japanese folk music and Chicago blues are deeply rooted in people’s souls and grew from their everyday life experience. You will be surprised to hear music from these two very different cultures meld together to create new cross-border root music.'’


Noge’s fame increased after she was named ‘’Chicagoan of the Year'’ for 2006 by the Chicago Tribune. The paper praised her success in creating what some call ‘’Japanese-flavored'’ blues and her role in bringing Japanese artists to Chicago for the annual Asian American Jazz Festival. Noge is a co-founder of the festival.

Chicago Tribune arts critic Howard Reich has watched Noge’s performances since she moved to Chicago from Osaka in 1984 to pursue blues music…


‘’I've noticed in the past few years, she’s become a much more ferocious performer…her performance is getting bigger, stronger, more focused…she’s getting better as a songwriter. But she is also not just a performer, she’s also an organizer of music in Chicago, presenter, she brings musicians together.'’

‘’When she brings Japanese culture into American jazz, that’s very interesting because jazz needs new ideas, new sounds and new cultures. And the more people who bring their own cultures into jazz, the better jazz will be.'’



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