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Jane Bunnett And Chihiro Yamanaka On JazzSet

Aug 2, 2012
Originally published on July 7, 2014 4:48 pm

Chihiro Yamanaka and Jane Bunnett come to the Kennedy Center from Japan and Canada, respectively, and each has a compelling story.

Jane Bunnett is from Toronto, yet for more than 30 years, she's championed Cuban music and musicians. She's made dozens of trips to the island, studying and working, bringing instruments to schoolchildren, and inviting players to return to Canada with her and her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer.

In 1991, Cuban pianist Hilario Duran joined Bunnett's band for Spirits of Havana. Duran already had a high profile in Cuba. He had replaced Chucho Valdes in the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, toured with trumpeter Arturo Sandoval for a decade, and co-led Grupo Prospectiva. In 1998, Duran moved to Toronto, where he's currently a professor in the thriving jazz department at Humber College.

Bunnett (on flute and soprano) and Duran invite a Cuban-born guest to join them. He's a 91-year-old NEA Jazz Master. In the 1950s, conguero Candido Camero made his first U.S. recording, "Mambo Inn," with the Billy Taylor Trio. Candido knows a thing or two about show business. Making their entrances together, he tickled Jane Bunnett with the line, "As Jackie Gleason says, 'Here we go!'"

Bunnett and Duran have an album out called Cuban Rhapsody.

Both Yamanaka and her drummer, John Davis, are alumni of Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead training for young musicians at the Kennedy Center, and Yamanaka has performed here with the big band Diva as well. She's someone to see.

In JazzTimes, Giovanni Russonello reviewed Yamanaka's performance at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy: "Opening for the Tribute to Miles band with her trio, the Japanese pianist tore into two originals at the top of her set. Right and left, jaws were dropping." As Bridgewater says from the stage at the end of Yamanaka's set, "I was sitting on the side and just watching how she combines her classical technique with the jazz, and I thought she was going to fly off the stool, didn't you? I've never seen such footwork."

Yamanaka centers her set on an original piece for the people of Fukushima, Japan, where she grew up. Fukushima was the site of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Yamanaka's composition, "It Was a Beautiful Eight Minutes of My Life," begins quietly and builds disquietingly; it will move you. Yamanaka's album, Reminiscence, won the Nissan Presents Jazz Japan Award in 2011.

Chihiro Yamanaka Personnel

  • Chihiro Yamanaka, piano
  • Yoshi Waki, bass
  • John Davis, drums

Chihiro Yamanaka Set List

  • "Take Five" (Paul Desmond)
  • "It Was A Beautiful Eight Minutes Of My Life" (Yamanaka)
  • "Close To You" (Burt Bacharach)

Jane Bunnett Set List

  • "Almendra/Almonds"
  • "Rosa Mae" (Mary Lou Williams, on-the-spot arrangement)
  • "Sherezada" (Frank Emilio)
  • "Conga Jam"
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