I first met Yoshio Toyama and his wife Keiko in October, 2013, when they joined Sammy Rimington during his annual UK Tour. Since then we have kept in touch and I have featured them both, their events and activities regularly on Jazz&Jazz.
Now, with Yoshio’s permission, it’s time to tell the full story about their involvement in jazz, both in Japan and New Orleans; their love of Louis Armstrong’s music; how they set up their Wonderful World Jazz Foundation (WJF) and established such solid bonds between the USA and Japan.
The Crescent City Era
Yoshio and Keiko spent five years – from 1968 to 1973 – in The Crescent City studying New Orleans Jazz from “old timers” – back then many of them even older than Louis Armstrong! They were enthralled by New Orleans jazz traditions – and by Satchmo’s neighbours!
Today Yoshio is one of the closest in style to Satchmo – on trumpet and vocals – and in Japan he is known as the “Japanese Satchmo”.
Their New Orleans apartment was right around the corner from Preservation Hall and they were able to hear the music of Kid Thomas, Percy Humphrey, Punch Miller, George Lewis and many others wafting through the window! So it wasn’t long before they themselves sat in with some of these Preservation Hall bands.
In 1971, Barry Martyn’s band came to New Orleans and he invited Yoshio and Keiko to tour Europe with him. In fact Yoshio joined Barry’s band on a tour of Europe and the USA for an entire year with guest players such as Alton Purnell and Louis Nelson.
Then, when they returned to Japan in 1973, Yoshio followed Barry’s example of bringing famous jazz musicians from the USA to the UK, by bringing US musicians to Japan – Don Ewell in 1975 and 1980, Alton Purnel in 1976, Wild Bill Davison in 1981, and Ralph Sutton in 1987 and 1990. Twice they took Barry along with Freddie Lonzo from New Orleans to Japan.
Recordings made with all of these stars are still available on Jazzology’s G.H.B Labels.
To this day, Yoshio and Keiko are grateful to Barry Martyn: “We owe Barry a lot”.
“The Wonderful World Jazz Foundation”
In 1994 Yoshio and Keiko launched a Louis Armstrong fan club in Japan – “The Wonderful World Jazz Foundation” (WJF). Straight off some 200 jazz fans in Japan – especially Louis Armstrong fans – became members and their dream became a reality.
Since then the Toyama’s dream of keeping the name of Louis Armstrong and his music alive not only in Japan but around the world has been vindicated. In the 21 years from 1994 to 2016 The Wonderful World Jazz Foundation has featured 58 concerts, 88 newsletters with Satchmo related articles, live music – and rare 1929-1960 jazz films.
Horns For Guns
When they started the Foundation, Yoshio and Keiko wanted to make it more than just a Louis Fan Club for listening to old recordings. They wanted to include a number of meaningful and symbolic activities.
Their ambition was to seek other ways of demonstrating their love for New Orleans as well as featuring Satchmo’s music. It was then that they decided to help the young children of New Orleans, so many of whom were surrounded by the dangers of guns and drugs.
Yoshio remembered how “Little Louis” got arrested and sent to reform school for shooting a pistol. It was there that Louis first discovered the trumpet – the very beginning of his glorious life as world’s greatest king of Jazz.
Two “Toyama Concepts” emerged:
“Let’s send horns to the children of New Orleans, so that people remember Satchmo’s life …”
“Let’s give them ‘Horns for Guns’… just like Satchmo and his first trumpet”
So The Wonderful World Jazz Foundation started gifting horns to New Orleans children… “surplus” but quality instruments donated by musicians and jazz fans.
The tragic death of a Japanese student named Hattori reinforced the aims of Horns for Guns activities. Hattori was shot to death in Baton Rouge because he visited the wrong house on Halloween. There were and still are many problems with guns in the USA. Yoshio and Keiko are ever saddened to see kids in New Orleans – “sons and grandsons” of Satchmo – surrounded by guns and drugs.
Yoshio remembers Danny Barker setting up the Fair View Baptist Church Band back in 1970 when he and Keiko were determined to help steer kids clear of guns and drugs. “We were great fans of those young musicians – such talented kids.”
Satchmo’s brief encounter with a gun and how he learned to “play horn” in a New Orleans Waif’s Home remains ever fresh in Yoshio’s mind – the inspiration for Yoshio and Keiko’s “Horns for Guns Foundation”!
Donations and Free Shipping
A leading Japanese newspaper covered the “Horns for Guns” campaign which resulted in horns – and many other musical instruments – being donated to the cause. A Wonderful World Jazz Foundation member introduced Yoshio and Keiko to Japan’s Nippon Express cargo company. The outcome – over the next 21 years more than 830 “horns” were shipped, free of charge, to New Orleans. In addition over $100,000 was donated to New Orleans schools and musicians when the city was hit by Katrina.
Among the musicians and organisations to whom instruments have been donated are: “Trombone Shorty”, John Brunious, Clyde Kerr, Walter Payton, Shannon Powell, Doreen Ketchens, Greg Stafford, Jonathan Bloom, Joseph Torregano, Herbert Wing, Alonzo Bowens, Rickie Moony, The New Orleans Musicians Union, Preservation Hall, Tipitina’s Foundation, Sweet Home New Orleans, the Arabi Wrecking Krew ……
Also many schools received goodwill gifts of instruments from Japan: Mr.Wilbert Rawlins and GW Carver High School, Mr. Wilbert Rawlins and O Perry Walker High School, Mr. Dowyne Nathan and McDonogh 35 Senior High School, Mr. Joseph Torregano and East St. John High School, Martin Luther King Charter School, Livingston Middle School, Mr. Greg Stafford and Crocker Elementary School, New Orleans Public School Jazz Outreach Program (Mr.Jonathan Bloom), Mr. Kevin Smith and Fearless Tigers Cultural Art Centre, Treme Community Centre (Mr. Jerome Smith) and others including Music Accademies and Associations, NOCCA, Lincoln Centre’s Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Fund, New Orleans Musicians’ Hurricane Relief Fund and Jazz Foundation of America.
The New Orleans Satchmo Festival
In 1981, ten years after Louis’ passing, Yoshio and Keiko launched the long-running annual New Orleans Satchmo Festival in Tokyo, featuring bands playing New Orleans music and involving Big Easy and visiting bands and musicians. Jazz&Jazz has featured the Festival.
In 2014 they celebrated the 34th Satchmo Festival!
When they launched their Louis Fan Club and The Wonderful World Jazz Foundation they had no idea that its concerts, film shows, monthly newsletters and quarterly periodicals about Louis would become so popular and long lasting.
To this day, Yoshio is grateful to Barry Martyn and Dave Bennett for introducing him to “a guy called Preacher”, who collected Jazz Films. “We were so impressed with these movies of the unbelievable Louis, the young Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith … the first time we had ever seen such films!”
They were invaluable in helping build the Foundation by showing them at meetings. There were no such things as YouTubes in those days and people were amazed to see the jazz giants on the big screen.
“Sir”Charles Thompson & Jimmie Smith
Another stroke of luck, as Yoshio puts it, was their meeting with legendary pianist “Sir” Charles Thompson, with whom they became great friends. “We featured him many times in our meetings”.
Then there was the great drummer, Jimmie Smith, who played with Ella Fitzgerald, Eroll Garner, Lambart Hendricks and Count Basie. He signed up as Yoshio’s drummer, playing with the band for ten of their 23 years at Tokyo’s Disneyland. Yoshio tells how Jimmie “put so much into our meetings … sometimes playing Hot 5 and Hot 7 numbers as well as singing “Cake Walking Babies” and duetting with me in harmony from Bechet and Louis records”.
Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Japan Tsunami
In 2005, just when Yoshio and Keiko thought their Foundation had achieved all that it could, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans! Instantaneously they organised a benefit concert for the Crescent City which led to donations for New Orleans from jazz fans all over Japan. The Foundation ended up donating over $100,000 plus multiple more musical instruments for New Orleans musicians!
Then, when Japan was hit so hard by the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami, the people of New Orleans stood up to the mark. Tipitina’s founder, Roland Von Kurnatowski, contacted us to say they wanted to help Japan by raising funds to replace musical instruments lost in the disaster. So just as Japan had come to the rescue of New Orleans after Katrina, so New Orleans helped raise funds to replace musical instruments lost in the Japanese tsunami, especially for Japanese kids and young musicians. As a result, lighting the darkness, a Japanese youth band was reestablished just a month after the Tsunami.
Now, with Japanese children making their comeback with the help of instruments from New Orleans, came Yoshio and Keiko’s latest dream! Some day they wanted the kids who sent the instruments to meet those who received them. They had no idea how to make it come true. When they sent horns to kids in New Orleans, in such poor neighbourhoods, there was no hope whatsoever that they could visit Japan. Some couldn’t even afford to visit Dallas.
But Wilbert Rawlins, the wonderful band instructor at New Orleans High School, had kept urging the kids to practice – “There’s a ceiling here above you here, but there’s sky over it which spreads around the world, and if you keep trying and work hard, there will be a chance someday, for you to visit Japan ……”
Like a miracle, this dream came true in 2012, a year after the tragic Japanese earthquake. With help from Tipitina’s Foundation and the Japan Foundation, the Wonderful World Jazz Foundation made it real for 16 New Orleans kids from O Perry Walker High School and Tipitina’s intern band to visit Japanese kids in the Tsunami struck area.
Then in 2013, the Wonderful World Jazz Foundation, with help from Tipitina’s Foundation, the American Embassy, Japan’s Tomodachi Initiative and the Japan Foundation organised a return visit to New Orleans for young Japanese jazz stars to play at the Satchmo SummerFest!
But What of the Future?
The Wonderful World Jazz Foundation has been successful for over 21 years and still has 250 members paying club dues each year.
But as members age, so the Foundation has to downsize. Yoshio and Keiko are now in their 70s and may not be able to keep up their work – let alone their travel – for the Foundation for too much longer. But they are both glad they have been able “to pay back just a little to the city which has given us so much over so many years”!
Jazz owes Yoshio and Keiko a huge debt of gratitude, I wonder if there is anyone out there in the jazz world today up to taking over their amazing mantle?
Peter M Butler
Editor & Proprietor Jazz&Jazz
Links to earlier Jazz&Jazz Yoshio & Keiko Features: