Deems the Author

North American Post Listing of Deems' articles written
for the North American Post
2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Coincidence Nov. 17, 2020
Mayor Ed Lee Oct. 11, 2020
Radio & Records Sep. 15, 2020
Get Up Aug. 17, 2020
There is A God Jul. 21, 2020
Pillow Talk Jun. 16, 2020
Dad May 20, 2020
Respect Apr. 13, 2020
Leisure Time Apr. 2, 2020
Support Mar. 17, 2020
The NBA Feb. 14, 2020
The Koto Jan. 10, 2020

Coincidence

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Nov. 17, 2020

Over the years, I have had the pleasure to enjoy up close many of my musical mentors at venues like Jazz Alley, Parnell’s, and The Pioneer Bank; the latter two are unfortunately, closed now. One of my all-time favorites is legendary George Duke who passed away a few years ago. Duke was an extraordinary keyboardist, songwriter, and gold-record producer. He was a master jazz, funk, and pop musician for the ages.

The last time I saw Duke live at Jazz Alley, I gave him a copy of my Christmas CD titled, “My Music Loves Christmas.” Later that week before he left town, I happened to be watching the news on Channel 13 and lo and behold, there was GD playing “Jingle Bells” live on TV doing my arrangement of the traditional song. Apparently, inspiration goes both ways.

When my third album, “The Planet Deems,” came out, I was working on getting a record deal with a major label and sent a copy of the release to Cliff Gorov who happened to manage George Benson at the time. My version of the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” received heavy airplay on the old KACE out of Los Angeles. On Benson’s next album, I noticed that he did a version of it that seemed to me to be more than coincidence. By the way, they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery.

There was also a time when I had a running conversation with the great Kristi Yamaguchi and her manager, who is her sister. My goal was to get Kristi to ice skate to my music. We traded email regularly for several weeks and then I mailed Kristi and her sister a copy of my Christmas CD which had received airplay on over one hundred stations coast to coast. What happened next was definitely not coincidence. Our friendly email conversation went completely dead as there were absolutely no replies. Apparently, there was too much blues, soul, and funk for the world class skater to deal with. Since I gave it the good old college try, I cannot have any regrets.

Mayor Ed Lee

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Oct. 11, 2020

As a child, I attended John Muir Elementary in the Mount Baker area of Seattle. During the 50’s and early 60’s, the student body was about ninety percent Caucasian. That, of course, has changed drastically but may swing back as we seem to be entering the era of so called gentrification. I personally don’t like the term gentrification. It is apparently a term to smooth out the crass behavior and takeover of many inner city neighborhoods by rich investors. In order to tear down the historical richness and replace the traditional buildings with modern condominiums and businesses, the corporations like to use a nice word like gentrify.

In the early to mid-sixties I then attended Asa Mercer Middle School. This was an extraordinary change in my life and friendships as the demographics had a dramatic change. It turned out that both my middle school and high school, Franklin, were about one third each Asian American, African American, and Caucasian. To go from having maybe a single Japanese American classmate to literally hundreds of AA’s just blew me away. Although I generally don’t like to stereotype, the academic curve did in fact go up as these Asians were very smart and competitive in school work.

My best grade school pal was a Sansei guy named Michael Kimura. We were tight and also got in a few fist-a-cuffs with guys that we thought deserved a lesson on manners. Once in middle school, Michael and I drifted apart as our interests changed.

One of the many lifetime friends that came into my world was Edwin Lee. We played intramural sports and had too many friends in common to count. Ed and I went to high school together and he was a stellar student. In the summer of ’69, we traveled Europe together for two plus months. I cherish the days.

Edwin eventually worked for the city of San Francisco and became the greatest mayor they ever had. You can ask any of the previous mayors as they will testify to the same accomplishment. Ed was what we want politicians to be, hardworking and not self-serving. Although he is no longer with us, after dying of a heart attack during his second term, he remains an inspiration to me and thousands of people for what he did and stood for: a fair shake for all humans, no matter what walk of life.

Radio & Records

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Sep. 15, 2020

Unbeknownst to many music lovers I actually put out two 45 RPM vinyl records back in the Seventies. It was the beginning of my one man record company J-Town Records. One release was an original called “Okashii Na,” or “Peculiar Isn’t It,” and the second was a remake of the Ramsey Lewis tune “Love Is Together.” They were both produced for promotional purposes and actually received some airplay on KBCS FM out of Bellevue Community College. My first two full length LP’s on vinyl came out in the 80’s.

Having made the costly investment of producing these albums was only the first step in the long process of promoting, advertising, marketing, stocking stores, tracking inventory, invoicing, etc. I had to mail phonograph records to every station, coast to coast, along with letters, photographs, and reviews. During this era in my humble career, I also played six or seven nights per week and eventually developed a bleeding ulcer. Although this sounds terrible, it was an exciting time as my music was heard on radio stations from Alaska to

Florida and all points in between. Having grown up in the decades wherein radio and records were a vital part of our culture it seemed to be somewhat of a miracle. There was also a major trade magazine called “Radio & Records” that was the “Wall Street Journal” of the radio industry. R & R kept track of what records were getting the most airplay and the industry experts would read it religiously. Of course most of the artists listed were national acts like Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, and The Crusaders, all of whom had major record contracts. And then there was little old me on J-Town Records going toe to toe with the heavyweights. I eventually got a record deal with a Seattle-based company called Nasty Mix.

It was great for a while and then Nasty Mix had to close. I can personally look back with pride having kicked butt for several years on R & R. It should be noted that these days jazz artists are not really trying to attain gold or platinum status, as the sale of the physical products has virtually evaporated. The goal now is to go viral online with video and digital downloads.

Get Up

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Aug. 17, 2020

One of the classic axioms that has been with me for quite some time goes: “Do not ever stay down on the mat.” In other words, if you are knocked down whether boxing, job related as in fired, a business deal gone sour, or a spurned lover, you have to get back up on your feet. The Japanese Zen Buddhists use the term Gaman which means enduring the seemingly unbearable with dignity and calm.

A recent story of mine about Auntie Lily, wherein she told us that life isn’t always easy, reminds me of the various day jobs I had before I developed steady piano gigs to make ends meet. My list of employment positions was quite diversified. I was a sheet metal fabricator, a cook in a wholesale kitchen, and a cook in a Japanese confectionary. I sold grand pianos in a mall and painted houses. I must say that my life has gotten better over the years. Of course, I used the dough I earned to produce and promote my jazz record albums and buy musical equipment, which led to more performing engagements. For the past few decades I have been able to rely solely on playing music. This makes me happy to no end after paying dues for many years.

Entertaining in nightclubs is similar to entertaining at home. I have made my home in the recording studio, in nightclubs, restaurants, concerts, and on the fundraiser/party circuit for over fifty years now. The soul music and jazz have become totally intrinsic to my existence. When I cook at home, which we love to do, I always put on groovy old school funk as I dance around the kitchen and simmer delicacies. It makes the foods soulful and tasty to my friends and me.

There is A God

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Jul. 21, 2020

As many people know, I have been deeply involved in my career forging a modest living playing jazz piano for about a half a century now. The vernacular term for us longtime workers is, of course, “one has paid his dues.” Although I have been able to make my mortgage payments, taxes, utility bills, and buy food for the past few decades it wasn’t always just from playing music. The reality of being a starving artist demands the need for a plethora of “day jobs” to work as we carve our niche in the business and create a demand for our product. This situation also gives the artist an appreciation for any good paying jobs playing music that present themselves.

Most working people have the need for steady employment as we are basically living pay check to pay check to cover the cost of living. The old saw that goes “death and taxes are inevitable” should have an addendum adding the word “inflation” to the phrase. As an artist, steady work is definitely not the norm, rather “feast or famine” would apply here. From time to time, some artists hit it big like a sculpture that scores a series of large commissions or a writer that sells a screenplay. But these incidences are rare. The concept of playing Lotto or betting on the horse races come to mind as artistic careers are not usually something to bank on for any serious dough.

Over the years, there have been many really great engagements for myself and my band. When these gigs come along, I would always tell my wife, “Honey, there is a God after all” to express my personal joy. In reality, I feel that we deserve a few truly good gigs as it compliments and confirms my conviction to my craft. By the way, during the current COVID-19 virus I applied for unemployment compensation via SAWS or Secure Access to Washington State. To my surprise the organization recognized that my endeavors are legit and sincere as they sent me several checks to help cover my living expenses. Once again, I said, “There is a God.”

Pillow Talk

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, June 16, 2020

Just about everyone on the planet has a routine for waking up and going to sleep. Apparently, of all countries surveyed, northern Europeans drink the most coffee per capita. Here in the USA, about 60% of us drink some coffee on a daily basis, usually in the morning to get going. Although breakfast foods can be very delicious like bacon & eggs, I know a lot of people who prefer to eat a light meal early on so they can go hog wild for lunch and /or dinner. Americans do, in fact, lead the world in obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and heart disease. We are the land of plenty. Night time activities around this country and others seem to revolve around consumption of dinner foods, alcoholic beverages, and desserts that are rich and sweet. We also lead the world in medications to offset our decadent life styles.

Most people like to plan their day’s activity out in the morning over coffee or tea and a small meal. It’s good to have a game plan but also good to be flexible in case something unforeseen comes up. These days, as I am semi-retired, I have the luxury of taking a fair amount of time to do my yoga, brush my teeth, work on music, and plan the rest of the week out. I like having ample time to get going as we urbanites are a neurotic society which can lead to stress.

The nighttime routine for most of us varies according to your lifestyle. It seems that most people have a semi- regular schedule for turning in. Many folks like to watch the late news on TV, drink a glass of warm milk, or read a good book. Jean and I both love to cook and entertain so our pillow talk almost always revolves around foods. We like to plan our meals for the next few days and tend to make up menus that are fun to eat. We also like to drum up meals for guests and also for travel to visit others. Fortunately, we eat rather healthy so neither of us is looking to diet; we would rather just have fun.

Dad

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, May 20, 2020

My father George Tsutakawa was an amazing person and, like most Nisei men and women, had to endure some very trying times. He was born in Seattle in 1910 but lived in Japan for several years, attending school during his childhood. He returned to Seattle to graduate from the old Broadway High School which became Edison Tech and is now Seattle Community College. While at Broadway High, Dad was influenced by an art teacher and excelled in her class. The Tsutakawa family owned a successful import export business of shipping steel and lumber to and from Japan. They had warehouses, inventory, land, and a fleet of trucks. When World War 2 broke out, the Tsutakawa Company was confiscated by The US Government and never returned. This scenario played out up and down the West Coast as thousands of Japanese Americans lost their freedoms and all their properties through Executive Order 9066. In 1988, Ronald Reagan issued a formal apology for EO 9066 and the wrongful incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry. Also, most JA’s who were affected by the order received a token check as part of the mistake made against these US citizens.

Dad became a staff sergeant in the US Army and after the war, he attended the U of W using the GI Bill. He then went on to teach fine art at the U of W for over thirty years. George had met my mother during the war while on leave and they had four children who coincidentally are all involved in the arts and music. His biggest art works are his original bronze fountain sculptures. During Dad’s illustrious career, he produced over seventy major works of art that are displayed throughout North America and Japan as well as countless paintings, furniture, and other smaller wood and metal sculptures. Mom and Dad traveled the world, entertained many celebrities of the cultural arts, and raised a family to which I count my blessings.

Respect

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Apr. 13, 2020

It seems that the USA is often times referred to as the greatest country in the world especially by us Americans. We are apparently one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on the planet. Thus having a lot of money, resources, land, and a powerful military make us formidable for sure. Like most people I know, we all seem to like living here for the high standard of living conditions. The vast majority of Americans all have cars, homes, mobile devices up the yin yang, and plenty to eat. Of course, there are many homeless, entirely too much violent crime, incurable diseases, and a large number of traffic fatalities. However, the overall living situation is for the most part pretty good.

The thing that irks me the most is the lack of respect amongst so many of us. I like to believe that most people are good, kind, considerate, and generally do the right thing. For sure this percentage is over 50% of the masses; my wife’s cousin Josh Suehiro says he believes that 80% of the people are good human beings. Even if this is so, 20% of 300 plus million is a lot of people.

Now one must admit that every country has its own arrogance and ethnocentric feelings of nationalism but we here in the good old USA seem to take it overboard. Pedestrians crossing the street walk as slow as possible, so they feel somehow empowered, sports stars show great disrespect for the referees and game officials claiming they did not commit a foul, and there are hate groups abound. It should be noted that human beings are not born with hate. It is a learned negative value taught by whoever is raising the child.

Perhaps in the not too distant future, the Mariners will win the World Series, global warming will slow down, and guns will be outlawed. By the way, I usually have good dreams, lucky me.

Leisure Time

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Apr. 2, 2020

Like many people across the country, I have lost work due to the coronavirus and the restrictions it has forced on our nation. Many establishments that have live music have been ordered to shut down for an unspecified length of time. Hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, airlines, movie theaters, concerts, and even golf courses have closed their facilities until further notice. Sporting events and concerts of all kinds have been cancelled or delayed like the NCAA basketball tourney and the NBA season. I am a big sports fan when it comes to basketball, football, and golf. I missed seeing these events for awhile, however, just lately it has actually become a blessing to not be hooked on keeping up with ‘who’s in first place’, like it really matters anyways. I suppose if you had some money on the games, you would need to pay attention, however, that is not my calling.

The downtime has actually been amazing. Besides cooking great foods and golfing with my friends (Washington State golf courses have remained open unlike in California), we rebuilt the stairs on our back yard deck and added a railing. The new railing makes it much safer for us and our guests. Instead of watching sports, we have seen some really good movies and science shows. I have had more time for exercise, yoga, meditation, and playing with the dog. The most important thing that has brought me back to my senses and centered my spirit is piano playing with a sense of purpose. Writing new music and practicing on a concert level is very rewarding. The fact of having many cancelled gigs also means not having to concern myself with what the audience, shoppers, patrons, club owners, and booking agents want me to play and what they want to hear. Life is at times spectacular and for me, this is one of those times.

Support

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Mar. 17, 2020

Over the past few decades, I have been very fortunate to be able to make a living playing my style of jazz. Apparently, I have developed a solid following of music supporters and several steady engagements in the Pacific Northwest area. This, along with a long list of concerts, parties, corporate events, fundraisers, and night club engagements, has enabled me to pursue my passion of playing cool and groovy music. It is not that surprising that the core of my followers is basically rooted in the Asian American communities of Washington, Hawaii, and beyond. It seems that I also have a good many fans that are of African American and Caucasian decent but the bulk of my listening base is definitely Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese Americans. The flip sides of these consequences are that there are many clubs and concert venues that do not want my services as their consumer base is basically white. So be it, as I don’t really want or need to go where I am not wanted.

As for social media, I am a big supporter of Facebook. It is free advertising for my concerts and nightclub gigs. One can, of course, post songs, photos, stories, and videos to share with your friends and followers. What a deal. Facebook gives people the ability to not only keep up with the many goings on around town and the world but the members can like or dislike whatever they want. Sure there are some bad things associated with social media but for the most part it is utilized in a good way and quite necessary these days.

It should be noted that Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura on the original cast of Star Trek actually decided not to do it until she met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He told her straight up that she simply must do the show. His reasoning was that the public needed to see and support people of color, in this case Black Americans, especially on TV and in the media. This idea is dear to my heart as I am a big supporter of Asian Americans on social media, the motion picture industry, and television. In order for Americans to fully accept us as a vital part of US culture we simply must be viewed and the public must be programmed with our image.

The NBA

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Feb. 14, 2020

There is a really good book and movie written and produced by Kareem Abdul Jabbar called On The Shoulders of Giants. It is a historical journey that documents the period from 1920 through 1940 about the African American cultural renaissance and professional basketball in Harlem. All these events and people influenced his life and inspired Jabbar to become the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. He is also a philanthropist and outspoken promoter of Black American Culture.

It is well documented that during most of US history people of color were not allowed to stay in many hotels, eat at certain restaurants, or even use the same bathrooms as white people. During the era of pro basketball before WW2 there was a 'world championship' for the white pro league but they knew that in order to have a true world champion they needed to invite the best Black teams to participate. The good part about these early games was that the Black & White players became friends and learned to respect each other. This of course actually infuriated many whites at the time.

Unbeknownst to most people the first professional basketball player of color in the USA was a Japanese American named Wataru Misaka a 5' 7" point guard from Utah. Misaka played college basketball for the University of Utah and helped his school win the 1944 NCAA and 1947 NIT championships. He took a two-year hiatus between these titles to serve in the United States Army in the American occupation of Japan. Misaka subsequently played three games for the New York Knicks during the 1947-48 season.

Misaka, a Nisei, was born in Ogden, Utah on December 21, 1923. Growing up during World War II, Misaka was a regular target of racial discrimination because of his Japanese ethnicity. Raised in the basement of his father's barber shop-between a bar and a pawn shop on 25th Street, where brothels abounded-Misaka was denied service at restaurants and avoided on the street. Despite this, Misaka still participated and excelled in sports.

In the year 2019 Jeremy Lin became the first Asian American to win an NBA Championship ring playing guard for the world champs the Toronto Raptors. He is currently the only Asian American in the NBA which has almost five hundred players. Although most of the NBA players these days are African American I am personally happy to see that most teams have a few Caucasian players and that there are players from all parts of the globe playing professional hoops.

The Koto

By Deems Tsutakawa / For The North American Post • Thur, Jan. 10, 2020

For the better part of the last six plus decades I have always thought of my father George as the primary influence on my career as a jazz pianist and a performing artist. It only made sense as dad was a lifetime creator of paintings, sculptures, and educating people on the visual arts. He taught fine art at The University of Washington for well over thirty years as well as having countless visitors to his home studio which was filled with art works both his and others. Dad also collected many artifacts, utilitarian art works, books on art and museums, and other collectibles. The vast collection is still in the family and hopefully will remain there for many generations to come.

It is only recently that I have come to realize and appreciate the big influence that my mother Ayame had on my upbringing and values. Mom was an outstanding musician, dancer, entrepreneur, and Ikebana artist herself. She was the head of the Asian Art Council at The Seattle Art Museum as well as president of The Seattle Chapter of Ikebana International. Mom and dad made a great team together not only as parents but as creative business partners as well. They also did a lot of entertaining of family, friends, and various art buyers and museum curators.

From the earliest age I have the most vivid memories of my mother playing the Koto for us as we were growing up. Oftentimes on a Sunday morning we would wake up to the most incredible Koto music one ever heard. When mom would pluck the strings the sounds of the notes cut right through me like a hot knife through butter. Her intensity was unabashed and she never pulled any punches so to speak. When I think about it I can hear the memories and sounds like it was just the other day. To have these experiences so strong in my mind and heart tells me that she was perhaps the biggest influence on my modest endeavors.