posted February 3, 2010

Research Project to Study Jazz in Japan

 A Hope College professor and his student research team have received support to study how the distinctly American art form of jazz has thrived in Japan for decades.

Dr. Robert Hodson, associate professor of music, has received a $26,000 ASIANetwork Freeman Student-Faculty Fellowship for his project "Jazz in Japan:  Music, Community, Culture."  The grant, which funds collaborative student-faculty research in Asia, will provide support as he and four students travel to Japan for three weeks in July to study the Tokyo jazz scene by attending performances and interviewing performers, club owners, students and listeners.

Japan's jazz tradition goes back to the 1920s, according to Hodson.  He noted that following its beginnings in New Orleans and spread to the rest of the U.S., jazz was introduced to Japan by American and Filipino jazz bands and quickly developed a fan base, even surviving the war years.

"Jazz was popular in Japan from the very start, and the early Japanese jazz scene was centered in Osaka and Kobe, eventually moving to Tokyo," Hodson said.  "During World War II, jazz was banned in Japan, but the popularity of this music made the ban unsuccessful."

"Following World War II, the American occupation forces provided a huge audience for jazz, leading to a surge in the numbers of Japanese jazz musicians," he said.  "Through the last half of the 20th century, jazz continued to develop in both the U.S. and in Japan, along sometimes parallel, sometimes divergent lines."

While in Tokyo, Hodson and the students will visit a variety of jazz clubs that feature live performances as well as "Jazzu Kissaten," coffee houses where jazz fans listen to famous and rare recordings on high-end stereo systems.  They will attend and participate in jam sessions that feature performers ranging from students to talented amateurs to professionals.  Along the way they'll also do some performing themselves, participating in jam sessions and performing concerts at schools and community centers.

The students who will be accompanying Hodson are senior Larry Figueroa of Holland; sophomore Zach Pedigo of Chippewa Falls, Wis.; junior Nate Roberts of Milton, Pa.; and sophomore David Webster of Troy.

After returning to the U.S., Hodson intends to work with the students in developing a Web site about jazz in Japan that will include audio and video recordings.  He and the students also plan to make presentations on campus and during external events including the ASIANetwork annual conference.

A member of the Hope faculty since 2002, Hodson serves as coordinator of the music theory and composition area in the department of music, and is also a member of the jazz studies area.  His research interests include jazz improvisation, improvisational process, metric and rhythmic complexity, and music theory pedagogy, and his scholarship includes the book "Interaction, Improvisation, and Interplay in Jazz" (Routledge, 2007).

ASIANetwork focuses on promoting Asian studies, and is a consortium of more than 170 North American colleges, including Hope.  ASIANetwork encourages the study of Asian languages, societies and cultures on member campuses, and offers resources and programs to experience the cultures firsthand.