Title: Sound traveler
A drummer, percussionist and arranger, Satoshi Takeishi is one of those artists whose musical expansion is only comparable to the geographic one. In this interview, he speaks about the track he took from Mito, Japan, to New York, USA, where he lives since 1991, moving between jazz, Latin music and the sound sculptures of the Vortex project, where he and his wife Shoko Nagai explore free improvisation and real-time audio processing. Proto-memories of a sound traveler.
Before the past, the present. In what have you been working at?
I am currently working with a great Tunisian Oud player and singer, Dhafer Youssef. And also with Michael Attias’s projects, Renku and Twines of Colesion. I am constantly working with my wife, Shoko Nagai, on our electro-acoustic project Vortex.
Let’s go back in time, then. When did you started to get interested in percussions and, more concretely, in drums?
Actually, I started with a drum set and then gradually picked up percussion instruments. When I was in Berklee, a Brazilian drummer showed me how to play Samba with a stick and a hand on a single tom. That showed me how a single drum can express as much or even more of what a whole drum set can do. I am always interested in how to widen the scope of a simple element, whether it is a percussion instrument, a part of a drum set or a musical idea.
An interesting part of your musical formation was the four years you lived in Colombia. What was the importance of that experience, and in which way did it influenced your future work?
I can safely say that the time I spent in Colombia is the single most important event of my life, both musically and emotionally. Myth, wonder, magic, mountains and rivers, dusty village street, humbleness and innocence, drama and comedy, humanity and tragedy and all colors and smells from flowers to food to people. These are the core of my sound. And all these things stays with me and they keep me alive in their myth.
Who were the most significant figures to you, from the learning point of view?
I never really had an idol figure. I am always and forever grateful to my teacher, Jimmy Southerland (who is no longer with us), who told me to play drums “with my ass screwed to a drum stool”. Hope you are proud of me, Jimmy…
After that, was the fact of studying and performing with Joe Zeytoonian the opening of a new conceptual “window”?
Yes, it was. And I have to give you a little background to the story. This was in Miami in the late 1980s. If you can imagine how frustrated I was, trying to explore more experimental side of music. Joe was the only person I could share this idea. The idea of playing music in an unconventional way. He is a master of Arabic, Turkish and Armenian music, and a great improviser. So we just did a lot of duo or trio, playing with his partner Miriam, who is also a great percussionist and a dancer.
At which point did your musical track led to jazz?
Pop, rock, funk, fusion, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, jazz, free improv, Colombian, Arabic, Turkish, African, Eastern European, electronics, etc… That is more or less the order I came to learn different styles of music. Jazz is only one part of my learning process.
Was the fact of you living in the USA meaningful, at that level?
Big time. Especially in New York, where every type of great talent gathers. And this makes it easy to experiment with all types of art forms. Of course, it is sometimes hard not to get lost, but as long as you know what you want, you’ll find it. I do a lot of projects which will be impossible to do in other places.
Being in America, was it easy to maintain the connection with the world of Latin music?
Miami is a city with a huge Latin community, so as New York City. You can work only with Latin music if you like.
On the other hand, and taking in account the multicultural perspective of your work, do you still close to your Japanese roots?
I would say that my Japanese roots/influence is in my sound, whether I like it or not. What’s interesting about this is that I have about five years of experience playing music in Japan and about 25 years abroad. Yet, I still carry certain feeling about Japanese roots within me.
Throughout the years, you’ve collaborated with several and varied names of the jazz scene (Ray Barretto, Anthony Braxton, Erik Friedlander and Michael Attias are only four names in a vast list). Is it possible for you to name the most important or meaningful experiences you had, regarding personal enrichment and musical evolution?
In my case, all those moments of “musical enlightenment” happened in a very casual moment. Like in a brass band practice room in my junior high school or a small bar in Bogota, or a club in Miami, etc… I was playing in all those moment and then, all of a sudden, “music really made sense”. Having said that, I know that every musician I have played with blessed me with “meaningful experiences”.
Another aspect of your work is improvisation. Is it a consequence of your personal approach to music, or just a will to experiment?
To me, improvisation is a test of strength. Performing without premeditation can reveal a lot of inner self sometimes, and it could be disappointing. But it will give me strength to deal with music in any situation.
How do you apply that concept to jazz playing?
It helps me to be free inside a structured form.
The subject of improvisation leads us to Vortex, where you explore audio processing through computerized systems. When have you first started using electronics?
About seven years ago.
Do you find any relation between its use and the perspective of have on percussions?
Both (electronics and percussion) are tools to make music for me. My approach is the same, whether it is electronics or percussion or a drum set.
What kind of balance have you acquired, meanwhile, between the acoustic and electronic dimensions, in terms of sound and composition?
I like electronics to be the extension of acoustic sound. That is why I usually don’t use any sound material other than what’s on a stage, when I am performing. Live sampling, then processing. I still have a lot of things to work it out, but I see a great possibility in trying to combine improvisation, electronics and acoustic elements.