(Takuya Kuroda pictured with José James)
What drew you to the trumpet?
That’s actually a funny story. I have an older brother, five years older. He used to play trombone and like an older brother and younger brother we were always fighting. I ended up going to the same school as him but I had decided in my mind that I wasn’t going to do what my brother did so I wanted to do sports like soccer or basketball. Then one day in the school, I was going to the basketball gym to join the practice. You had to go through the band practice room to get the basketball gym and my brother’s friends, they knew me, just grabbed me by the neck and forced me to go to the band practice and handed me a trumpet and made me play it. I didn’t mind. I kind of enjoyed it when I tried the trumpet first, so that’s how I picked up the trumpet.
What took you to America?
Before I officially moved to New York and I joined a five-week program at Berklee College of music in Boston. I think I was 20 and most of the people who were participating were high school kids, like 15 or 16 from all over the US. That was my first official education that I had as a musician. When I was at school (in Japan) there wasn’t a music teacher; there was a senior student, teaching younger freshman and so I was just teaching myself most of the stuff, like transcribing Clifford Brown. Finally (at Berklee) I sat down in a class where they taught theory and ear training and I thought wow, okay, so this is what is going on. We’d take this one-line of what Clifford Brown was playing and this teacher would analyse what he did and it really opened a door and I got into studying more.
When did you move to New York?
I went there after the five-week program ended and sat in a jam session every night for one month. I met these young, crazy, good musicians and I remember I had to hide my trumpet once. There’s a place called Cleopatra’s Needle and I went there and sat at a table and listened to a jam session. They were okay and I thought to myself, okay, that’s not high level and I was going to join in on the next song. But before the song had ended these five guys just came in from the outside straight to the stage. They had a big attitude and were elegant, and I saw them and thought wow. They just took over the stage and started playing songs and it blew my mind. I didn’t know what they were doing. As a musician your ear can kind of follow what someone is doing but I couldn’t really follow what they were doing and I was becoming scared. I started thinking what if they come and ask me to join them on stage and play together with them? So I hid my trumpet behind my chair – also I didn’t speak English well at that time so that scared me as well. Eventually I went to them and asked their names. I didn’t know that they weren’t famous guys but were just young students from New York. The piano player was Robert Glasper…and the saxophonist was Logan Richardson. I forget the rest but everybody went on to become famous guys. So at that time I had to come to New York and take a chance. No other place makes me feel like this. So that’s what I decided right there.
How was it living in New York when you first arrived there?
The first time I didn’t have the English together and it seemed a disaster: I got homesick and couldn’t make friends as much as I wanted. I was really quiet and people thought that I was a shy guy but little by little it got better and better and by that time I was graduating from the New School. I knew everybody at school and was hanging out with people and started gigging a little bit. I thought okay, it’s going to be a bright future but then when you finally graduate from the school, you realise that you don’t have that many gigs to make a living (laughs). So you become a freshman again and I started taking any gig. But that really helped me and opened up my musical inspiration. I went to the Bronx and played at a gospel church for one year and played in a hip-hop band, then in the horn section in Akoya Afrobeat and I also played in a salsa band, and of course played jazz too. Just playing with those musicians from different genres inspired me more than anything.
Are you thinking about your next album yet?
I’m thinking about it, yes. I don’t know the details but I want to make something really funky and groovy. Something similar (to my first album) but punchier. I hear a lot of organ on the next album. I want to collaborate with a singer too.
TAKUYA KURODA’S ‘RISING SON’ IS OUT NOW ON BLUE NOTE
Read SJF’s verdict on the album here: http://soulandjazzandfunk.com/reviews/2837-takuya-kuroda-rising-son-blue-note.html