The little sleepy village of Nango, located just southwest of Hachinohe, comes alive every July putting on the largest open-air jazz concert in Tohoku. This year on Saturday, July 30th, the villagers are celebrating the 22nd annual festival, bringing in some of the best world renowned jazz groups from all over Japan and America.
Small beginnings: It was all started back in 1989 by the
Nango mayor who was a great jazz fan! Inviting local
groups from Aomori prefecture to do an indoor show,
they realized from the response of the fans that they
needed to expand. From 1990 on, they started having the
shows outside and even built an outdoor amphitheater
to hold the festival with Mother Nature surrounding the
Now thousands of jazz aficionados every year drive and bus in to Nango from all over Aomori, Iwate, and Akita prefectures and beyond to dig on the sounds of jazz. From last year, the times have been moved up to be more jazz fan friendly. The hot show starts from mid-day and goes on while the sun sets and continues with the cool sounds into the evening under the twinkling stars.
Who's coming? This year's lineup should really appeal the all ages of jazz lovers. Starting at 13:20, the opening starts with Shinpei Ruike Special Big Band to kick things off. Hachinohe born Ruike has been called one of the top ten trumpet players now performing world wide! Teaming up with "spiritual guitarist” Sugizo, they will be backed up by the Nakazawa Middle School jazz band. These budding musicians rocked the Nango audience last year with their precision and class and were a pleasant surprise!
Next, the First Session: Elena Terakubo Quartet (sax, base, drums & piano) featuring Elena on sax. Elena (from Sapporo) started playing sax at 9 and at 13 she was the youngest Boston Berklee Award winner! She already has recorded her 2nd album with jazz bass virtuoso Ron Carter and has toured Europe & Africa as well! She will knock your socks off!
Now that you are warming up you should be ready for Session Two: Malika Hiraga (vocals, base, drums & piano.) Words fail me to describe this talented vocalist who brings romantic & expressive jazz to a new unprecedented level. Malika is the 1st to win the Carpenters “Sing Once More” AWARD sponsored by Swing Journal three consecutive years (2007-2009) and was the Jazz Vocal World 2010 Grand Prize winner. Her new album in tribute to Nat King Cole “Mona Lisa” was just released in February 2011!
Now you are cookin' hot and ready for the Third session: 5 Cats & Woong San. Composer and arranger Kim Hakuei on piano brings together a special blend of musicians (sax, alto sax, bass & drums) with gorgeous guest singer Korean Woong San’s enchanting voice to bring a rich taste of jazz that will leave you hungering for more!
You are gonna need a break after this just to cool down! Sorry, not a chance with the next group coming up!
The Fourth Session begins with: Fried Pride . This amazing jazz duo of super guitarist Akinorio Yokota and vocalist extraordinaire Shiho brings a special expressiveness & craftsmanship to jazz that is unparalleled. Their “Artist Grammy Award” winning 2004 album “That's My Way” brought international fame and attracted a lot of attention overseas including appearances at the Blue Note in NYC. Their free form jazz spontaneity will blow your mind!
The fifth session: Terumasa Hino Quartet! (trumpet, piano, bass & drums.) “Hinoteru” as he is affectionately known in all Japanese households, is a highly sought after TV personality, painter, commercial artist, teacher and is Japan's star jazz artist with his unique & artistic abilities! Be sure you get a copy of his latest album “Aftershock”!
If that wasn't enough variety of jazz to appeal to you, don't go away! The finale will blast you off into space with: MJQ: The Manhatten Jazz Quintet! With David Matthews (piano,) Walter White (trumpet,) Chris Hunter (sax,) Jon Burr (bass) and Jimmy Madison (drums) these top-notch New York musicians last came to Japan in 2009 to celebrate their 25th year in a 14 city tour! This group which is in high demand takes jazz from the simple to the spectacular, making you clamor “Encore” not wanting the evening to ever end!
Easy Directions: It takes less than one half an hour to get to Nango from Misawa Air Base. Go out the Falcon (POL) gate and start counting traffi c lights. Turn left at the 13th light to get on the Dai Ni (No.2) Michinoku Expressway. At the 1st toll booth, pay 250 yen and get an expressway ticket. Continue straight (you will go past the Shimoda Mall and then the Hachinohe Kita interchanges), the expressway will merge with the Hachinohe Expressway as if you were going toward Tokyo. Get off at the next exit (Nango interchange), pay the toll. Go to the stop sign and turn right. Go about 1 and a half kilometers and the venue will be on the right next to the Kakko-no-Mori rest stop. Traffic control will guide you to a parking area.
The concert takes place regardless of weather. So take sun block or a rain coat or both! Umbrellas should not be brought in unless you plan on sitting all the way in the back so you do not disturb the view of the people in front of you!
Buy your tickets in advance and save money: Tickets are 4,500 yen in advance (5,500 yen at the gate on the day of the festival) for adults. 2,500 yen for senior and junior high school students, age 13 to 18 (3,500 at the gate). There is free admission for elementary school students and younger kids (12 and under)! Advance tickets can be bought at Misawa ITT on base. Student tickets are limited so buy early. Gates opens at 12:30.
This year again, Misawa ITT with have a bus that will leave at 10:00 from the base library and take you to the festival and back. This bus will fill up fast so reserve your seats early. Call 226-3555 for more information.
Tips from a veteran: There are no bad seats but if you want seats close-up, go very early and get in line with a cooler, meet the people in front and back of you, offer them a soft drink or beer. Once they know you, you can walk around until before the gates open then get back in line...or take turns waiting in line or bring some lawn chairs (put them back in your vehicle just before the gates open). Small camp chairs are OK if used in the back, but lawn and reclining chairs can not be bought in. Bring a blanket, get your seats and again meet the new people around you, then you can get up again! There are a lot of stalls selling all kinds of delicious food and drinks. There are also grassy knolls behind the semi-circle of seats where you can lay a blanket down and watch the show!
Can you camp or Bar-B-Q?
There are very limited tent spaces available to camp just outside the gate of the festival site near the field and track area. You will have to go EARLY Saturday morning if you want to get one. The tent sites are free but you must sign in fi rst. Tents and tarps are not allowed in the festival site. Bar-B-Q-ing is only allowed around your tent if you are a signed in camper. You can not Bar-B-Q inside the festival site or make campfires anywhere.
Free warm-up concert
On Friday the 29th there will be a free jazz concert starting at 18:00 (door open at 17:30.) Get a head start on some great music, some jam sessions, and great food & drink as well!
This year should be the best Jazz Fest yet, get out and experience Aomori! See you there.
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