As with many musicians who come to Japan on a regular basis, it’s no surprise to learn that jazz pianist John Medeski, of Medeski Martin & Wood fame, has developed an interest in the country. But the American takes it beyond just having a favorite Shibuya record emporium or ramen shop.
“The last time I was there with MMW, we went down to Yakushima Island,” he says by phone from his home in Woodstock, New York. “We did the pilgrimage to [famous cedar tree] Jomon Sugi with our 10-year-old daughter. For me, it’s about being in a place, taking it in, and then doing something musical with it. It’s about feeling this energy beyond words, and then utilizing it. It’s about receiving and giving at the simplest level.”
Medeski’s affinity with Japan doesn’t end there. The classically trained musician is also a licensed practitioner of Hoshino Therapy, a form of acupressure developed in Japan in the 1940s, which came in handy when tendonitis was threatening to derail his career.
“The way I was taught to play wasn’t suited to what I was hearing in my head in terms of my own music,” he explains. “On a basic level, I had tendonitis in my forearms, but there was a bigger picture to it. Hoshino Therapy enabled me to recreate my playing in a way that suited what I was hearing… [It] was a giant shift that allowed me to find my own style.”
If Medeski hadn’t found success with his regular group, he might still be a massage therapist today. MMW were a struggling downtown New York trio when they were invited on tour by jam-band legends Phish, winning over a generation of neo-hippies with their shape-shifting improvisations. Since then, they’ve been consistently able to draw fans from both the jazz and jam-band communities. Here in Japan, they’ve been regular headliners at Tokyo’s Organic Groove events for more than a decade, and also make occasional stops to perform before posh sit-down audiences at the Blue Note.
For his upcoming tour, Medeski is stepping away from the trio to perform solo, as well as doing a mini tour of Kanto with Boston band Club d’Elf. “It will be a variety of things,” he says of his solo concert-hall show. “Some jazz standards, some originals, some improvisation—it’s just a lot more intimate. But the main thing is the three gigs with Club d’Elf, and I’m really excited about that.”
Before he heads to Japan, Medeski is packing for a flight to Finland and then Italy, prior to returning home for a quick tour of the Northeast. Then there’s the small matter of his trio’s upcoming birthday celebrations.
“We’re at one of the best places we’ve been,” he says about MMW. “It’s as good as I can remember: both as friends and as musical partners. But the other truth is that we have our 20th anniversary coming up, and we’re going to release 20 new tunes as digital downloads, do a couple of tours, and then in all honesty we’re going to slow down as a trio. We’re going to all take time to do more individual projects. It’s a big machine to slow down, but we’re going to try.”
Medeski notes that ever since he, drummer/percussionist Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood debuted with Notes from the Underground on January 1, 1992, the trio has always been larger than the sum of its parts.
“We came together as individuals that had a history, and the only way we’ve been able to stay together is by growing as individuals,” he says. “And by doing that we are able to continually offer something to each other. We wouldn’t keep doing it otherwise. We’re always surprised that it’s still going, and that when we get together we’re able to stay fresh.”
Pianist of Medeski, Martin and Wood in a solo performance. Dec 16, 7pm, ¥5,000 (adv)/¥5,500 (door). Yamaha Hall, Ginza. Tel: Contrarede 03-5773-5061.