Monday, November 23, 2009

Virtual Jam with Steve Gadd!

This morning I found a wonderful video of Steve Gadd's drum groove. The video was so inspiring that I couldn't resist adding a bass track. The recording process was fun and educating at the same time. Initially I had a hard time locking the groove because Steve's groove has such a deep pocket and my bass often sounded too ahead/rushing. After many takes, I finally managed to place the bass groove in the right place (I think). The idea of adding a video of myself came in later, so in the video I'm just pretending as if I'm playing the recorded line. If you see closer (and if you are a bass player), you can tell I'm cheating, from the wrong fingering. :-D

If you possibly like to dub your own sound to this, here is the uncompressed AIFF file of the track. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

About time to blog again?

Sometimes I don't know if I should express my thoughts in a blog or tweet, or even in English or Japanese. That's my excuse why I hadn't posted much here recently. Plus, these days I'd rather write my comments about my playing in English in the description section of YouTube, and typically feel I'm done there, without making another post to this blog.

That said, I still feel I should keep the habit of blogging here, so here I go...

These days I'm working on a composition for a friend who is running an online gaming (Mahjong) site in Japan. His requirements are very specific, and I'm enjoying working on them. The song must be an instrumental fusion tune in a tempo of 130BPM with a lot of groovy 16th notes in the bass line. This will hopefully be used as background music of the waiting lobby of his multiplayer Mahjong site, so there need to be the feelings of excitement, ambition, glory, honor etc in the tune. We will see how it goes...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Yokohama After Dark (Jazz Haiku #2)

This is the 2nd work of my Jazz Haiku project. Even this tune sounds pretty modern, this is still in the 12-bar blues format. As I want to keep the sound variety open in this project, I intentionally chose a different style from the 1st one.

Here I learned that I don't need to use a lot of notes in this type of composition. First I came up with the D-Eb-F-D motif in the 2nd bar and expanded the idea, but the number of notes at the beginning stage was about double of what you see above. As I continue to tweak around, I felt most of the notes are unnecessary so I dropped many of them. (BTW, the basic policy of this project is to avoid spending too much time on each piece, so the details in the backing instruments are left plain.)

Now starting to think about the next one...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blues In The Kitchen (Jazz Haiku #1)

I'm recently trying to work more on my original tunes, but often I feel I'm still weak in composition. So I thought I should compose a lot of 12-bar blues tunes to gain more experience in writing. Most of the tunes I usually write are actually in fusion or acid jazz styles and not in typical swingy jazz, but still 12-bar blues form is a great platform to learn composing melodies, motifs, chords etc.

I named this project Jazz Haiku, because a 12-bar blues is just like a haiku. Well, I actually have never written a haiku, but I guess it is. I hope I don't fail to continue this project - I'll try!

In the short term, my goal is to flush all the melodies that I can come up with instantly, so that I can dig deeper. So please don't mind if you hear lots of typical phrases and licks. Comments are most welcomed!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Concert on 4/19 with Daniel Raynaud and Jason Lewis!

I'll be playing in a mini concert with fantastic piano player Daniel Raynaud and marvelous drummer Jason Lewis. Stop by at the cozy Studio Pink House in beautiful downtown Saratoga to spend a nice Sunday evening with jazz!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Testing from iPhone

I've been really lazy on blog posts. I think I should start blogging
from iPhone.

This is a shot taken at Hedley Club jam this Wednesday. Marcus
Shebly's bass was so very cool!

Monday, February 9, 2009

All of You w/Lee Pardini + Yuichi Hirakawa

"All of You" written by Cole Porter
Lee Pardini (Keyboard)
Noriyuki "Ken" Okada (Bass)
Yuichi Hirakawa (Drums)
Recorded live on Feb 3, 2009 at Sumika, Los Altos, CA

So here's "All of You" from February 3 Sumika gig. This song was written by one of the greatest composers of all time, Cole Porter. As often seen in his compositions, this tune has a bright color with slight touch of shade, which I like very much.

After vamping in the intro, the theme (or "head") starts from 0:21. I used 2-beat feel with some rushing or delaying to make it sound interesting, with the intention to start walking in 4 beat sometime later. With Lee's cue, I start my bass solo from 1:00. I extended the 2-beat floating feel for my 2-chorus solo, finally starting to accelerate by running bass line to bridge to Lee's keyboard solo. Yuichi and I were perfectly in sync on the groove change. Even from 3:39 to 3:48, we nicely synchronized in "suspending" the groove and restarting. It was great that we pleasingly locked the groove while backing Lee's solo. A good swing feel like this will never make you bored! (Um, that's called "praising your own painting" in Japanese proverb...)

There were so many nice interplays like the motif of quarter notes from 3:56 to 4:01, or the motif using syncopation from 4:14 to 4:22. From 5:42 starts Yuichi's drums solo. It could sound like a free solo but it actually flows over the tune's chord changes in constant tempo. As I start to play the last section of the song from 6:42, Lee joins in to build up to get back to the theme (or "head out").

So we play the head out from 6:49. If you listen closely, you will notice the brief call-and-responses between Lee and me. After 7:24 is the ending (or "outro"). In general, whether or not you play the outro is decided on the fly depending on the momentum of the sound. This time we had pretty nice solos that made us feel like playing a little bit more, so we played some lingering outro with some floating feel. As Lee cues from 8:11 by playing the last phrase of the head, we end the tune.

My favorite moment of this recording is definitely Lee's keyboard solo with the swing groove generated by Yuichi and me. Just as they say, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Guest from New York

A while back, my billiards friend Naoki-san introduced me to his NYC-based friend Yuichi Hirakawa. Yuichi is a talented drummer who graduated from Berklee and have been playing in the city for over 14 years, often performing with the world-famous guitarist Masuo. He happened to be visiting the Bay Area this week so I asked him to play at Sumika on February the 3rd. We are musicians - I couldn't just ask him to stop by to see the show. You have to play together!

Then I wondered who else I should call for this show. Since it's a guest from NYC, I asked pianist Lee Pardini, a graduate from Manhattan School of Music, to have a flavor from the city. Together with the little fact that I was born in New York, we could call it an instant "New York Trio".

Matt Toshima was so kind as always to let me use his studio's drum kit. When I arrived at Sumika a bit early to set up the instruments, Yuichi was already there. "You must be Okada-san. Nice to meet you." He was a friendly and cool looking guy. As we set up the equipments, Lee showed up with his keyboard. Everything was getting ready. I had a mixed feeling of nervousness and excitement, and already knew that it was going to be a great night.

Starting the show from 7:30pm, we played 9 standard tunes such as "How High the Moon", "How Insensitive" and "All of You". It was such an enjoyable session that we felt it so short. Yuichi's steady groove was so easy to play with, and it often allowed me to comfortably take risks to expand ideas on bass lines and phrases. Although the drum kit was a very basic set of bass drum, snare drum, hi-hats and one cymbal, he kept generating sophisticated phrases. He was cool enough to say "I used to play heavily in subway stations. This kit is just like the one I used then. Perfect for me."

Lee on keyboard was on fire too, with his signature accuracy in time and mastery in various chords. With a soloist this good, all you have to do is to provide simpler bass lines that actually result in greater performance quality.

Lee and Yuichi even had common friends in the city, and there were many venues both of them knew. I recalled about when I was visiting there several years ago - a friend of mine took me to a bar in Greenwich Village featuring a band just like us: keyboard, bass and drums. It was such a wonderful night that I almost felt as if we were playing in a club in New York!

So I'm going to spend some entries to introduce some captured moments from this great gig. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sea Journey w/Daniel Raynaud + Jeff Hanson

"Sea Journey" written by Chick Corea
Daniel Raynaud (Keyboard)
Noriyuki "Ken" Okada (Bass)
Jeff Hanson (Drums)
Recorded on Jan 20, 2009 at Sumika, Los Altos, CA
[Jazz at Sumika vol. 70]

For some reason, this tune is called pretty often recently. Silicon Valley is quite a small area, so maybe the trend in song selection is quickly shared. I really like this tune, though I have never checked out the original recording by Chick Corea (I should). The bass pattern and the flow of the tune truly expresses a journey on a boat traveling through open sea. Very nice composition.

I actually missed one note in the intro (the 6th note), but hopefully you'll never notice it. The way Jeff rubbed the cymbal on the stick was very effective. I had never seen such use of cymbal! Very cool. The theme (or "head") starts from 0:30 and lasts until 1:50, followed by Daniel's solo. He improvises over chord of A minor, until he cues on 3:19 to go into chord changes of the head melody.

From 4:20, I play bass solo over A minor. I wanted to change the mood so I used motifs in 16th notes. After playing for a while, I was almost running out of idea, when Daniel suggested to go back to the head at 5:38. Thanks Daniel for saving my butt! 6:50 starts the ending (or "outro"). This type of tune is nice with some lingering sound, so we played the outro long.

When we think about Jazz, some swingy 4-beat groove is typically the first thing to come into mind, but modern jazz sound like this is very cool too. Jazz indeed covers so various types of sound, and that's why I'm into it. And I'd say the greatness of jazz music heavily depends on the fantastic compositions of jazz giants in the past. I so truly respect them.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Never mind, the bass is fine

So I brought my bass to the shop again to fix this rattling noise issue. However, when I tried to reproduce the noise problem at the shop, nothing happened. The bass sounded just great. "What's going on?"

Through some consultation, I was advised to check the following points in the future:

- If there is any dust between the strings and fingerboard
- If there is any dust inside the tuner pegs
- If end pin (the leg) is firmly fixed
- If the pickup mic is fixed without loose space
- If the cable end is tightened well

Well, I have to admit that I didn't actually thoroughly check all these points. Now I'm sure it was one of these possibilities (or something similar) that caused the noise issue. We agreed that I monitor the bass for a while, paying attention to the advised checkpoints. It was a good lesson to learn!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bass repair, part deux

So I picked up my bass at Stevens Violin Shop the other day. This time, the repair was about opening the bottom half of back board and re-gluing it. Thanks to their awesome job, this was a success. I was excited when I first test-played the instrument. It had such a "big" sound.

However, when I was playing in a vocal jazz class at De Anza College, the bass started to make the rattling noise again when I play the open D string. Until then, I was truly enjoying how happily this instrument "sings".

I checked the instrument with Roger Letson, the legendary jazz educator, during the break. It turned out that the noise was coming from a different spot than the one I fixed. Well, I guess I was just mistakenly presuming that the space at the bottom was the cause of the noise and hadn't taken another step to really examine the problem. Foolish me!

So the poor instrument will be on the way to be repaired again soon. But at this rate, the bass will sound even better after it's 100% fixed. I will rather look forward to it!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yardbird Suite (Drums Melody)

"Yardbird Suite" written by Charlie Parker
Kirk Tamura (Piano)
Noriyuki "Ken" Okada (Bass)
Jonathan Lazarus (Drums)

If you know the melody of Yardbird Suite, you should love this. It was Jon's idea to play the melody on the drums. It's so cool! It works! And I really like the way Kirk and I joined the groove at the 2nd chorus. You can see Jon and me smiling there. We kept the tune short, but it was one of the coolest moments at that night.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Satin Doll

"Satin Doll" written by Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Johnny Mercer
Yoshiko Oda (Vocal)
Matt Toshima (Guitar)
Noriyuki "Ken" Okada (Bass)
Recorded on January 13, 2009 at Sumika, Los Altos, CA

It's so easy to play with Yoshiko and Matt. They have been playing as duo for a long time, so all I need to do is to provide some swingy groove on the bottom and that's it! It becomes one nice package of quality jazz, as you can see here in the video. There is no wonder that their tour to Japan last year with Hristo Vitchev (g), Andrew Currier (b) and Joe De Rose (d) was a big success.

The two are also great contributors to the growth of local jazz community. Studio Pink House, their studio in beautiful downtown Saratoga, hosts monthly concerts and jazz clinics with top-class guest artists. Also they sponsor the Sunday jazz jam at Blue Rock Shoot Cafe in Saratoga. It's because of their network that I can play with so many talented musicians in the area recently. Thank you Yocco-san and Toshima-san!

This song Satin Doll is a very popular Duke Ellington tune. I used to play it very often when I was in college in Tokyo, and it's a frequently-called tune at jam sessions. We played this tune in a classical yet easy fashion: 2 beat groove in the 'A' section and 4 beat swing in the 'B' section of its AABA form. Head melody followed by vocal scat, guitar solo, then bass solo, and finally the head out. On the bass solo, I tried to use triplet-like bouncy feel to express some happy feeling. Overall, it's nothing tricky, but sometimes that is the best!

Yoshiko Oda Website:
Studio Pink House Website:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bass repair

It's been over 6 years since I came to this country from Japan, but I have never brought my upright bass to maintenance. I got this bass new about 15 years ago from a German maker, and the glue was intentionally done loosely so that the wood boards are not forced to certain shape. Due to this, the maker had told me to bring it to maintenance frequently.

I am such a lazy person to do this. Though I managed to bring it to bass shop relatively often in Tokyo, after moving to Silicon Valley, the poor bass was never brought to maintenance, even though I knew the glue on the bottom part of back board was slightly coming off. The only bass shop I could find on the web was 40 minutes away from home by car, so I was hesitant to use it. (Well, the bass shops I used to use in Tokyo were like 90 minutes away from home... I guess I got even lazier.)

Last weekend I was playing at Peet's Coffee with Kirk Tamura, Marty Honda and Jaro Olejar, when the bass started to make rattling noise. I scanned the bass with Marty's help and found that the space between the boards at the bottom was the cause. "Well, I guess I have to drive 40 minutes and bring it to that bass shop..." But then Jaro told me that he knows a violin shop in Willow Glen. It's just 15 minutes from home. That's great!

So I inquired, set up an appointment and finally brought my bass to Stevens Violin Shop. After some consulting, we decided to open the bottom part of back board to re-glue the boards, and also level the fingerboard, which I had never done in the past 15 years.

The repair will hopefully give the instrument clearer shape in sound and volume increase. I can't wait to see (hear) it! Thanks Jaro, for the introduction!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

There Is No Greater Love w/ Frank Sumares + David Aguiar

There Is No Greater Love (written by Marty Symes and Isham Jones)
Frank Sumares (Piano)
Noriyuki Okada (Bass)
David Aguiar (Drums)
Recorded on Jan 14, 2009 at Hedley Club, San Jose, CA

I had an honor to play with Frank Sumares at the weekly jazz jam at Hedley Club when he appeared as a special guest this week. This tune was the opener of the mini concert set at the beginning of jam. Though this moment was the very first time I played with Frank, immediately our sound came together into one strong groove, thanks to Frank's powerful and brilliant piano sound and David's swingy yet colorful drum beat.

I was a little nervous because I arrived at the venue later than I planned to and didn't have enough time to read through the charts after setting up all the recording and videotaping equipments. To be honest, I even forgot to tune my bass!

Despite the fact, my concern was blown away by the first chord we played. We were totally in the groove! You can still see some glitches in my playing but that's part of the deal. I was a bit "choking" at the 1st chorus of my bass solo for example but Frank encouraged me to keep going, where I managed to keep up the momentum. This may not be my best solo but still I really like how the tune sounded in total. My only regret may be that I couldn't follow Frank's reharmonization promptly, but I would save it until next time!

The recording came out beautifully thanks to the great microphones I borrowed from Matt Toshima of Studio Pinkhouse ( Thank you, Toshima-san!

Frank's profile:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cantaloupe Island w/Lee Pardini and Kevin Higuchi

Cantaloupe Island (written by Herbie Hancock)
Lee Pardini (Keyboard)
Noriyuki Okada (Bass)
Kevin Higuchi (Drums)
Recorded on December 23, 2009 at Sumika, Los Altos, CA
[Jazz at Sumika vol. 66]

I really like this recording of Cantaloupe Island. Usually this is played in funk style, sometimes even energetic and flashy. But this time we played in "quiet yet hot" groove (though there was no specific direction - it was purely organic).

After the head, Lee gives a sign to Kevin at 1:35 to take a solo. Kevin smiles back and play a very sensitive solo for 2 choruses. I love the flow of this drums solo. Perfectly controlled. Very sophisticated. During the drums solo, Lee and I kept the basic groove at constant energy level to feature the drums.

From 2:38, Lee takes over the solo with a flavor of US3's "Cantaloop". Lee takes it slow and gradually build the energy of sound using several choruses. It's amazing to see the whole story carefully designed like this - on the fly. The tension enters the hot zone from 4:10, and gets even hotter around 4:40 which is my favorite moment in this recording. So groovy. I'm very happy we created that moment!

Lee's MySpace:

Kevin's MySpace:

Monday, January 12, 2009

There Will Never Be Another You w/Masako Okada and Alter Ego

There Will Never Be Another You (written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon)
Masako Okada (Vocal)
Marty Honda (Violin)
Jaro Olejar (Tenor Sax)
Joe Roark (Keyboard)
Noriyuki Okada (Bass)
Michael Medwid (Drums)
Recorded on January 10, 2009 at Dana St. Cafe, Mtn View, CA

It had been quite some time since my wife and I played together last time, but Marty was very kind to allow her to sit in at the gig at Dana Street Cafe last Saturday. Although we had only so limited time to rehearse, the performance came out to be great.

I really like the way we started: Masako starts singing in complete solo, followed by my walking bass. Then the whole band joins from the 2nd half of the theme melody (or the "head"). Very smooth. We didn't even rehearse this part!

I also like the 4 bars exchange between vocal and drums in the last few choruses. Even better, she pushes it into 2 bars exchange. This was the first time I have ever seen her do 2 bars exchange since she started to sing jazz. Very creative.

Overall, this night was a lot of fun, thanks to the great supportive audience. It's so true: it's the audience that create good music!

Alter Ego's MySpace:

Marty's MySpace:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Don't Explain w/Daniel Raynaud and Jeff Hanson

Don't Explain (written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.)
Daniel Raynaud (Keyboard)
Noriyuki "Ken" Okada (Bass)
Jeff Hanson (Drums)
Recorded on Tuesday 12/30/2008 at Sumika, Los Altos, CA
[Jazz at Sumika vol. 67]

It was my second time to play with Daniel and Jeff as trio, though I had played with each of them a lot respectively. I already knew that 3 of us would be able to create a nice jazz sound, which is now proven to be true!

After playing several straight-ahead jazz tunes that night, we wanted to change the mood, and that's when Daniel called this tune. This is usually played as a ballad, but he proposed to play in a faster Latin feel, which turned out to be great. Especially I love how we implemented the chorus from 5:28.

Actually I was almost running out of ideas on my bass part when we were entering that chorus but still wanted to enhance the tension of music because the sound was getting even dramatic. So I expanded the idea to use 16th-note groove that had been indicated from Daniel and Jeff in the previous chorus. That was a success. It brought the most dramatic moment of this performance. 6:28 where Jeff brought the beat into half time feel was another big moment. Moments like these make me feel "man, I'm playing jazz!"

Daniel's website:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Speak No Evil w/Lee Pardini and Kevin Higuchi

Speak No Evil (composed by Wayne Shorter)
Lee Pardini (Keyboard)
Noriyuki "Ken" Okada (Bass)
Kevin Higuchi (Drums)
Recorded on Tuesday 12/23/2008 at Sumika, Los Altos, CA
[Jazz at Sumika vol. 66]

This was the third time in December I played with Lee and Kevin as trio. There was already a "connection" among us from the previous 2 gigs in the same month, which made the great musical atmosphere of this performance, even though this tune was an opener of the gig. This is definitely one of my favorite recordings.

Because this was my first time to shoot a video and record the sound by my new multi-track recorder Korg D888, I asked Lee to call all the tunes so that I could concentrate on video/audio operations. So he picks Speak No Evil by Wayne Shorter as our first tune and suggests to play in modern straight-8th groove, instead of swing feel which is normally used for this tune. That turns out to work perfectly. The thought "Speak No Evil, not in swing but in straight 8th... as a gig opener!" gave me a very good tension, thus a great jazz conversation with the other talented musicians.

Lee's MySpace:

Kevin's MySpace:

Friday, January 9, 2009

So it begins

It's been more than 6 years since I moved to California from Tokyo. Until recently I wasn't able to do much music activity, but finally I'm getting back to it like I did in Tokyo, or even more actively.

There are so many talented musicians in the Bay Area, and I feel so lucky that I can play music with them. It's true, however, that this is not New York or Tokyo and there are not so many music venues (especially jazz) in this area.

"Why don't I use Internet as my venue then?"

Yes, I'm in Silicon Valley, the capital of Internet. Everything I need to publish music to Internet is ready here. Adobe, Apple, YouTube,, Google, Facebook, ... so it perfectly makes sense to experiment "jazz music in the Internet era" in this place.

I happened to own an old HD video camera from my old work, so all I had to do is to get a multi-track recorder to add good audio to it. I didn't want to use the built-in microphone on video camera because it catches too much noise. Korg D888 was my choice. It can record 8 tracks at a time, and it's so compact and mobile. Very cool.

My primary goal here at is to introduce the talented musicians in the Bay Area to the world, mainly through the weekly jazz live I run at Sumika, a restaurant in Los Altos. I hope you'll like it. Please sit back, relax and enjoy!