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Taeko Fukao

Taeko Fukao, a name widely known now, but in the very near future, artiste Taeko the talent, will be synonymous with harmonic ingenuity and inventive musicality. Taeko has unearthed emotional jazz both in performance and concept. Talents are hidden beneath this Japanese born musical philosopher with a range that is refreshingly crisp. Taeko also has a gift of putting fear aside and acting on logic and direction. Asked if she found scatting difficult as many do, Taeko just expressed it as "natural" for her not frightening or hard, just what was right for that tune and time!

Taeko’s voice is a gentle breeze with hurricane potential, reacting on the mood of the moment. A vocal capability that could make a lullaby weep, a ballad swoon, and a jazz standard swing with white, rapid fervor in every direction, Taeko has the potential to be a rubber-stamped classic as she strives for growth and distinction.

A determined jazz vocalist, Taeko has embraced the most intense educators to guide her in her voyage. Juanita Fleming, who shared stage space with Thad Jones and the Mel Lewis Band (who offers her insight at the end of the interview) is just one of many artists who see Taeko as what the social order of jazz will soon grasp hold of. The voice of Taeko is one of clarity, multiplicity, vibe and synchronization, adorning a multitude of personalities. What a wonderful gift that has crossed the aquatic separations of Mother Earth to offer her gifts of musical appeal.

Taeko draws intensity in her audio tactics. Looking for the best of every aspect in a cut she has a perfectionist personality without the seasoned arrogance. Taeko is angelic by nature, but savvy in execution. Case in point is the compassionate and angelic performance in "Hoshi-no Love Letter." Poet Lord Byron would be proud of a love expressed in such form!

So this young and vibrant jazz vocalist from Kyoto, Japan takes the jazz world in a new direction seen from the eyes and mind of another culture known for its spirituality, philosophies, warmth and commitment. Taeko’s debut piece "One Love" has solid jazz credits along with being technically secure in its jewel box an exquisite piece of sound!

All that needs to be said will be addressed by Taeko very soon, for the idiosyncrasies of her personality and craft will meet, and then the nucleus of one angel from Kyoto will enter your life in song. A wonderful blooming flower sure to root in your heart as we now go between sets with Taeko as she blurs the difference in cultures with song!

JazzReview: Taeko, take us to your life in Kyoto, Japan, looking at it not only as a musical, but also its philosophical influence.

Taeko: Kyoto is a deep and compact city where everything from the ancient tradition to the modern culture, from big tourism to quiet life, and from business to loose leisure exists all together naturally. I was able to experience many different sides of life there. No matter what it is, they take pride in what they do. Looking back now, I feel that it was a great training ground for me as a musician and a person.

One beautiful thing about Kyoto is that its business scene always has room in its budget to support art. It is a great culture.

JazzReview: What is the dream of Taeko?

Taeko: To contribute to make Japan a better place for ladies with skills and visions, and to have my 70-year old birthday jazz party with all my friends and families across the planet.

JazzReview: To strive towards the dream, you looked for the tutelage of jazz and gospel singer, Juanita Fleming. How did your gift bond with the direction of Ms. Fleming? What was the most dynamic piece of advice you got during your education?

Taeko: Juanita is a wonderful coach and a very warm person. She helped me to have easy access to all the range I have and to clear my accents on English. I still have to work on it, but I am definitely a different singer than when I met Juanita.

Juanita always emphasizes the most important thing as a singer; to tell the story. Being a jazz singer, sometimes the focus is too much on melody and harmony, but Juanita reminds me that the audience wants the story.

One more great advice Juanita gave me is that "singing is colorization." It is like painting a banana; you may paint it all yellow when you are a kid, but as you become an experienced adult, you start to color it with green here, brown there, and many other ways. It made me understand how to approach the art of singing.

JazzReview: It has been quoted that you are "the best of your generation." Tell us why those around you feel that way? What makes the audiences draw to your sound and performances?

Taeko: (Probably it is quoted as "one of the best"). My generation has so many talented singers with solid knowledge and skills, so I am flattered that some people feel that way. I think what they mean is that when they hear me, they hear something unique, not something they heard before, but something original.

JazzReview: I have spun this project, One Love, numerous times and there is a sound I just can’t identify. Describe the sounds and methods of Taeko for us, as well as your process of preparing an arrangement for recording.

Taeko: If the sound cannot be identified, I think it is a good thing, because that’s what all jazz musicians strive for. In terms of arrangement, I was blessed to have great musical support from Doug Richardson on this project. Doug and I have been working together for almost ten years and we have organized many arrangements together. Doug also provided me with one of his beautiful original tunes called "Would You Believe?"

JazzReview: You have an outstanding way of articulating and performing the music. You also take the "American Feel" of the classics and make them your own. What’s the secret behind this rare gift?

Taeko: Thank you so much for your comments. American songs are very emotional and expressive most of the time. However, real emotion is something to be hidden or implied in Japanese culture. The energy to break my nature and release my emotions in music is the fuel of my singing.

I think articulation came from the fact that I needed to work extra hard to break my habit that comes from speaking Japanese. The Japanese language has many nasal, unclear sounds and less movement of lips and cheeks than English. My facial muscle definitely have changed as I worked on it.

JazzReview: You enjoy the rarest of arts in jazz, scatting. So many others attempt, with failure, however you push the fears of the craft and embrace it. Was the technique of "scatting" a difficult art to accomplish or develop?

Taeko: I actually never looked at scatting as something difficult or easy. I always have to work at it, but being around jazz musicians, it has been a natural thing for me.

JazzReview: Three sessions and a number of musicians later your debut One Love hits the shelves in March. What emotions are you entertaining and if any, expectations are you hoping for?

Taeko: I was very afraid of how this CD would be viewed until Lamon Fenner, a wonderful jazz DJ in Harlem, NY, gave me very nice comments. That gave me encouragement to present this CD to the public. Now I hope that One Love will be heard by people all over the world.

JazzReview: The love ballad "Hoshi-no Love Letter" makes one feel for all the loves that filtered down within our lives. The music was stunning and the voiced cried out for acceptance from the heart. Talk about this music and how you approached the performance.

Taeko: This is a Japanese pop/rock song that was very popular during my junior high school years. I kept hearing it as a slow ballad in my mind and finally, an arrangement idea came to me around 2005. Once the arrangement was done, performing the tune was a natural process because I just needed to be myself. I knew this would be on my next CD. At the recording session, we only did one take on this song, and Gaku played a beautiful solo. I think he was the perfect soloist for this song.

JazzReview: Most have commented on the cut "Dindi" and how good it is, so let’s back off of the stereotypical questions and enter that guarded zone of Taeko’s thoughts. What does this piece say to you? What told you to perform it the way you did? Did it meet your expectations and when you hear it, what does it make you feel?

Taeko: I find the English lyrics very poetic and beautiful. The ending line "I’d be running and searching for you like a river that can’t find the sea," grabs me strong whenever I sing it, because my brother’s death in 1995 heavily taught me how it feels to be lost and searching for love. My brother did not have a chance to see me as a professional singer so I hope this song reaches him in paradise.

JazzReview: The vibrant Taeko gets introduced out of the gate with "It Could Happen to You," which has that very cool "Scat" appeal. Talk about the arrangement and multi-directional personality of this spin.

Taeko: This is a fun tune with Doug’s Betty Carter-influenced twist at the end of each chorus. Doug is a great example of someone who tries to challenge his musicians. Jazz is something fun and exciting, and that’s what "It Could Happen to You" is to me.

JazzReview: Introduce us to your musicians and the impact and direction they had on the project.

Taeko: Everybody loves Harry Whitaker and so do I. He is a great accompanist for singers. Harry played a beautiful solo on "Dindi" and "People Make the World Go Round."

Gaku Takanashi is a well-rounded, versatile acoustic and electric bass player and a fun person to be around.

Misha Tsiganov is one of the most exciting pianists today and a very sweet person.

Dwayne Burno is an excellent musician who flat-out swings with the big fat bass sound.

Doug Richardson is not only a great drummer, but is full of unique musical ideas. He is a co-producer of the album and helped me to establish visions on this entire production.

JazzReview: The music industry has many barriers to offer the climbing talent, and being a youthful, dynamic female offers numerous issues. Talk about those issues thus far you may have met and how were they handled.

Taeko: Being a female did not seem to be as much of a problem as being an Asian girl; it seemed to be because there are some people who always target Asian girls. I had to learn to use my judgment to see where the real intensions were, whether they really meant to help my career or something else.

JazzReview: I notice the absence of originals adorning this spin. Does the future have some Taeko originals to unveil?

Taeko: Definitely, yes. I have been trying not to force myself to write, but wait until I feel I spiritually need to write. It is about time.

JazzReview: Next CD will be out when?

Taeko: When I have enough musical ideas to present something to extend One Love, hopefully, within the next 2-3 years.

JazzReview: What if any, is the concept for the next project?

Taeko: Something that brings my background to the table of jazz.

JazzReview: Okay, let’s get off the music mayhem and have fun. I know you enjoy cooking so offer us your favorite Japanese recipes with the cool sounds of Taeko as the backdrop? Okay, so I had to have some music on this!!!

Taeko: Miso paste is a great thing. It is not only used to make Miso soup, but it is great as a seasoning for many dishes.

I can give you one of my favorite easy recipes: First, make a salty, sweet, flavorful source of Miso paste, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, a little chili pepper and white pepper. Once you stir-fry ground meat, bean curd, and scallions very well, you add the sauce to the pan to finish up. Then you put them over cooked white rice. [It&&&s] full of protein, a delicious, power food. Don’t ask me the measurement because neither my mom nor I measure ingredients with cups or spoons; we just feel the food out.

JazzReview: Now to get to know one, you need to have fun, so let’s do! Answer if you will these probing questions and be blatantly honest

1. What is Taeko’s one vice?

Chocolates! I am very bad.

2. Favorite romantic instrument?

Voice.

3. What makes you laugh?

My funny girlfriends.

4. Your favorite non-jazz album?

Donny Hathaway/Live

5. If you needed to get away, where do you go?

A quick getaway to Central Park. That’s all I need.

6. Favorite Japanese food and American Food?

Japanese Food - Nabe (A big family style hot soup pot with fish, chicken, and a lot of vegetables)

American food- Apple pie

Taeko’s Final Thought:

I recently learned not to worry about uncertain things, but just relax and live with uncertainty. In this era of information and technology, we still cannot control everything such as our future. Through the art of music, I hope to share with people an ease of mind, a joy to feel the current moment, and power to get up tomorrow.

After Sets with Juanita Fleming

JazzReview: Juanita, as a singer with icon Thad Jones, you have much to teach. Talk to us about your student and friend Taeko, not only as a student, but vocalist and individual.

Juanita Fleming: You want to know what I think and feel about Taeko as a student, singer and person? Well, let me first say that as a teacher, it is a real pleasure to have Taeko as a student because she listens, practices and executes whatever is given to her and more. She is not a quitter, not to mention the fact that Taeko has been blessed with a wonderful vocal range, excellent ears, an understanding of jazz rhythms that many singers don&&&t have, and Ms. Fukao treats the lyrics with care and understanding. She has a strong desire to accomplish her dream of becoming the best internationally known Japanese female jazz artist.

Taeko&&&s personality is well suited for this business because she can take the harshest music criticism and make it work for her. Her spirit and love for jazz should be quite apparent to anyone who listens to her sing. Potentially speaking, I&&&d say that she’s only just begun. Like a fine wine that mellows with time, that&&&s how I see Taeko Fukao.

As delightful as Taeko sings on her first CD, One Love, I&&&d say, "Stay tuned everyone because the best is yet to come." Taeko Fukao is someone to keep your eyes and ears on.

Karl Stober is a freelance critic and journalist internationally who is still looking for the meaning of life through music. If you wish to contact him for a project or interview please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Taeko Fukao
  • Interview Date: 3/1/2008
  • Subtitle: Between Sets with Taeko... Blurring the Lines Between Cultures
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