The last time Shinichirou Watanabe and Yoko Kanno worked on a show together, it resulted in a little-known show you might have heard of: Cowboy Bebop. I’ll get straight to the point; they’re back. Doing a show together.
Until now, this blog of ours has focused mainly on views on the music of anime. While this has worked fine for us so far, we just figured that a show like this was too good to pass up the opportunity to get our feet wet on some episodic blogging.
Without further ado, I’d like to introduce Anime Instrumentality’s first ever episodic post series: Sakamichi no Apollon: Kids on the Slope.
Foremost, this series of posts aims to be a commentary on the music of this show. As a self-proclaimed jazz nut and a sax player with a some experience playing live gigs, I’ll try and provide meaningful insights on the inspirations and influences that are going on musically in the show. Whether it’s the soundtrack of the show itself or what the characters are playing or listening to, my goal is to connect the show to the real life jazz landscape. Everything from tidbits of jazz history to the theory that makes the music tick to the inner workings of a jazz band is up for grabs. While not my forte, I’ll try to opine on plot points and general animation aspects as well.
To give a taste for what these posts will be like, I’d like to go on to comment a bit on the 81-second preview released for the show.
The trailer begins with a sequence depicting a character (Sentaro, I believe) playing the drums. Let me begin by saying that the drummer is always the least liked member of a jazz band. Whenever you have a gig, the drummer will always be late and quite possibly drunk, high, or both. The music in the background, (implied to be what Sentaro is playing) is a rendition of a typical “free” jazz drum solo.
This picture alone is a signal of how accurate and true to life this show will be. Drummers: This is exactly the face everyone in the rest of the band makes when you start randomly playing really loud. I know it is a surprise to you, drummer, but nobody thinks you’re cool when you just cut loose without warning while people who play real instruments are warming up. Shocking, but true.
I’d like to take the opportunity to comment how awesome it is that Sentaro plays with a traditional grip. To those unfamiliar, traditional grip is where a drummer holds the right stick with an overhand grip while the left is held with an underhand grip, as depicted. This is the style of grip originally used by snare drummers in marching bands. This became the default technique for jazz drumming as early practitioners often came from a marching background. The style is often considered archaic today compared to the over-handed matched grip (exactly what it sounds like), but some of the greatest drummers to ever live (Buddy Rich one of them) were purveyors of traditional grip.
Watch and listen to 0:20-0:35 of the video one more time.
The music here hearkens to themes heard in a lot of gospel music. What it most strongly resembles, to my ear, is the opening of Miles Davis’ “So What.” Have a listen at the relevant section below. As corrected by random below in the comments, the song is in fact “Moanin’,” something I am ashamed I did not realize. Thanks, random.
The non-jazz rest of the video is backed by a super lame non-jazz song that is very decidedly not jazz. I suspect that it’s peek at either the OP or ED, which is a shame because I really wanted to hear jazz for both of them. Hopefully one of them will be an awesome jazz number.
That’s sort of what you can expect from these posts in the future. If you want a sarcastic, bitter jazz fan’s take on this show, you know where to find it.
Also, every week I’d like to leave a YouTube video here of a jazz song that’s either relevant to the episode’s content or just a jazz tune that must be heard before you die. Today, it’s the latter. This song is called “Time Check,” as played by Buddy Rich and his big band. Of note is everything Buddy Rich is doing and possibly the greatest sax soli ever written. Pay especially close attention to the end of tenor saxophonist Pat LaBarbera tenor solo that leads into the soli, where he attempts a supremely manly page turn while soloing with just one hand.
“Time Check” is actually very much related to Japanese anime. How, you ask? Well, “Time Check” was written by the great jazz musician Don Menza. His son, Nick Menza, was the drummer for the heavy metal band Megadeth, a band that once featured a man named Marty Friedman on guitar. Marty Friedman now resides in Japan. Japan is where anime comes from. Conspiracy!