Hara, 82, to hang up saxophone

by Yuki Takahashi

Kyodo News

Saxophonist Nobuo Hara is set to bring his 57-year career as a big-band leader to an end with his last tour of the country.

“Jazz is music that gives you an energetic feeling, but to play it means physical labor,” the 82-year-old Hara said. “There’s something that makes me think I can’t fight getting old.”

Hara gained a name for himself and his band, Nobuo Hara and His Sharps and Flats, over the years with concert tours and by accompanying popular Japanese and visiting foreign singers.

Hara said he started his career by joining a naval band when he was in his teens.

Jazz came rushing in with the Allied Occupation at the end of the war. Hara said it was “radical and new.”

“Military clubs were established all over Japan and whoever could play a musical instrument even just a little bit was sought after,” he said.

“While I made my rounds of the clubs, I found myself in a situation in which I had to get involved with a big band.

“Everybody in the nation was hungry, but those who worked for the Occupation forces were given sandwiches. It seemed to me that sandwiches lured me into jazz. Japan changed from militarism to democracy overnight. The term ‘collegial system’ was all the rage, and while everyone took turns serving as the leader, I eventually assumed the leader’s position.”

Looking back on the early days of the Occupation, Hara said there was racial discrimination among American military personnel, with whites and blacks favoring different styles of music — swing and bebop — at their clubs. Hara, a native of the city of Toyama, said his band played both types, adding, “it was good for us as we became able to learn a broad range of music.

Soon his band began to appear in theaters across the country with Chiemi Eri, one of the three young female singers popular at the time. The other two were Hibari Misora and Izumi Yukimura.

He said that while he was with Misora, he received an invitation to participate in the Newport jazz festival in the United States. For musicians around the world, appearing on stage there meant you’d hit the big time, he said.

“It was the best chance for me to go there, and I begged (Misora’s) mama to let me go,” Hara said. “She did not hesitate and allowed me to go.”