Being an ambassador has its perks. Sure there’s a ton of diplomacy to weave through, but the work must be worth it if you get to hold concerts at your house.
Last Friday, Swiss Ambassador Urs Bucher invited a small group over to see an intimate show by singer-songwriter Bastian Baker. The 23-year-old tried out some Japanese during his performance (arigato [thank-you] and the odd kawaii [cute]) and the audience responded with clapping and some shouts of approval.
The show came ahead of Baker’s Japan tour, which took in Osaka and Nagoya before hitting Kansai later this week. The multi-instrumentalist played songs from his two solo albums, including “I’d Sing For You,” “Lucky” and “Follow the Wind,” before trying out some new material and wading into a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
The ambassador’s private show, Baker’s current tour and some dates back in February come as part of a celebration of 150 years of relations between Switzerland and Japan.
During his first trip to Japan earlier this year, Baker says he “immediately fell in love with the country” but admits he didn’t receive a very warm welcome.
“There was a big snow storm (the day of his performance), but we had a crowd of people and it was 0 degrees Celsius,” Baker says. “We played outside and I thought my hands were going to fall off.”
The musician played at Tokyo’s Blue Note venue a few days afterward and says that’s when he realized he liked the country.
“I had a revelation,” he says. “It was like, ‘Oh man, they like the music, I have to come back.’ “
In September, Baker returned to Japan to release and promote his sophomore solo album, “Too Old to Die Young,” which is in the vein of singer-songwriters such as Jason Mraz and Justin Nozuka.
Baker and his backing band aren’t just fond of folk and rock, though. The singer says he is full of surprises when he hits a karaoke bar. One of his best memories was a late-night duet with a local.
“We found a little alternative karaoke bar and I ended up singing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion with a Japanese dude down on our knees,” he recalls. “That is one of my best memories.”
Baker will participate in a special preview performance on Friday ahead of this year’s Montreaux Jazz Festival in Kawasaki. While Baker is not, strictly speaking, a jazz musician, the festival’s secretary general, Yoichi Maezawa, believes jazz takes inspiration from many places.
“I think that jazz festivals, which involve many artists, can include various genres of music like rock and pop,” the organizer says.
The festival officially runs from Nov. 22 to Nov. 30 and the lineup includes the Bob Mintzer Big Band, Natalie Cole, Saori Yuki and Hiroko Kokubu with Fried Pride.
Considering the amount of enthusiasm Baker relates his karaoke tale with, let’s hope he can schedule in a few more late-night duets before he leaves.
Bastian Baker plays with Izumi at Duo Music Exchange in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo (7 p.m. start; ¥4,000 050-3532-5600), and as part of a Swiss Day preview to the Montreaux Jazz Festival at Club Citta in Kawasaki on Nov. 21 (6 p.m. start; ¥2,500 in advance; 044-222-5800). For more information, visit www.bastianbaker.com or www.montreuxjazz.jp.