[Creative Fridays] #25: Toru Watanabe

Kuala Lumpur,Jan 20,2011. Toru Watanabe . Pix Mohd Izwan Mohd Nazam

Today’s #AzCreativeFridays is with the amazing Toru Watanabe. I remember my performing with him at No Black Tie with the awesome vocalist-guitarist Xiong and other shows with Brazilian musical maestro Valtinho Anastacio. Later on, I had the pleasure of performing regular gigs with Mr. Toru Watanabe at Star Cafe with various vocalists. He also invited me to play guitar on his album! I am grateful to have the opportunity to play so much music with him when he was in Kuala Lumpur.

But enough from my side, let’s learn more about him!

Toninho (Toru Watanabe), a drummer/ percussionist/ composer/ lyricist/ producer, was born in Tokyo. He started to play drums in a rock/pops band when he was a high school student.

When he entered Tokyo University he started to play jazz drums.

After his graduation from the university, he started working at an ad agency and meanwhile continued playing music.

Between 1990 and 1993 he stayed in New York, USA, learnt to play jazz piano and theories, then moved to São Paulo, Brazil and learnt Brazilian percussion.

He issued his first original CD titled “Wish” in 2000.

In 2008 he has moved to Kuala Lumpur, and for 10 years until he left KL in the end of 2017, he has been actively playing music there.

He played Brazilian music with Xiong, played standard jazz with “MJQ” and “Yagi-Fuse Quartet” and Japanese pops with “J.J.B.”.

Meanwhile he issued his 2nd original CD “Multilingual” in 2010, and has just released his 3rd CD “MY Kawan MY Music” in 2018.

Now he stays in Tokyo, Japan.

Now let’s find out what he’s been up to!

1. What’s your latest project? 

Just released my 3rd CD, titled “MY Kawan MY Music”, featuring singers and musicians with whom I have played in recent years, such as Az Samad, Xiong, Kirana Kay, Mazlina A Manan, Sharon Chong, Tay Cher Siang, Julian Chan, Aina Abdul, etc.

With participation of rich lineup of talented musicians, I think that the I could have created a fun album.

BTW, at the end of last year I have moved back to Tokyo.

Now I am starting to find opportunities of performing and creating music in Japan. Even though this is my home country/town, after 10 years of my stay in Malaysia, every day I feel fresh and enjoy my life in Tokyo!

2. What inspires your music?

I have been living in 5 countries (USA, Brazil, China, Malaysia & Japan) and travelled to many cities/countries. Knowing new places with different culture, language, people, and of course music, always makes me stimulated and gives me inspirations.

For example, before living in Brazil, I knew only a few names of rhythms of Brazilian music, such as samba and bossa nova. Actually exists thousands of different rhythms there. Knowing such things was every time eye-opening experience for me.

3. What’s your 5 Desert Island Albums?

– Sergio Mendes: Brasileiro

– Simone: Biana Da Gema

– Michael Franks: Sleeping Gypsy

– Leila Pinheiro: Isso É Bossa Nova

– Toko Furuuchi: Strength

Available here: https://itunes.apple.com/jp/album/strength/1030262820

4. Who’s one artist/musician that you love but most people probably don’t know of?

– Ms. Yurie Kokubu. She is a Japanese pop/R&B/gospel singer with approx. 30 years of carrier and more than 10 CD albums. Although she has a incredible talent and technique, she normally performs only in the church and seldom plays with a full set of the band. Last month (June 2018) luckily I could see her show at “Blues Alley Japan” which she made only once a year, and her performance was really great! I think that she should expose herself much more, for more people (not only in Japan but also in other countries such as Malaysia) could know her!

Ref: Yurie Kokubu/Relief 72 hours

5. What’s an advice you wish someone told you when you started in the arts?

Believe in yourself and keep on creating.

6. As a jazz drummer and percussionist, what has been your biggest challenge in your work? How did you overcome it?

When I moved from China to Malaysia (in 2008), I tried to find out opportunities to play music, yet I knew nobody, nor nobody knew me… It was a biggest challenge for me to find somebody to play with me. I started going to music places such as No Black Tie and “Bangkok Jazz” (where every Thursday jam session was held at that time), etc. Fortunately I could have made many friends soon! Then I could have great opportunities to play music. One of the unforgettable projects was a collaboration with Az Samad at “Star Café”. Playing with Az was very exciting and, every time I could have played with amazing guest singer, whom Az invited, such as Sharon Chong, Cass Chong, Irena Taib, Cheryl Tan, etc. The project continued for almost one year, meanwhile I have enjoyed a lot.

7. How do we reach you?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/toruwjapan
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/toruwjapan/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmSG46qriMJm_y4L6h83o_A?view_as=subscriber
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/toru-watanabe-12

Thank you for your time maestro!

Thank you for reading this week’s instalment of #AzCreativeFridays. Please do check out the past interviews (25 so far, including this one) and come back next week for the next one with jazz guitarist Jordan Klemons. Till next time! 🙂

Read the recent [Creative Fridays] interview:
[Creative Fridays] #14 : Taylor Roberts
7-String Solo Guitarist

[Creative Fridays] #15: Dylan Lee

[Creative Fridays] #16: Scott Murphy
Saxophonist and Composer

[Creative Fridays] #17: Nisa Addina

[Creative Fridays] #18: Jake Shimabukuro
Ukulele Virtuoso

[Creative Fridays] #19: Jared Sims
Jazz Saxophonist

[Creative Fridays] #20: Gabriel Lynch

[Creative Fridays] #21: Rizal Tony
Jazz Guitarist and Educator

[Creative Fridays] #22: Raja Farouk
Multi-Instrumentalist and Sessionist

[Creative Fridays] #23: Kho Chia Wen Sharon
Sound Designer

[Creative Fridays] #24: Josh Maxey
Jazz Guitarist & Educator

[Creative Fridays] #25: Toru Watanabe
Jazz Drummer

Next Friday:
[Creative Fridays] #26: Jordan Klemons
Jazz Guitarist & Music Educator
Coming up September 28 2018

[About Creative Fridays]

The original Creative Fridays was an interview series I did back in 2012. Published on my website, www.azsamad.com, it explored the musical influences of various musicians from all over the world. Relaunching this now in 2018, there are some cool add-ons. For a super obvious one, we’ve now added Spotify and YouTube links whenever possible for the Desert Island Albums list.

This to me is amazing because you can actually immediately listen to the recommended albums. Coming from a generation that used to make trips to the record store to check out new music, it still boggles my mind that we can immediately listen to the records that is recommended here. Imagine if you listened to the 5 suggested albums – how much could you learn from it?

Also, in addition to the original questions from the series, I’ve added a new question into the mix asking about the biggest challenge each individual has faced in their work. I’ve found that we all can benefit by learning from one another. Let’s share and grow together!

If you know a musician who you think could be a good fit to be featured in Creative Fridays, please contact me with your ideas. The focus is in diversity for music, cultural background, geography, age and experience. It doesn’t matter where you are around the world, if you’re a creative making interesting music on an interesting journey and have something to share, please reach out to me. Please do note, due to this being a weekly series, the interview may be featured later in the year depending scheduling.

Thank you! 🙂

[The Original Series]
Season 1: Every week for 13 weeks, published from Feb 2012 to April 2012.

[Creative Fridays] #1  : Kevin Broken Scar
(Melbourne Singer-Songwriter/Sound Engineer)

[Creative Fridays] #2  : Deborah Crooks
(SF Bay Area Singer-Songwriter)

[Creative Fridays] #3  : Dylan Kay
(UK/Auckland Jazz Guitarist)

[Creative Fridays] #4  : Azmyl Yunor
(Malaysian Singer-Songwriter/College Lecturer)

[Creative Fridays] #5  : Gustavo Assis-Brasil
(Boston Jazz Guitarist/Educator)

[Creative Fridays] #6  : TragiComedy
(Malaysian Singer-Songwriter)

[Creative Fridays] #7  : Candelaria
(Oakland Cumbia-Dub Band)

[Creative Fridays] #8  : Pete Teo
(Malaysian Singer-Songwriter/Filmmaker)

[Creative Fridays] #9  : Lori McKinney
(West Virginia Bandleader/Festival Organizer)

[Creative Fridays] #10: Helen Sherrah-Davies
(UK/Boston Violinist-Composer & Berklee faculty)

[Creative Fridays] #11: Adam Everett
(SF Bay Area Drummer-Composer)

[Creative Fridays] #12: Julian Chan
(Malaysian Jazz Saxophonist)

[Creative Fridays] #13: Sharon Chong
(Malaysian Keyboardist and Vocalist]

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