Tachibana: How a Japanese businessman and four kids out of college created one of the rarest Jazz records of all time

Used as a business card by the man who funded the production of the LP, the Tohru Aizawa Quartet’s 'Tachibana' is one of the rarest Japanese jazz records of all time. Soon to feature on BBE's 'J-Jazz - Deep Modern Jazz From Japan 1969-1984' LP, here is the unlikely story of the Jazz collectible:

                            Tachibana: How a Japanese businessman and four kids out of college created one of the rarest Jazz records of all time

Somewhere in the 70s a wealthy Japanese businessman by the name of Ikujiroh Tachibana had a strange idea. He wanted to create a Jazz record - an LP - and use it as a business card. So on March 30, 1975, Tachibana gathered four young college students in the town of Numata, Gunam Prefecture, about 90 miles north of Tokyo. 

The four amateur musicians were there to record their first and only album, an album that would largely remain forgotten for the next forty years. But today, that record - 'Tachibana' by The Tohru Aizawa Quartet has become one of the most coveted artefacts in the esoteric world of Japanese modern jazz. 

Now, four decades later, one of the forgotten tracks by the Tohru Aizawa Quartet, ‘Dead Letter' is set to feature on the new compilation LP, 'J-Jazz: Deep modern jazz from Japan 1969-1984’, which will be released by BBE.

Tohru Aizawa Quartet's, ‘Dead Letter' is set to feature on the new compilation LP, 'J-Jazz: Deep modern jazz from Japan 1969-1984’, which will be released by BBE. (Image Source: Twitter)

'Tachibana’ is said to have everything on the checklist to give it a cultish impetus:mysterious and vague details about its origin, brief existence, superb craftsmanship and skill, and of course, scarcity of the object. Everything that would make it a glint in the eye of a collector in the wallet-bashing world of Japanese jazz memorabilia and collectibles.

But how did this all but forgotten album attain this status? The Vinyl Factory tells the unlikely tale of how a local Japanese businessmen and four kids out of college created one of the most coveted Japanese jazz records in great detail. Here’s how it all happened:

The story begins with a small time college jazz group called 'Tohru Aizawa Quartet', a group started in 1969 by two brothers, Kyochiro and Tetsuya Morimura. Kychiro was a saxophonist and music student whereas Tetsuya was a drummer and law student.

One day, at the music festival held in the medical school in Maebashi, they saw a young pianist on stage who impressed them instantly. That pianist was Tohru Aizawa, who at the time had moved there from Tokyo to study medicine — where he would eventually go on to graduate top of his class.

The two brothers and Aizawa hit it off instantly and decided to form a group and were joined by bass player Konzoh Watanabe, a fellow law student of Tetsuya Morimura.They began gigging at local jazz spots, gaining something of a residency at Mokuba, a jazz spot in Maebashi, where they gathered a small, but loyal following. One of the regulars at Mokuba was a local businessman, one Mr. Ikujiroh Tachibana, who was a huge fan of jazz.

Tachibana was a successful businessman and member of a prestigious family who could trace its lineage back to seventh century Japan. The Tachibana clan were, for several centuries, a powerful aristocratic family with close links to the imperial court.

Tachibana, who was from Numata, Japan, as mentioned earlier, was a big fan of Jazz. He would frequent local jazz clubs and bars and often traveled to nearby town and cities to visit jazz clubs — including Tokyo, Maebashi and Isezaki — to catch visiting American artists like trumpeter Charles Tolliver and pianist Mal Waldron, alongside home grown talent.

On that fateful night in Maebeshi jazz club, when the Aizawa Quartet was performing, Tachibana had a strange and wonderful idea brewing in his head. He wanted to fund the quartet to produce an album. Furthermore, he had decided to use the record as a ‘business card’. So he approached the band.

Quite what the Quartet made of this request was not recorded, but a few surprised looks were no doubt shared. It’s no common practice to use a jazz record as a business card, even by Japan’s standards.

But the grad school boys decided to go with it and the result was absolutely unexpected.

'Tachibana' has gone on to become of the most coveted records in the world of Japanese jazz colelctibles. (Image Source: Discogs)

Not so surprisingly, the idea of an LP as a business card didn’t work out too well. Out of the 150 - 200 copies produced, most of them were discarded. A few survived and have now gone on to achieve legendary status in the world of Japanese jazz collectors.

In the original album sleeve notes, reference is made to a handwritten note from Aizawa explaining the motivation for the group:
“We just created music we wanted to create. We are aware that music takes a different shape dependent on the ear of the listener. There are people who can appreciate it and others for whom it’s just noise – just a load of notes clumped together. We know it’s not to everyone’s taste but decided to push on and create for it for ourselves.”

The opening tracks of Tachibana were written by the Morimura brothers. Drummer Tetsuya Morimura wrote the opening track, ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. The saxophonist Morimura, Kiyoshiro, composed and wrote the second track ‘Sacrament’, which has a late Coltrane-era feel.

Around 150-200 copies of the record were made. The LP features two original compositions and two covers. (Image Source : Discogs)

Kiyoshiro describes the recording and the influences that went into the session:
“We thought it would be a nice memento so we went to Mr. Tachibana’s hall to record the album. It was recorded by someone from Trio Kenwood Records. At this hall, there was a Steinway full concert grand piano, and Mr. Tachibana invited famous musicians… to do concerts there. It was not a recording studio so they had difficulty getting the balance right. Just like any other live show that we regularly did, we had fun doing it. I don’t remember doing re-takes, so I think it was mostly done in one take. It was not commercially sold. I think it was given out by Mr. Tachibana in place of a business card. I listened to a lot of John Coltrane, Sadao Watanabe, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter. My brother, Tetsuya, listened to a lot of Tony Williams and Elvin Jones.”

One would never guess that the tracks were composed and performed by teenagers who were in college. And the fact that the Tour Aizawa Quartet recorded it in one single take is almost unbelievable. Listen to the two tracks below:

The third track in the album though, is the winner. Written and composed by Tohru Aizawa himself, 'Dead Letter' is the one that features on the J-Jazz compilation by BBE. Aizawa said the track “just came out naturally, a spiritual outflow of myself.” 

Although he has many other compositions to his name, this is the only one ever recorded. Thus far, all but ‘Dead Letter’ remain unheard outside of the lucky few who saw the band perform 40 years agoas.

‘Dead Letter’ is a propulsive attack of rhythmic power and textural depth, reminiscent of McCoy Tyner at his most impactful. Aizawa’s own influences range from Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk and Chick Corea (Corea’s ‘La Fiesta’ is one of the two covers on the album).

The artwork on the album was designed by Kohichi Negishi, owner of the Mokuba jazz spot in Maebashi where the album took form one fine evening. A portrait of the enigmatic Mr. Tachibana himself, leaning with drink in hand, graces the inside of the gatefold sleeve. It is accompanied by a typically polite ‘thank you’ and a greeting in which he remarks at “how polished the record is for a band that rehearsed and played in between their studies”.

Ikujiroh Tachibana, the enigmatic businessman who sponsored and lent his name to the eponymous album, 'Tachibana' appears on the inner sleeve of the record cover. (Image Source: The Vinyl Factory)

He goes on to say that “they get better each time he hears them and is always moved by their performances”. Tantalisingly, he also states he “wants to create more records and find hidden gems” but no more recordings of the Tohru Aizawa Quartet were ever made. By the time the record was issued as Tachibana’s business card, Aizawa and the elder Morimura were hard at work with no time to devote to their music.

Tohru Aizawa himself, he went on to work as a doctor at his family hospital in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, where he continues to work today specialising in diabetes. He still plays piano occasionally but never again recorded. The other members did continue in music to some degree, albeit for only a few more years.

Kyoishiroh Morimura played with the groups Sing Out and the Kenji Yoshida Quintet; sibling Testuya released a solo live recording album called Akai Tori Concert (Red Bird Concert) which featured Japanese jazz icon Sadao Watanabe as a guest. But none of their projects ever matched the intensity or mystery of Tachibana.

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