Shigeo Fukuda is one of the best jazz pianists in Japan. He plays with a clear-edged crystal tone and an outstanding rhythmic sense, creating superbly constructed, beautiful improvisations. Highly versatile and expressive, Fukuda adapts equally well to acoustic jazz and fusion music. Although he regularly performs his own music with his trio, Fukuda has been a key member of several prominent combos for more than 20 years. By offering fine music to many jazz lovers in Japan, he has won high recognition from fellow musicians as a reliable and first-class player.
Born on May 8, 1957, in Maebashi, and bred in Takasaki (cities of Gumma prefecture, about 60 miles north of Tokyo), Fukuda began learning classical piano at age 4. His first experience with jazz was during his mid-teens listening to Chick Corea’s “Return to Forever.” He was especially fascinated by the fabulous “Rhodes” electric piano sound. At the time he did not anticipate playing jazz himself in the near future, being mainly interested in composing modern music. Fukuda had studied musical theory by analyzing works from Bach to Beethoven to Debussy, and he preferred composers such as Debussy, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg. Among his favorite composers was Tohru Takemitsu, an internationally renowned composer who has sometimes been called the Japanese equivalent of Debussy.
Fukuda’s second encounter with jazz occurred during his university days, when he heard a series of recordings by the mid-60’s legendary Miles Davis quintet with Herbie Hancock at the piano. He was amazed at Hancock’s advanced sense of harmony, and he became totally absorbed by it. He also recognized the intellectual nature of jazz, which he had perceived previously in Takemitsu’s compositions. Another strong influence was the music of Keith Jarrett, with its brilliant tone, which convinced Fukuda that fine tone was important in conveying his message to an audience. The creation of Fukuda’s beautiful tone came naturally to him, since he had already acquired the strength and discipline needed for playing classical piano. Finally, the rhythm and groove of Fukuda’s playing reflect a strong influence by the Japanese drum master, George Ohtsuka.
Fukuda’s jazz career began in 1980, and he has been a hard-driving player ever since. Inspired by harmony, tone, and groove influences of the aforementioned musicians, Fukuda established his own style with a characteristic groove and fine touch as core elements. Another Fukuda hallmark has been his simultaneous pursuit of musical aggressiveness and elegance, resulting in a highly sophisticated style. His ballad playing evokes rich imagery in the minds of his listeners. Consequently, his music can induce a meditative response, creating a tranquil atmosphere like that of a Zen stone garden. Although Fukuda has not explicitly set out to convey a Japanese flavor, his music’s refined beauty reflects some of the best artistic aspects of his Japanese heritage.
Sadao Watanabe (as) and Terumasa Hino (tp) are just two of the many great jazz artists with whom Fukuda has played over the years. He has recorded many albums of jazz, Brazilian, and club music with other musicians, including works for ballet! He has recorded three albums with his own trio, the first of which, “Blessing,” was recorded with Ron Carter (b) and Joe Chambers (dr) in New York in 1998. In March 2002 he recorded his second album, “Inner Views,” with Charnett Moffett (b) and Al Foster (dr), for which he was awarded the “Jazz Life Disc Grand Prix 2003.” Six months later the third album “Live@ Body&Soul” was recorded with his regular trio members, Satoshi Kosugi (b) and Cecil Monroe (dr), and guest player Toshiki Nunokawa (g). This project also produced a DVD from the same recording date, which very nicely captures the atmosphere of a Tokyo jazz club. Fukuda is also a featured pianist on a recording by Yasushi Ichihara’s (dr) trio, which has recently gained him even more popularity.
Fukuda occupies an important place among original jazz composers. His compositions range from modal tunes to lyrical ballads and contain an elegance and ‘song’ that are sometimes missing from contemporary jazz music. Moreover, his original compositions provide the best material for his impressive improvisations. He is also a masterful arranger, reconstructing components of the blues and skillfully adapting these to modern funk music. With his deep understanding of composition and arrangement, he spins truly inspirational music with the piano, providing the perfect ambience for many singers as well as other instrumentalists.
Listen to him. His playing has fascinated music lovers from all parts of the world, and he is bound to attract greater international recognition. No matter which type of modern music you appreciate most, you will want to discover Shigeo Fukuda.