Jazzopolist: Shiraishi Toshizo

I often ask other musicians whom they’ve jammed with and what they’ve learned or appreciated from that experience. It’s hard to imagine improvisational music thriving without a steady, live exchange of ideas. One Japanese musician in particular echoes in the memories of many musicians. The comment is almost always the same: “Shiraishi Toshizo is unlike anyone else.”

Shiraishi can play more than one instrument, but guitar seems to be both his gift and his preference. Jazz is at the core of his musicianship but his range extends to seemingly every guitar genre (I’ve never actually seen him play flamenco, but am fairly certain he could). And live is what he loves, though his recent recording Inside Out is one of the best studio guitar albums in Japan in years. Somehow, you get the feeling that Shiraishi is just now hitting his stride.

I caught up with him at Grassroots, Yokohama during a stop on his recent tour with jazz guitarist Siiya Brown (previously featured in Koe). I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years, since he stepped down as bassist for the all-star jam band Albatrus to return to guitar and more proactively build the music scene in his native Nagano. He looked good. He looked happy.

Why this recent tour?

“The impetus for it was the Tenkawa Mirai Culture Festival in Nara. Then I got an offer to play in the Wood Vibration festival in Miyagi. Since I had two playing dates in June I thought I’d just go on tour. It’s been about six months since my last tour, too. This one is called, ‘I Wanna Jam with You.’ I’ve been doing jam sessions since way back, but realized that this is my life work and that I want to do more of it.”

Why did you invite Siiya Brown along for most of this tour?

“I’ve worked with him before and felt peace of mind working with him again. He is also a different kind of musican than I am—he has a different kind of interestingness to him. And also the guests that normally come to see him play are very different from my own fanbase. All of my fans are guys, but lots of women come to see Siiya (laughter).”

Is there anything you’ve learned from each other?

“We’ve of course influenced each other’s playing in some way, but we never really teach each other anything specific. I think that’s what makes our playing together interesting.”

Whom else have you jammed with during this tour?

“Ao (from Dachambo), Motoharu (from Soil & “Pimp” Sessions), and in Nagoya, the vocalist Kawauchi Takuya (from Geisha Men)—he’s a fantastic singer. In Shikkoku I ran into another traveling musician, Sato Hiroki—a singer songwriter—so we decided to play together for about three days. Lots of local musicians, too, were waiting for me along the way and I made many new musical friends.

I think jam sessions are great, but it’s not at all about skill; it’s more about musicians playing with their hearts. If really good musicians come, well that’s fine and great—it makes me happy—but I’ve played with a four-year-old vocalist, for example, and a 13-year-old drummer, too.”

Can you talk a little about your time at Berklee School of Music, where you studied music and also met Siiya?

“I was there between 1997 and 2000. I was a performance major. There was both good and bad there. The highlight was John D. Thomas, one of my guitar teachers. He was an incredible player–not just a teacher, but a master. He’s played on several notable jazz albums, like Joe Henderson’s and Dizzy Gillespie’s. I recently reunited with him in New York after 13 years.”

Was he impressed by how much you had improved?

“No, he got mad at me (laughter). He said, ‘you should be playing better than this! You’re not practicing enough!’ But at the same time, he was full of love.”

You of course played guitar before going to Berklee, but from what age?

“Seventeen. I had only played three years before going to Berklee, but the pressure of other amazing players there wasn’t so bad because I found friends to play with—like Motoharu. My favorite playing partner was Dai Miyazaki, who’s currently playing in Philadelphia, and previously performed with Lauryn Hill, among others.”

Why Berklee?

“I basically went to Berklee to study jazz. There wasn’t really any place in Japan I could do that at the time. But I originally started playing guitar because of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” Then from there to Aerosmith and eventually heavy metal, like Megadeath. I used to make a lot of mixed tapes back then of just guitar solos. I just wanted the guitar work—I didn’t care about singing. I realized that most of jazz was just guitar and no singing—so jazz it was for me.”

After you returned from Berklee, how did you jump back into the music scene?

“When I came back, there were no jam sessions. There was a club that was basically closed, but I started booking events there and eventually launched a music festival: Ueda Joint. I ran that from 2001 to 2011. At first, I was just playing with people I knew from Berklee, like Cro-Magnon (previously featured in Koe). They then brought Dachambo and it all kind of spread out like that.”

What were some of your own bands?

“In 2001, after I got back, I launched the three-piece band Blissed and did that for a few years. Then I started a Reggae band called Westland—we released two CDs. Then I did some playing with friends in Nagano, but nothing really that big until I joined Albatrus around 2010 or so after an invite from (band leader) Miyake Yohei. He actually didn’t know I played bass until he visited the studio when I was with Westland and recording an album.”

And since leaving Albatrus, you’ve basically been working on your own material?

“Yes, I’ve just been practicing hard this whole time and recording.”

You have two small kids now, too. How has that changed your life and your playing?

“Without my kids, I wouldn’t have played bass. I didn’t really have any interest, but after my first child was born, I bought him some drums. I thought he wouldn’t be able to play guitar at such a young age. Well, I started practicing on them and my guitar playing got better. Wow, I thought, if I start playing bass, too, what will happen? So I did that and my guitar playing got even better. I think the most important thing is that you begin to understand how the dummer and bassist feel.”

What are your plans after this tour?

“Another tour (laughter). And I have to make another album. A band, too.”

We look forward to all three. Thanks Shiraishi.


白石はベーシストとしても一流の腕を持つが、ギタリストとして天性のものを持ち、一番好きな楽器はやはりギターのようである。彼のミュージシャンシップの根底にあるのはジャズだが、その演奏スタイルはギター音楽全般に渡る幅広さを感じる(彼がフラメンコをやっているのを実際に聞いたことは無いが、きっと難なく演奏できるだろう)。ライブ活動が身上ながら、彼が最近発表したスタジオアルバム”Inside Out”は日本人ミュージシャンによるギターアルバムとして出色の出来だ。脂が乗っている、今まさにそんな印象を受ける。



「きっかけは、奈良の天川未来文化祭というフェス。それと宮城の森波(シンパ)というミュージックフェスがあって、出演のオファーがきたこと。両方とも6月で、ちょうどいいタイミングだと思った。最後のツアーから半年が経ってたしね。今回のツアーは「I Wanna Jam with You」というタイトル。とにかくジャムしたい、昔からずっとやってきたことだし。自分のライフワークであることに気づいて、もっとセッションをしたいと思ってる」






「AOさん(Dachambo)、元晴さん(Soil & “Pimp” Sessions)。名古屋ではGeishamenの河内拓哉、彼は凄いヴォーカリストだよ。四国では、さとうひろきというシンガーソングライターと旅の途中で出会って、3日くらい一緒にセッションした。ローカルのミュージシャンが色々な所で待っててくれたり、新しい仲間が増えたりしたね。



「バークリーにいたのは1997年から2000年まで。パフォーマンス科を卒業しました。良いことも悪いこともあったけど、一番良かったことは、ジョン D. トーマスと出会えたこと。彼は素晴らしいギタリストで、先生というよりも、僕の師匠と呼ぶべき人だね。彼はジョー・ヘンダーソンや、ディジー・ガレスピーとか、有名なミュージシャンのジャズアルバムで演奏している。最近、13年ぶりにNYで彼に会ってきたんだ。」






「ジャズをやりたくて。当時、日本にはジャズを勉強できる場所がなかったからね。ギターを弾き始めたきっかけは、エリック・クラプトンの「Tears in Heaven」を聞いたこと。そこからAerosmithを聴いて、Megadeathとかヘヴィメタルにいった。ギターソロだけを入れたミックステープをよくつくってたんだ。歌はいらないと思っていたから、ギターだけを聴いていた。ある日、ジャズを聴いたら、ほとんどギターだけだということに気がついて、これだ!と思った」












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