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JAZZ AT TOKYO
You won't find drunken office workers belting out karaoke tunes. While you're wading through the crowd to get to the bar you may ask yourself, "Do I have the right place?"
Rest assured, you have! Tokyo Gardens, the home of Fresno's best rock music and drunken karaoke, is also the home to the area's premier jazz music. For the last two years owner Toshi Yoshioka's Japanese restaurant has hosted an all ages jazz jam session, which has quickly developed a reputation as the place to hear Fresno's premier young players.
"It gives kids a chance to play in front of people and get experience. Some of these kids that come in here are 16 years old, they're just kids, but they take the music very seriously. And it gives them a chance to play," said Toshi Yoshioka.
Many of the players at Tokyo Gardens are students of local jazz pianist Craig Von Berg. Von Berg leads a trio consisting of Brian Hamada (drums), and John Lauffenburger (bass). All three members of the trio are world-class players and jazz instructors. Their group provides a rhythm section for the younger players, and their instruction and skilled playing has helped the jam session develop a regular audience of jazz fans.
"I am biased because I think any opportunity to hear good jazz is 'special'. Beyond that, the 'jam session', or 'sitting in', in jazz is a long-standing tradition," commented regular attendee Suzi Arnold.
Many younger players use the event as a chance to network and meet other like-minded players to form groups with. The event also serves as a rite of passage.
"During a jazz history course I was told a story about Miles Davis sitting in with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie when he was very young and so was the Be-Bop movement. Needless to say, Miles got 'schooled'," commented Fresno city college student George Benny.
Another element that makes Tokyo Garden's Jam Session so special is being able to hear the younger players evolve and develop their technique. Earlier this year local Jazz Instructor Paul Shagoian passed away and local jazz musicians, including Craig Von Berg and several of Shagoian's past and present students held a tribute show for him at Tokyo Gardens.
"Hearing Paul's voice and influence come though his students' music was a truly moving experience," recalled Arnold.
"We're hoping to get more jazz in here," commented Yoshioka. "Maybe do it first and third Sunday of the month. We'll see."
Currently, the monthly jazz jam is held the first Sunday of every month at Tokyo Garden. There is no cover, but donations are highly recommended. Music begins at 6pm. For more information, visit www.craigvonberg.com.