Cultural globalization once was a guiding principal for the United States. With the proliferation of Communism in the 1950s, America moved quickly to make friends with as many countries around the world as it could. The United Nations was a big deal, Sixth Ave. in New York was known as Avenue of the Americas and the U.S. favored nations in Asia and Africa winning their independence after years of colonial rule. [Photo above of Toshiko Akiyoshi in Boston in 1958, with conductor Arthur Fiedler]
On the cutting edge of American cultural diplomacy was jazz, which went over well with the people of all nations. The State Department paid for concert trips by jazz musicians to every continent in an effort to build cultural bridges and sell the virtues of democracy over Communism. American jazz musicians such as Dave Brubeck, Herbie Mann, Louis Armstrong and many others were featured on albums visiting other countries. As part of the exchange, foreign jazz musicians were allowed to come to the U.S. to study and play. One of those was musicians was pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi (above with Alan Dawson).
In 1958, two years after moving from Japan to Boston to study on a scholarship at the Berklee School of Music, Toshiko recorded United Notions, now a little-known sextet album on the MetroJazz label that featured an all-star band comprised of jazz stars from different nations, including the U.S. The band featured Doc Severinsen (tp) Rolf Kuhn (cl,as/Germany) Bobby Jaspar (ts,bar,fl/Belgium) Toshiko Akiyoshi (p/Japan) Rene Thomas (g/Belgium but living in Montreal) John Drew (b/England) and Bert Dahlander (d/Sweden). Cornetist Nat Adderley replaced trumpeter Severinsen on Jane, Strike Up the Band and United Notions.
Toshiko, of course, was deeply influenced by Bud Powell and her smart, gentle piano approach is featured on each of the tracks. The arrangements are terrific. Unfortunately, the album doesn't mention who wrote them. Two of the album's songs—Jane and Civilized Folk—were composed and arranged by Bob Freedman specifically for the album. I spoke to Bob last night and he believes Toshiko wrote the other charts.
The arrangements are delightfully sophisticated and the band swings. Tracks include Broadway, Bobby Jaspar's Sukiyaki, Oscar Pettiford's Swingin' Til the Girls Come Home, Toshiko's United Notions, Bob Freedman's Civilized Folk, Gershwin's Strike Up the Band and Bob's Jane.
What make this album particularly special is the mastery and patience of the foreign players. Toshiko has a delicate touch and is routinely surprising in her solo approach, using varying styles, while Jaspar, Thomas (above) and Kuhn play together neatly. The trumpets of Adderley and Severinsen punctuate without overwhelming. A shame that exceptional jazz musicians today can't be subsidized to continue the tradition of showing cultures around the world how special this American art is and honoring those cultures by including their musicians in the festivities. In 1958, this album's coalition of players made it look easy.
JazzWax clip: Here's Bobby Jaspar's Sukiyaki on United Notions...
And here's Bob Freedman's Jane...