“We can recover from terrible events, and my music expresses this hope”

SATOKO FUJII has achieved a century of albums, a remarkable feat for a jazz pianist born in Shinjuku, Tokyo, in 1958.

His family life as a child was full of music, warmed by his mother who, she tells me, “loved dramatic music like Italian opera and Argentine tango.”

“I improvised on my sister’s piano even before taking piano lessons. I was so shy that I couldn’t play outside with other children. So I left kindergarten and my parents put me in piano class when I was four. Growing up, I only listened to classical music, rock and pop,” she recalls.

“But my piano teacher, Koji Taku, loved jazz, and when I listened to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, I couldn’t believe I was so moved by something I didn’t understand.

“I started playing professionally in Japan, then moved to the United States, studying jazz at Berklee College of Music in Boston where my teacher was the great Paul Bley.

“After graduating, I lived and performed in New York, again in Tokyo and Berlin. I discovered that there are great musicians everywhere in the world where I lived.

One of her most powerful recent albums is Hazuki, which she recorded herself in a small rehearsal room in her Kobe apartment in the midst of the pandemic in August 2020. It is a solo session of deep, often excruciating intensity.

“My husband Natsuki and I stayed home all day and every day like everyone else. I had all this time to think, compose, and perform.

“My small soundproof room was not air-conditioned and the temperature reached 40°C. But that didn’t bother me too much. The heat and humidity made me feel very special – unlike the coldness of recording studios.

The album’s sense of loneliness penetrates deep into listening ears. It is a particular, contradictory loneliness that touches hearts and brains.

“I wanted to put my emotional experience into the music,” she asserts, “I was driven by the covid disaster like I was after the Fukushima tragedy.”

The track Hoffen (German for “hope”) expresses an overwhelming sense of optimism.

“I think we human beings are very strong. I saw people not giving up hope, even in Fukushima, in the midst of covid, or now in the war in Ukraine. We can recover from these terrible events, and my music expresses this hope.

Another track, Ernestois a tribute to Cuban doctors, their generosity and internationalism, who traveled to Italy to provide assistance in the worst days of the pandemic.

Satoko says, “Ernesto was named after Che, who was a doctor. I don’t believe in violent revolution, but I was touched by his way of life which expressed his passionate and uncompromising beliefs. For me, that’s my kind of goal – no compromise.

“I hadn’t planned to do 100 albums as a leader. I just followed what I wanted to do. For me it is a crossing point. I want to look ahead, not behind.

Each of her albums expresses a magnetic originality and virtuosity – her duet albums with trumpeter husband Natsuki Tamura are particularly beautiful. But definitely spare an ear for the outstanding Hazuki. It expresses the human condition at its peak of emotion and art.

Hazuki is released by Libra Records.