Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Ida, Ichiro

Ida, Ichiro, violinist, banjoist, b. Tokyo, Japan, 1894, d. 14 March 1972. Although he was by all accounts a musician of little distinction, Ida Ichiro is generally referred to as the "father of Japanese jazz." His jazz autobiography (serialized in the Japanese periodical Variety in the late 1930s) makes no attempt to diminish that view: it recounts years of struggle to win recognition for a music that was despised by respectable society. Even those of his contemporaries whom Ida mortally offended give him credit for forming Japan's first professional jazz bands.

Ida started his musical career at age sixteen when he entered the Mitsukoshi Youth Band in 1910, and spent several years in salon orchestras in dance halls, movie theaters, and luxury ocean liners. Ida wrote that he and his bandmates received "coaching," at company expense, from the bandmaster at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, learning such "jazz numbers" as "Dardanella" and "La Vida." In March 1922 Ida joined the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female musical theater that remains popular with theater-goers. Ida commenced his jazz studies with a rehearsal band of seven bandmates and received permission to present the new music during intermissions at Takarazuka performances.  But when the rest of the orchestra threatened to resign because they "couldn't work with fellows playing vulgar, non-music like that jazz." Ida resigned in the spring of 1923, stung by his "narrow-minded,"  "self-righteous," and "cowardly" colleagues.

By May 1923 Ida and three comrades (Tomoyoshi Takami, Keiichi Yamada, and Momotaro Iwanami) formed the Laughing Stars. The band survived a scant two months, after which Ida drifted between Tokyo and Osaka, all but giving up on jazz. But by 1925 he had assembled a jazz band that eventually became the Saturday night house band at the Paulista dance hall in Osaka. The group then moved to the Union dance hall, where it adopted the name Cherryland Dance Orchestra around 1926, and performed mainly Paul Whiteman tunes. When city regulations shut down the dance halls in 1927, Ida and Cherryland emigrated to Tokyo in the spring of 1928, becoming the toast of popular music fans. Within a few months the band splintered, and Ida scrambled to recruit musicians such as trumpeter Nanri Fumio from Osaka and Kobe (no one in backwards Tokyo could play his music, he contended).

In 1929 Ida quit bandleading for good and joined Polydor Records as house composer and arranger. He conducted and arranged for musical theater throughout the 1930s, and married popular singer Noriko Awaya.  After the war Ida was one of hundreds of musicians who waited around train stations for American service clubs to pick them up for work, and he played violin requests at such gigs.  The year before his death, Ida was interviewed at length for an oral history of Japanese jazz: the interviewer noted that he was as energetic and cantakerous as his reputation suggested.

Uchida Koichi, Nihon no jazu, senzen, sengo (Japanese Jazz: Prewar, Postwar).  Tokyo: Swing Journal, 1976.


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