International Jazz Day

Keigo Hirakawa Trio performs at Gilly’s

By Tim Walker

The local jazz music scene, the Keigo Hirakawa Trio, and Gilly’s Jazz nightclub in downtown Dayton: three local treasures, all of which are coming together April 30 to celebrate International Jazz Day.

In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated April 30 of each year as International Jazz Day. The organization made this gesture “in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe.” As part of the worldwide celebrations of jazz music on that day, the Keigo Hirakawa Trio will perform live at Gilly’s in downtown Dayton.

“The performance itself will be with my jazz trio,” says Hirakawa. “It’s comprised of piano, bass and drums. I play piano, and the bassist is Eddie Brookshire, and the drummer is Fenton Sparks. This particular trio has been playing together for a long time, but I think we got on the map last year when we released the CD, And Then There Were Three. We’ve made a lot of progress in getting noticed since then.”

With good reason, too. And Then There Were Three received rave reviews in the music press when it was first released a year ago, and features 10 tracks of modern jazz with a traditional feel. Eight are original compositions, while two of the songs—“Dance of the Infidels” and the gospel-themed “Precious Lord”—are the trio’s interpretations of classic standards. Bassist Berkshire takes the lead on the slower tempo title track, while drummer Sparks gets a chance to shine on the aptly named “Sparks Plug.”  Hirakawa’s wife Wenbi Lai provides vocals on the track “Daisy,” which Hirakawa wrote for her. The CD can be purchased from Amazon, iTunes or on Hirakawa’s website, where two of the songs can also be streamed.

A busy man, Hirakawa is a full-time professor at the University of Dayton, and holds a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from Cornell University. He also received a Masters of Music in jazz studies, piano performance from the New England Conservatory in 2006. He’s been teaching at UD for six years.

But it is obviously the love of jazz music that really stirs his soul.

“I’ve been playing piano since I was four, but I didn’t get serious about music until I was in college,” Hirakawa says. “I released one CD in the past, before And Then There Were Three, but it wasn’t with the trio. Right now, the trio itself is working toward the release of our second CD. We’re about halfway through the recording of that, and we’re planning on recording the other half either this month or next.”

When asked about the Dayton jazz music scene, Hirakawa says, “It’s small but supportive. People usually have a good time when they come out. It’s hard to get people through the door the very first time, but after they see some shows—and that’s not unique to Dayton, I think it’s the jazz scene in general—when they make the effort to come out, they always have a good time and say ‘Hey, this is a good thing. We should do this again.’ So getting them to put that first foot through the door can be a challenge.”

Gilly’s is one local Dayton venue that has been getting people to put their feet through the door for years, to hear live jazz as well as other music.

“I’ll say this about Gilly’s,” Keigo notes, “I knew about Gilly’s before I even moved to Dayton. I’d heard about Gilly’s long before that, and this was back when I was living on the east coast. This place is definitely known beyond the walls of Ohio.” Ten-time Grammy Award-winning jazz guitarist George Benson obviously agreed when he was quoted as saying, after a Hirakawa Trio performance at Gilly’s, “I had to come to Dayton to hear real jazz.”

When asked for his thoughts on this fifth International Jazz Day, Hirakawa enthusiastically replies, “I think it’s a way for people to appreciate what music does in the community and how music connects to people. It’s also an appreciation for the rich history of jazz—jazz may have started as American music, but it has become a global tradition.

“It’s a rich blend of multiple cultures that has its roots in the United States,” he continues, “but it has become a global phenomenon. And this is a wonderful way to appreciate its evolution as an example of how we can all enjoy something together and have a global community.”

The Keigo Hirakawa Trio will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at Gilly’s, 132 S. Jefferson St. in Dayton. Admission is $5. For tickets or for more information, please call 937.228.8414 or visit keigohirakawa.com or gillysjazz.com.

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tim Walker
Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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