Acclaimed Japanese Jazz Pianist Yōsuke Yamashita Plays a Burning Piano on the Beach

Unlike­ly as it might seem, the Japan­ese jazz scene has for decades and decades pro­duced some of the finest play­ers in the world, from tra­di­tion­al­ists to exper­i­men­tal­ists and every­thing in-between. One might say the same about oth­er jazz-inclined coun­tries (those of north­ern Europe, for instance, hav­ing devel­oped par­tic­u­lar­ly robust scenes), but those coun­tries have to do with­out enliven­ment by “only in Japan” moments like the one we have above: jazz pianist Yōsuke Yamashita, acclaimed on both sides of the Pacif­ic, play­ing piano on the beach — a piano on fire on the beach, to be pre­cise.

This was­n’t even the first time he’d done it. In 1973, famed graph­ic design­er Kiyoshi Awazu asked Yamashita to appear in his short film burn­ing piano, play­ing the tit­u­lar instru­ment. Watch­ing it again 35 years lat­er, Yamashita wrote, “See­ing myself engaged in that extra­or­di­nary per­for­mance, I felt this wave of emo­tion that was like, ‘What was that?’

In one sense, I had per­formed as an ‘object’ in a Kiyoshi Awazu art­work. In anoth­er, how­ev­er, I had per­haps expe­ri­enced a form of artis­tic expres­sion that no one before me had ever expe­ri­enced before, as the result of a sit­u­a­tion that could only have hap­pened at that time. ‘What was that?’ There was only one way I could recon­firm this for myself—by doing it one more time.”

The oppor­tu­ni­ty arose at the behest of Kanaza­wa’s 21st Cen­tu­ry Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art, who staged Burn­ing Piano 2008. You can read the even­t’s pro­gram as a PDF, which con­tains Yamashita’s reflec­tions lead­ing up to the event. It also con­tains remarks from an Awazu Design Room rep­re­sen­ta­tive who wit­nessed the orig­i­nal burn­ing piano shoot, a local piano deal­er (who assures us that long after the piano “began to appear in Japan­ese homes in the era of high-lev­el eco­nom­ic growth,” some “must be destroyed amid reluc­tant feel­ings”), and the may­or of Shi­ka Town, on whose Masuhogau­ra Beach Yamashita donned his sil­ver pro­tec­tive suit and played a funer­al requiem on the flam­ing instru­ment until it could pro­duce not a sound more.

“I did not think I was risk­ing my life,” Yamashita lat­er said, “but I was almost suf­fo­cat­ing from the smoke that was con­tin­u­ous­ly get­ting into my eyes and nose. I had decid­ed to keep on play­ing until the piano stopped mak­ing sounds, so though I did not mean it, but it end­ed up hav­ing a life-or-death bat­tle between the piano and myself.” Ded­i­cat­ed jazz play­ers know what it means to suf­fer for their art, as do all the par­tic­i­pants in the age-old inten­sive Japan­ese con­cep­tion of mas­tery, but who would have guessed that those cul­tures would inter­sect so… com­bustibly?

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

CERN’s Cos­mic Piano and Jazz Pianist Jam Togeth­er at The Mon­treux Jazz Fes­ti­val

Hear the Exper­i­men­tal Piano Jazz Album by Come­di­an H. Jon Ben­jamin — Who Can’t Play Piano

Park­ing Garage Door Does Impres­sion of Miles Davis’ Jazz Album, Bitch­es Brew

Hunter S. Thomp­son Sets His Christ­mas Tree on Fire, Near­ly Burns His House Down (1990)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (4)
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  • Liza says:

    I hate this. I don not respect any musi­cian who does not respect their instru­ment. Destroy a piano for a pub­lic­i­ty stunt? Horowitz would nev­er. It’s dis­gust­ing.

  • giovanni says:

    If you have to burn a piano in order to “con­tem­plate a lot of impor­tant ideas about our world”, you have prob­a­bly a seri­ous prob­lem.

  • Huby says:

    Tis is a rare piece of Art!

    Maybe he’s uses his instru­ment to make a state­ment … to the world? By burn­ing an instru­ment, his instru­ment, as a musi­cian, how much stronger can this act be?
    It is easy to make a judge­ment about some­one mak­ing a state­ment thru art by his own means. I think this is a very per­son­al way of expres­sion. Only he did this piece .. once?
    But now, 2020, 12 years lat­er, this peace of art has noth­ing lost of inten­si­ty or actu­al­i­ty..

    If we look atten­tive to the video, one can imag­ine the Fukushi­ma elec­tric plant in the far dis­tant..
    Should I con­demn this video, because the instru­ment used by the video­g­ra­ph­er used the elec­tric­i­ty’s com­ing from an instal­la­tion witch burned and destroyed the land and the life of so man­ny for many gen­er­a­tions to come?

    I think there is all the respect in the world to be found for this strong and time­less state­ment. I think it is a time­less and a great work of Art.
    Mozart could have done it but did­n’t, Monk could have but hd did­n’t, Leo Cuypers should have, but only Yosuku did it. And in 2 or more cen­turies, this video will still con­tin­ue to sur­prise and touch peo­ple.



  • Jonny says:

    First of all, why does it seem unlike­ly that good Jazz musi­cians would come out of Japan?

    Sec­ond of all. It’s just a piano, and he is an artist.

    He clear­ly was­n’t mak­ing a state­ment with music alone. This piece was not sole­ly about sound or com­po­si­tion. It was a visu­al metaphor and a legit piece of art. If you can’t see past the phys­i­cal destruc­tion of an instru­ment to the metaphors rep­re­sent­ed by the destruc­tion of an instru­ment than this piece (and like­ly many oth­ers) are beyond you.

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