The list of “Worldwide Jazz Champions,” those people and organizations who produce, chronicle, promote, extol and celebrate the creators of this fabulous art form we know as Jazz, runs deep. It is my great honor to recognize the man who I believe was the primary driver of jazz throughout Asia, Kiyoshi Koyama, who passed away on February 3rd at age 82.
I first became aware of Mr. Koyama in late 1969, who two years earlier had taken the helm as editor-in-chief of Swing Journal magazine in Tokyo, Japan. Along with my personal introduction asking to become a contributor to his publication, I included an assortment of 100 black-and-white prints of jazz musicians. The following month, I received back a welcoming letter, along with my first copy of Swing Journal – which coincidentally featured seven published enlargements from the images I had submitted.
That was the beginning of my relationship with Kiyoshi Koyama and the magazine throughout the following decade.
Under his guidance and direction, Swing Journal became, in my estimation, the “Jazz Bible” of Japan. Along with standard coverage of the artists’ professional dealings – interviews, recordings, critical reviews and such – I soon discovered that Koyama was driven to share with readers in much more detail the very intimate lives of his featured musicians through both words and pictures.
Indeed, many of the “Day In the Life” photo features that are currently found in my book are the result of assignments he gave me on behalf of Swing Journal. Before my book was published, I asked Kiyoshi if he would send me a personal biography of his career, part of which follows:
“In the late ‘60s and ‘70s,” he wrote, “we were living in an analog age, there was no Internet or YouTube. Magazines like Swing Journal needed to satisfy our readers’ interests. As the editor, I wanted to show in the photo pages each individual artist’s life, how they live, how they perform and where.
“Not many people could afford to visit New York or Los Angeles at that time. To be able to visit the Newport Jazz Festival (NY) for the first time in 1968 was my dream come true. I wanted to show our readers how exciting it was to be able to attend a world-famous jazz festival, how exciting to visit jazz clubs in New York, how exciting to meet musicians who you only knew through their album covers.
“I was like Japan’s No. 1 jazz fan. Luckily, our readers grew steadily and fast and by the mid-’70s, Swing Journal had some 450 pages each month with lots of gravure photo pages. That’s why I asked you to cover ‘photo stories’ of many musicians.”
[ A sample of some Swing Journal cover artists who I also featured in Jazz In Available Light ]
In a new endeavor throughout the 1980s – working within the master tape vault at PolyGram Music Company – Koyama greatly expanded his jazz credentials by becoming a record producer specializing in packaging complete reissue projects involving key musicians. Phil Schaap, jazz disc jockey, historian, archivist and producer wrote, “Kiyoshi Koyama earned his sobriquet, “Boxman,” as his productions were typically the largest – and finest – sets.”
Among the numerous box sets he produced during that decade, Koyama was awarded Grammy nominations as producer of Best Historical Album box sets for “The Complete Keynote Collections” (21 records) in 1986 and “Brownie: The Complete EmArcy Recordings of Clifford Brown” in 1989 (Check out the Listening Tip below).
Recognized by jazz aficionados across the globe, Koyama was a professional member of the Jazz Journalists Association; served as a Veteran Committee voter for Down Beat magazine’s annual International Critics Poll; wrote the section on Japanese musicians for The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz and the chapter of “Jazz in Japan” for the Oxford Companion of Jazz; and stayed active up until the end by hosting his popular radio show, “Jazz Tonight” on NHK-FM, playing rare and new recordings from his own personal archives.
In 2018, a comprehensive, personalized retrospective of Koyama and his life in jazz was published by The Japan Times, the US newspaper equivalent to The New York Times.
I am grateful to have been a close friend, collaborator and confidante of Kiyoshi “Boxman” Koyama.
Brownie: The Complete EmArcy Recordings of Clifford Brown
“Daahoud” (Alternate Take)
Clifford Brown, trumpet; Harold Land, tenor saxophone; Richie Powell, piano; George Morrow, bass; Max Roach, drums