“My family thought, as did I, that I’d return to Japan after completing my studies at Berklee. After graduating I did like a lot of international students and did practical training which allowed me to stay here and work for one year. I was just starting to play a lot professionally in Boston so I decided to apply for a 3-year artist visa. I ended up forming my own trio and establishing myself as a bandleader so I renewed my artist visa for another 3 years … then another. The longer I stayed here the more my family realized I wasn’t coming back.
“My mother and father visited me once in Boston in 2002. They made the long flight from Japan and got to see what I’m doing. My father went back after a week, but my mother stayed for a month. I dragged my mother along to every gig and when I wasn’t playing I’d take her out to see live music. I even brought her to New York. She was already understanding the appeal from seeing things in Boston, but going to New York would open her eyes to things she’d never seen in Japan.
“We went to Smalls Jazz Club in the Village. Jason Lindner’s Big Band was playing. I remember the late Dwayne Burno was playing bass and I know Myron Walden was in the band. Everyone was on stage but the drum chair was empty. All of a sudden the room got really quiet as Jeff Ballard unexpectedly walked in and sat behind the drums and proceeded to make that night an experience that neither my mother nor I nor anyone in attendance that evening will ever forget.
“My mother always held hope in her heart that I would return to Japan. Until that day. She not only understood but now also encouraged me. She realized to do what I really wanted to do I had to be here in the US.”