Melomani and the Yosuke Yamashita Trio


This essay discusses the Melomani and the Yosuke Yamashita Trio from a historical point of view: the repression by the communist regime and the social trend to solve problems by non-violence against the avant-garde and the famous persons released from the groups: two pianists Krzysztof Komeda and Yosuke Yamashita, as well as the characteristics of their songs: melancholy and frenzy. The two different jazz bands mentioned above were formed in two different countries, and this demonstrates how jazz holds the possibility of evolution in various directions at the same time. It can be said that jazz has an inner flexibility or, in other words, various possibilities for improvement, so jazz is accepted and loved beyond the national framework.

Jazz from America expanded all over the world and developed in different ways in each place in the twentieth century. To prove this different development and “improvement” in different places, this essay focuses on two music groups, Melomani, also known as Hot-Club Melomani, the swing jazz band from Poland, and the Yosuke Yamashita Trio, which is known as the first free jazz band in Japan. Both are jazz groups established after World War II and the revolutionary existence of jazz history in each country. This essay analyzes these two bands from a historical point of view, the important members released from the groups, and the general evaluation–impression of their songs.

Firstly, a significant difference between the two groups is the social environment that surrounded them. Melomani (literally means Music Lovers) has a characteristic feature that it attracted the people of an underground culture suppressed by the Soviet Union. At that time, the era was called “catacomb period” because music performances and even radio broadcasts of jazz were banned under the communist regime, so jazz music was kind of an underground culture in Polish music. Also, people in Poland were longing for jazz music because of their long separation from jazz when the genre disappeared under Nazi rule. Therefore, Melomani emerged in the era when jazz as a form of entertainment was suppressed; the band was welcomed enthusiastically and gained popularity. On the contrary, the foundation of the Yosuke Yamashita Trio is ascribed as a nationwide trend of an avant-garde and violent culture among the youth of the 1960s in Japan. Many of the Japan university students were involved in political activism affected by the anti-war movement in the United States of America; they barricaded the halls of the universities. Yamashita Yosuke, the founder of this band, was also one of these activists. This group performed in a university hall that was blocked from the inside. Thus, it can be said that this group was formed from the social trend against aggression, and their performances, derived from this trend, brought a free jazz style.

Secondly, one of the members of Melomani was Krzysztof Komeda, a charismatic jazz pianist worth focusing on. Melomani was established by Jerzy Matuszkiewicz known as a saxophonist and composer in 1947, and consisted of students from the Lodz National Film School. Afterwards, Komeda also joined the band from 1952 to 1954. According to his biography, after his departure from Melomani, he performed at concerts abroad such as in Switzerland, East and West Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. He also made a series of annual tours in Scandinavia. One of his famous achievements is that he wrote the music for American movies Rosemary’s Baby and The Riot. His tracks prove that he was acknowledged around the world, so the fact that Melomani had Komeda as a musician of a worldwide renown , is peculiar. In addition, as its name shows, the leader Yosuke Yamashita, a unique pianist of “Yosuke Yamashita Trios”, is also an important figure. He led the group and managed their tours in European countries, for instance in Germany and Switzerland. Also, they got an opportunity to make sessions with other musicians such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago from the United States of America, and Manfred Schoof from Germany in the 1970s. He is also well-versed in classical music because he is well educated, so he composed some songs for the orchestra. These were performed by authoritative orchestras such as the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Three elements, his European tour, his sessions with foreign artists, and his arrangements of songs for orchestras, can be the reasons beyond the worldwide reputation of Yamashita, making him a crucial figure of this essay.

Lastly, Melomani’s songs are melancholic and calm. For example, one of their albums, “Polish Jazz 1946-1956, vol. 2, Golden Era of the Melomani Group” (released in Poland in 1975), contains some standard pieces such as Caravan, September in the Rain, and is full of such mood. Regardless of the oldness of the record, the tone of the songs is basically cool, and their tempo is slow. These two aspects lend a sad atmosphere to their songs. On the other hand, there are of course some improvisational phrases during the songs, but they are not harsh or ostentatious. Finally, we may conclude that their playstyle is sorrowful, and the songs progress tranquilly. On the other hand, the most distinctive feature of the songs of  the “Yosuke Yamashita Trio” is frenzy. For example, in “Sasayama”, their album released in 1978, all of the songs are consistently haphazard. It is impressive, with boisterous drums, guitar, piano, and saxophones. Basically, the melody is energetic, even lunatic, and the tempo fragile. The title “Sasayama” literally means the sand mountain, and this name is taken from a nursery song composed by Shinpei Nakayama. He is known as an artist who combines Japanese folk songs and the pop songs at that time, so his works are also peculiar. It is said that Yamashita tried to express the bizarre worldview in Nakayama’s works. However, judging from the fact that their other albums also contain many bustling songs, frenzy is not only the dimension of “Sasayama” but also that of Yamashita’s overall musical style.


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