Q&A with Japanese musician Sumito Ariyoshi, aka Ariyo - recognized for his vigorous innovative piano style.

"I love blues, not only as music, but also as culture. It doesn't matter the color of the skin or the language today and Blues has become a part of my life. It is important to get to know the historical background of Blues and the origin of music. But only thing I want to do is to play hard and entertain people."

Sumito "Ariyo" Ariyoshi: Rising Sun Blues

Sumito Ariyoshi, aka Ariyo is internationally recognized for his vigorous innovative piano style. Ariyo, had been studying classical piano since he was three years old. At the age of sixteen, a friend brought him an album, asking if Ariyo could play this kind of music on the piano. He’s an accomplished arranger and sought-after studio musician. Ariyo plays his own style Blues, Jazz, R&B, Funk and Gospel with Solo and his Unit "Ariyo-C." Appeared as SOLO Pianist in "Chicago Blues Festival" in 2003 and 2007, "Chicago Jazz Festival" in 2005. Appeared with "Ariyo-C" in "Asian Jazz Festival" in 2004 and “Hyde Park Jazz Festival” in 2009. He's shared the stage and toured the world with such legends as Otis Rush, Jimmy Rogers, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Eddie Shaw, Valerie Wellington, B.B. King, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Recent recording as the side man for Lil’ Ed, Mud Morganfield, Jimmy Burns, Mississippi Heat, Jimmy Johnson, Carrie Bell Family, Breezy Rodio and more.

His solo album released in 205 and titled 'PIANO BLUE' (P-VINE). Currently is a permanent member of Billy Branch & The S.O.B.'s. Ariyo finished college with a degree in Japanese literature, which lead to a teaching position. But before the hard work started, he decided to indulge to of his passions – driving cars and playing music. From 2017 is a member of 'Chicago Blues Hall of Fame'.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Afro-American music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Kyoto, where I grew up in Japan, is called the Kansai area and has always confronted the culture of Tokyo as absolute majority. So, I knew that majority is not always right, and there may be truth in a few. As I learned more about Blues as ‘African American Culture’ (a minority culture) I came to think more closer to the vulnerable people in the society. At the same time, it influenced my way of doing things differently from others and creating my own.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I was a drop out student from the classical piano I had been learning since I was 3 years old. I think that I wanted to play more freely than being belong to the score. I first met Blues when I was 16 years old and in those twelve bars, an infinite universe was spreading. In a world of only basic chord progressions, I enjoyed playing freely without the score and, with blues at the core, using classical piano techniques, the music genre I play spread to jazz, R&B, soul, funk and gospel, from classic to modern, from dedicate sound to percussive sound, from Barrelhouse to NY...

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I learned and experienced a lot from the people who I played and toured with, such as Jimmy Rogers, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Otis Rush, Valerie Wellington, Billy Branch, Lil Ed and more. But the only one I would like to mention is my senior when I was a freshman (16 years old) in 3-year system high school. He asked me who didn't know Blues yet, “I heard that you can play the piano.  Copy the piano phrase in this song and we'll do a band together.”

Saying that, the cassette tape he gave me was Elmore James “Dust My Blues,” that was the moment first time I met BLUES. It’s hard to pick up one of the best advises, I would say Robert Jr. Lockwood’s one just before recording a video in Japan. He said “Hey ARIYO, don’t play too busy and make some little space.” His words always comes up every time I'm playing too busy when recording.

"I don’t say Old School is the best, but for me, the blues scene today tends to depend on technologies such as musical instruments, amp and effector. As a result, the sound became louder for me. The number of keyboard players, such as boogie woogie and shuffle, who cannot play old style blues has increased. I hope that there will be more songs and bands that need upright bass and piano sounds, and will have more diverse blues society." (Photo: Otis Rush and his band with Ariyo)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

That too many to describe those memories also, like... The first time I sit-in in Chicago was Kansas City Red band which Eddie C. Campbell was on guitar at B.L.U.E.S. in Summer of 1983, and I was hired every week for $5. The longest trip for me with Jimmy Rodgers, took for 76 hours’ drive back from Vancouver to Chicago in January, 1984. The first time I recorded as an Asian at Alligator Records. (Valerie Wellington band, “New Blue Blood” 1987.) The first time I went to Europe with Otis Rush, in 1988...

...Till, the first time I played at ‘BLUE NOTE’ in Beijing as the Main Performer with my Trio in 2019. BUT the big memory I have was the Guitar Player in Austin Texas when I tour with Jimmy Rogers in 1984. When we were playing at a club called Antone’s, the guy wearing a ten-gallon hat who came to see Jimmy started playing with Guiter next to me. I didn't know who the guitarist was, but it was loud for me. After the show, in the dressing room, the man asked Jimmy, "Can I use your Piano Player?” and Jimmy said “NO.” Then the man approached and told me with his face down, “hey man you sounds great, really like Chicago sounds I love your play!” It was only after I returned to the hotel that I knew the man's name was Stevie Ray Vaughan...

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I don’t say Old School is the best, but for me, the blues scene today tends to depend on technologies such as musical instruments, amp and effector. As a result, the sound became louder for me. The number of keyboard players, such as boogie woogie and shuffle, who cannot play old style blues has increased. I hope that there will be more songs and bands that need upright bass and piano sounds, and will have more diverse blues society.

"Kyoto, where I grew up in Japan, is called the Kansai area and has always confronted the culture of Tokyo as absolute majority. So, I knew that majority is not always right, and there may be truth in a few. As I learned more about Blues as ‘African American Culture’ (a minority culture) I came to think more closer to the vulnerable people in the society. At the same time, it influenced my way of doing things differently from others and creating my own." (Photo by ©︎陳介从)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Fall in love more. Read more books, watch more movies. Talk more with friends. Play more. Worry more about life, frustrate and enjoy life. Sometimes it's more important than practicing an instrument or song.

Which was the most interesting period in Japanese blues scene? What lines connect the Blues from US to Japan?

The first blues concert in Japan was Robert Jr. Lockwood & the Aces in the early 1970s when I was still in high school. Japan at that time was in a blues boom I borrowed records from a friend and desperately recorded it on a cassette tape, listening to the blues all day long. The number of live music clubs has increased, and young people, mainly university students, have formed a blues band, and blues has become popular at clubs and university festivals.

Around that time, the monthly Blues Magazine was launched, and the major record companies starts to release Blues Albums and partnered with Delmark, Rooster, Alligator and other Blues label in US. Then P-VINE Records was founded. I couldn't say that they could understand the essence of Blues from language problems, so they begin to feel the boringness of the monotonous composition. Only P-VINE now releases Blues Albums and not many anymore.

What is the impact of Blues music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

I grew up as a Japanese in Japan and my English is not native either. I'm neither Afro American even nor American, but I've been playing Blues in Chicago, home of the blues and I’ve been facing this conflict for a long time. I love blues, not only as music, but also as culture. It doesn't matter the color of the skin or the language today and Blues has become a part of my life. It is important to get to know the historical background of Blues and the origin of music. But only thing I want to do is to play hard and entertain people.

"Kyoto, where I grew up in Japan, is called the Kansai area and has always confronted the culture of Tokyo as absolute majority. So, I knew that majority is not always right, and there may be truth in a few. As I learned more about Blues as ‘African American Culture’ (a minority culture) I came to think more closer to the vulnerable people in the society. At the same time, it influenced my way of doing things differently from others and creating my own." (Photo: Sumito Ariyoshi, aka Ariyo

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

As the musician, I like to go to 50s in Chicago. Because there are in the heyday of so many great classic blues piano players, such as Otis Spann, Big Maceo, Memphis Slim, Johnny Jones and more.

Personally, Kyoto in early February 1978.  It's a trifle, but I want to fix my mistake that has caused pain that hasn’t disappeared, despite the fact that it’s been 40 years.

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