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Gonzo Report: Hiroshima shows that rebellion is innate to innovation

Jazz fusion duo produces pristine sounds at Museum of Making Music

Koto master June Kuramoto; Jazz explorer Kimo Cornwell
Koto master June Kuramoto; Jazz explorer Kimo Cornwell

“This is why they didn’t let me talk in the band,” joked master kotoist June Kuramoto from a stage at The Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad. The band was jazz fusion legends Hiroshima, which is made up of Kuramoto and keyboardist Kimo Cornwell. Her instrument has 13 strings, and is outfitted with the same number of movable bridges that change the pitch and key — unlike a guitar with its string gauges of differing sizes and pegs that can decrease or increase the pitch. Kuramoto needed to slide the bridges and tune the koto between every song, but no one minded. I could not imagine anyone being hostile to or disrespecting her.

During our pre-show interview, when she discussed touring with Miles Davis, I almost couldn’t stop myself from asking “Was he really a mean motherfucker?” But in a rare moment of, fuck, I dunno what, my potty mouth was nullified. Perhaps that was her superpower, radiating calm and kindness that made me more mindful of what I said, made me choose my words more wisely. It’s also quite possible that my liver was out of whack, causing me to behave oddly.

Kuramoto and Cornwell’s place in history is solid, and compounds the experience of the Museum. A division of the National Association of Music Merchants  (NAMM), the program opened in 2000 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the trade show’s birth. It’s more than a collection of dusty relics and shiny new technology. The experience is immersive, helping to manifest the link between amplification and the rise of rock and roll, and more.

After storing her cello safely in her office, executive director Carolyn Grant gave me a tour and some more in-depth history, explaining how the pandemic worked in their favor, since the museum’s renovations coincided with closure mandates. Her enthusiasm for the video and audio enhancements to the kiosks at each display was contagious. She noted that people’s methods of learning — visual, reading, or audio — were all taken into account, through text and interviews with the musicians and with the people that created the instruments.

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We paused before a bust of Henry Steinway, the great-grandson of the piano maker who founded Steinway & Sons. Grandson Henry served as the museum board’s first president, and Grant’s fondness for him was evident in her voice and her eyes. Moving through the displays, my mind was made dizzy with information, and I realized I could spend hours in here soaking it up and learning.

And then I heard an enthusiastic cacophony. I sought the source: a boy, under 10, playing a banjo while his mother smiled at his energetic efforts. When I asked him why he picked it up, and whether he thought it would be a good way to annoy his mother, he told me he just wanted to pick it up and make sounds, so he did. Many rooms had instruments placed there for people to just pick up and play. I used a Fender Precision to play “War Pigs” and a guide told me that headphones were available, but I declined, content to hold the instrument and imagine that I sounded better than I probably did.

I had some time and a date with a lobster roll at the Green Dragon Tavern, which claimed to make it “Connecticut style.” The food represented my home state proudly. It was a short walk back to the museum, past Carlsbad’s renowned flower fields. Once there, I settled into my seat in the music hall. I saw the venue filling up with eager fans, snippets of conversation running the gamut from memories of seeing Hiroshima to a few who said they could die happy after this performance. The sound was pristine, and the admiration with which Cornwell and Kuramoto regarded each other was beautiful to see.

Rebellion is innate to innovation, no matter how gently it expresses itself. Cornwell searched for jazz records in his home state of Hawaii, unstoppable in his quest when he was younger. No mean feat in pre-internet times. Kuramoto was once reduced to tears when told in Japan that many people disapproved of her bringing the koto — their national instrument — to modern music. It was her passion and love for it that propelled her, and the sold-out audience was grateful for it. Driving home, the flower fields took on a new beauty as Kuramoto and Cornwell’s set echoed in my head, providing a soundtrack that I didn’t even realize was missing before the show.

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Koto master June Kuramoto; Jazz explorer Kimo Cornwell
Koto master June Kuramoto; Jazz explorer Kimo Cornwell

“This is why they didn’t let me talk in the band,” joked master kotoist June Kuramoto from a stage at The Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad. The band was jazz fusion legends Hiroshima, which is made up of Kuramoto and keyboardist Kimo Cornwell. Her instrument has 13 strings, and is outfitted with the same number of movable bridges that change the pitch and key — unlike a guitar with its string gauges of differing sizes and pegs that can decrease or increase the pitch. Kuramoto needed to slide the bridges and tune the koto between every song, but no one minded. I could not imagine anyone being hostile to or disrespecting her.

During our pre-show interview, when she discussed touring with Miles Davis, I almost couldn’t stop myself from asking “Was he really a mean motherfucker?” But in a rare moment of, fuck, I dunno what, my potty mouth was nullified. Perhaps that was her superpower, radiating calm and kindness that made me more mindful of what I said, made me choose my words more wisely. It’s also quite possible that my liver was out of whack, causing me to behave oddly.

Kuramoto and Cornwell’s place in history is solid, and compounds the experience of the Museum. A division of the National Association of Music Merchants  (NAMM), the program opened in 2000 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the trade show’s birth. It’s more than a collection of dusty relics and shiny new technology. The experience is immersive, helping to manifest the link between amplification and the rise of rock and roll, and more.

After storing her cello safely in her office, executive director Carolyn Grant gave me a tour and some more in-depth history, explaining how the pandemic worked in their favor, since the museum’s renovations coincided with closure mandates. Her enthusiasm for the video and audio enhancements to the kiosks at each display was contagious. She noted that people’s methods of learning — visual, reading, or audio — were all taken into account, through text and interviews with the musicians and with the people that created the instruments.

Sponsored
Sponsored

We paused before a bust of Henry Steinway, the great-grandson of the piano maker who founded Steinway & Sons. Grandson Henry served as the museum board’s first president, and Grant’s fondness for him was evident in her voice and her eyes. Moving through the displays, my mind was made dizzy with information, and I realized I could spend hours in here soaking it up and learning.

And then I heard an enthusiastic cacophony. I sought the source: a boy, under 10, playing a banjo while his mother smiled at his energetic efforts. When I asked him why he picked it up, and whether he thought it would be a good way to annoy his mother, he told me he just wanted to pick it up and make sounds, so he did. Many rooms had instruments placed there for people to just pick up and play. I used a Fender Precision to play “War Pigs” and a guide told me that headphones were available, but I declined, content to hold the instrument and imagine that I sounded better than I probably did.

I had some time and a date with a lobster roll at the Green Dragon Tavern, which claimed to make it “Connecticut style.” The food represented my home state proudly. It was a short walk back to the museum, past Carlsbad’s renowned flower fields. Once there, I settled into my seat in the music hall. I saw the venue filling up with eager fans, snippets of conversation running the gamut from memories of seeing Hiroshima to a few who said they could die happy after this performance. The sound was pristine, and the admiration with which Cornwell and Kuramoto regarded each other was beautiful to see.

Rebellion is innate to innovation, no matter how gently it expresses itself. Cornwell searched for jazz records in his home state of Hawaii, unstoppable in his quest when he was younger. No mean feat in pre-internet times. Kuramoto was once reduced to tears when told in Japan that many people disapproved of her bringing the koto — their national instrument — to modern music. It was her passion and love for it that propelled her, and the sold-out audience was grateful for it. Driving home, the flower fields took on a new beauty as Kuramoto and Cornwell’s set echoed in my head, providing a soundtrack that I didn’t even realize was missing before the show.

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