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Sabu Toyozumi

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Yoshisaburo "Sabu" Toyozumi (born Tsurumi, Yokohama; 1943[1]) is one of the small group of musical pioneers who comprised the first generation playing free improvisation music in Japan.[2] As an improvising drummer he played and recorded with many of the key figures in Japanese free music including the two principal figures in the first generation, Masayuki Takayanagi and Kaoru Abe from the late 1960s onwards. He is one of a very few of this circle who are still alive and engaged in playing this music today.[3]

Toyozumi features on numerous commercially available recordings with many of the most notable Japanese and international improvising musicians including Derek Bailey, Mototeru Takagi, Misha Mengelberg, Peter Brötzmann, Keiji Haino, Otomo Yoshihide,[4] Tom Cora and Fred Van Hove.[1]

In 1971 he became the only non-American member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians(AACM)).[5] He dedicated his first record as a leader, Sabu – Message to Chicago, to compositions by AACM members, and in 1992 toured and recorded with AACM trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith.[6]

Toyozumi has been instrumental in bringing many European and American improvisers to Japan including Derek Bailey, Misha Mengelberg and Sunny Murray.[7]

In 2005 British improvising guitarist and promoter John Russell arranged a two-day event dedicated to Toyozumi in which the drummer performed in different groupings with 14 musicians from the London improvised music scene including, most notably, Evan Parker, Lol Coxhill, Phil Minton, John Edwards and Steve Beresford.[7] The Wire described his playing at this time as follows: "He’s busy, but there’s always space between his notes, and he avoids the flashy technical solution to musical problems. His playing is crisp and dramatic, with a very occasional use of repetition to spark a climax. If it’s possible for a drum kit to ask awkward questions, Toyozumi seems to be doing it".[7]

In an interview with Cadence Magazine in 1988 Toyozumi makes clear the importance of his relationship with nature as an influence on his playing[1] and Clive Bell writing in The Wire in 2005 notes "his devotion to the way of Watazumido, the late shakuhachi player and Zen master, whose performances mixed martial arts and music in a bizarre cocktail of discipline and craziness".[7]

In 2009 he returned to London to feature as one of the players in Russell's improvisation festival Fete Quaqua which was recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3.[8] He continues to tour widely and in the past year or so has performed in Belgium and France,[9] Chile,[10] Taiwan,[11] England,[12] Philippines[13] and Greece.[14] He also performs from time to time with the legendary Japanese noise group Hijokaidan. Currently he performs on the erhu – a two-stringed Chinese violin – as often as playing the drums.[15]

Selected discography


Sabu Toyozumi has performed on over 80 published recordings. A full discography is maintained at Sabu Toyozumi Discography.[16] Besides those listed below, Toyozumi also appears on recordings by Anthony Braxton, Charles Mingus and Stomu Yamashta.

As band leader

  • Sabu – Message to Chicago (1974), Trio Records/Nadja with Ryoh Hara and Syoji Ukaji
  • Water Weed (1975), Trio Records – with Takashi Tokuhiro and Mototeru Takagi
  • Sublimation (2004), Bishop Records – with Kawasaki Jun, Kando Hideaki and Iizuka Satoshi
  • Son's Scapegoat (2006), Siwa- with Kondo Hideaki, Kawasaki Jun and Takuo Tanigawa

With Masayuki Takayanagi's New Directions

Improvising collaborations

With Hijokaidan

  • Split (2010), Harbinger Sound, split LP with Airway
  • Made in Japan (2012), Doubtmusic


  1. ^ a b c Rusch, Bob "The Questionnaire", Cadence Volume 15, Number 2, 1989
  2. ^ Yoshihide, Otomo "Leaving the Jazz Café", Resonance Volume 4 Number 2, 1996, p.6
  3. ^ Yoshihide, Otomo "Leaving the Jazz Café", Resonance Volume 4 Number 2, 1996, p.7 note 5. Yoshihide notes that "While many of this first generation have died, or for practical reasons have stopped playing free music, or have sought protection within the small shelter of jazz, Yoshizawa [Motoharu] is one of the few figures who continues openly to collaborate in free improvisation with various musicians to this day." Yoshizawa Motoharu died in 1998.
  4. ^ Henritzi, Michel, (September 2008) "Nihon Free Jazz – interview with Yoshisaburo Toyozumi"Revue et Corrigee Issue 77
  5. ^ Lewis, George A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (2008) University of Chicago Press, p. 285
  6. ^ Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith Archived 24 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine biography at AACM website
  7. ^ a b c d Bell, Clive "The Sabu Toyozumi Project" (October 2005), The Wire issue 260, p. 82
  8. ^ BBC Radio 3 Jazz on 3, 12 October 2009 programme details
  9. ^ Sabu Toyozumi & Jean Michel Van Schouwburg summer tour 2012 archive listing
  10. ^ Proyectotarabust artists in residence, Sabu Toyozumi
  11. ^ Taiwan Gig Guide Roxy Roots concert listing Archived 18 April 2013 at archive.today
  12. ^ Fete Quaqua musicians' biographies
  13. ^ E.X.I.S.T. concert listing
  14. ^ Knot Gallery concert listing
  15. ^ Eyles, John "Sabu Toyozumi: Kosai Yujyo", All About Jazz, 3 August 2012
  16. ^ "Sabu Toyozumi discography". Excite. Retrieved 7 October 2022.

Further reading

  • Soejima Teruto. Nihon furii jazu shi (日本フリージャズ史, The History of Japanese Free Jazz). Tokyo: Seidosha, 2002 (Japanese)