Article | Representing the Authentic: Tak Shindo’s “Exotic Sound” and Japanese American History By W. Anthony Sheppard

In the 1949 Columbia Pictures film Tokyo Joe, Humphrey Bogart portrays an American in postwar Japan searching for his missing wife.1  Early in the film, he thinks he hears her singing the song she always sang, only to discover that it is a recording of her voice. Her song, “These Foolish Things,” will haunt him throughout the film. At one point he hears the song performed by a Japanese nightclub singer in unaccented English and appears momentarily entranced. However, recalling that a Japanese body is producing the music, he rejects the performance.2 [View video] Going downstairs to see the Japanese singer would have only deepened his disappointment. Racial perception is most commonly considered a task for the eyes achieved at the moment anatomical difference is encountered (Gilman 25). Hearing alone is often not deemed trustworthy in the (apparently) crucial process of discerning and classifying race. In fact, visible racial signs can racially determine auditory perception.3 Moments of racial confusion, particularly those arising from a perceived racial mismatch in sound and image, seem to produce a psychological shock as they blur the boundaries between self and other. Seeing an Asian body producing an assumed “white” or “black” sound has repeatedly provoked such confusion, disappointment, or even ridicule in mainstream American popular culture.

Figure 1. Tokyo Joe poster

The Tokyo Joe sequence offers an apt allegory of the Japanese American social condition. To a greater degree than other minorities in the US, Asian Americans remain stuck in limbo as “perpetual foreigners” (Wu 79–129) no matter how white they may sound. As Henry Yu writes: “For Asian Americans, whether you dance an exotic dance or try to waltz like everyone else, you are still exotic” (Yu 203; Also see Takaki 214–216). This perceived doubleness was strikingly illustrated by sociologist Robert Parks in 1926. Upon interviewing a Japanese American woman who sounded perfectly “white” to his ears, Parks remarked: “I was still not able to escape the impression that I was listening to an American woman in a Japanese disguise” (Yu 67). Ironically, in the nightclub sequence from Tokyo Joe we actually are seeing and hearing an American woman producing the music, a woman whose singing voice lacked any trace of a Japanese accent. Not the white woman whom Bogart seeks, but a Japanese American: the Nisei (i.e., second generation) singer Karie Shindo, who at certain points in her career appeared with Lionel Hampton and the Mills Brothers and who was the sister of Tak Shindo, himself barely visible in the background as the accordion player.4

Tak Shindo (1922–2002) led an extraordinary musical career while remaining primarily in the background. He served as arranger, composer, and musical advisor for film, television, radio, and Las Vegas revues. (See the Appendix for a chronology of Shindo’s career.) He released several successful albums in the exotica genre, was a dance band leader who never missed a New Year’s Eve in forty years, performed in recording sessions on koto and on a variety of band instruments, acted in bit parts in Hollywood, served as a translator and tour guide in Japan, was a musical columnist and publisher, studied historical musicology and Asian religions—earning a master’s degreewith a thesis on shakuhachi history—and, as an associate professor, taught world music courses and directed jazz ensembles at the college level. Prefiguring the dynamics of 1980s world beat, Shindo suddenly found the mainstream spotlight shining on him in the late 1950s as the representative of Japanese musical culture in Hollywood film and television. Several of his albums from the 1950s and 60s—combining elements of Japanese music with the big band style—received renewed attention in the 1990s as part of the exotica/cocktail/lounge revival. Shindo’s career is significant for the study of Asian American history, musical exoticism and racial representation, and the history of Japanese American jazz. Although he was clearly exceptional and not representative of Nisei musicians, his life and career were fundamentally shaped by the Nisei experience.

Early in his career, Shindo frequently inspired confusion by composing and arranging jazz music. As he put it: “They were just kind of surprised by the fact that I could write jazz; they thought I was just writing some Oriental music. … Frankly,the thing is, whether I’m Japanese, or black, or white, doesn’t make any difference. If you’re born and raised here you know more about jazz than you would [anything else].”5 Shindo’s statement appears to resonate with Ingrid Monson’s observation: “Since whiteness tends to be a sign of inauthenticity within the world of jazz, the appeals of white musicians to universalistic rhetoric can be perceived as power plays rather than genuine expressions of universal brotherhood” (203). Shindo’s claims of racial universalism for jazz and his participation in popular primitivism and orientalism might seem to constitute a “move toward whiteness” on his part. However, this option was never fully viable for Shindo, and his motivation for this particular statement was to lay claim to a musical style generally perceived as lying beyond the boundaries of “Japaneseness.” The insistence on belonging fully to mainstream American culture and the desire to distance oneself from all exotic association were very common Nisei responses to mid-century American racism.

Shindo, however, never entirely separated himself from his exotic status. As he explained: “Everyone is looking for a style. So in my case, I decided being Oriental, I had something I should draw upon and so I decided to go ‘exotic sound.’” What, exactly, did he have to “draw upon”? What was that “something” that he possessed as an “Oriental”? Was it the limited knowledge of Japanese music that he had acquired as a child, or was it the exotic status of “perpetual foreigner” generally attributed to Asian Americans by white Americans? Because he was seen as being Japanese rather than American, Shindo’s “exotic sound” was automatically accepted as “authentic” and his knowledge of the foreign taken for granted. As the Hollywood composer David Raksin told me: “We all went to him when we didn’t want to do something stupid.”6 By helping Hollywood avoid doing “something stupid” on the soundtrack, Shindo provided directors and composers a sense of security that their films were somehow achieving or at least approximating “authenticity.” In attempting to define his musical identity one needs to consider whether Shindo was primarily a product or a producer of musical orientalism and whether his exotic status ultimately proved to be a limiting or an enabling condition for his career. Was he moving musically toward or away from the categories of white, black, and yellow, or did his music point in multiple directions on the racial compass simultaneously?

A Nisei Musical Education

Susan Asai, Jo Anne Combs, and Minako Waseda have documented the history of Japanese American music in Los Angeles and have discussed the particular duality of the Nisei musical experience.7 Shindo’s musical background clearly illustrates their findings. His mother sang traditional and popular Japanese songs at home and on KRKD radio, and there was a shamisen and a large collection of Japanese recordings in the house. His family lived in Little Tokyo next door to a Japanese classical dance studio and across the street from a movie theater. As a child, Shindo sat in on the dance lessons and was taken to the silent film theater by a neighbor who played violin in the pit. During Japanese films, Shindo heard the narration of the benshi accompanied by shamisen. During the American films he gained his first experience of Hollywood film music. Shindo attended Japanese language school where he was introduced to basic features of Japanese traditional culture. His first public musical performance took place at around age fourteen when he sang “Blue Hawaii” on stage at the Olivers’ Japanese American youth club. In his teens Shindo played E-flat horn in a Boy Scouts drum and bugle corps, receiving private lessons and learning western notation. Finally, of course, like most American teenagers he listened enthusiastically to 1930s swing.

With the internment in concentration camps of some 120,000 Japanese Americans, roughly two-thirds of whom were US citizens, the Nisei were bluntly informed by the government of their perpetual foreignness. As David K. Yoo has stated: “No other second-generation group has had to face the questions of its place in America under the extraordinary conditions that the Nisei encountered” (9). One common reaction was to attempt to assert one’s identity as an American as strongly as possible, often through music.8 Music continued to play a central role in Nisei identity formation, as George Yoshida has shown in his study of dance band music in the camps. For many interned Nisei, performing or dancing to swing music offered a simulation of normality and was an enactment of their hopes of being accepted as Americans. In her autobiographical account of the internment, Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston recalls her attraction as a young girl to American popular music and her rejection of Japanese traditional culture. At one point during the internment she went to an old geisha in the camp to learn odori (traditional dancing for the Obon festival), but this “occult figure” and the culture she represented proved too exotic for the young Nisei girl and she never went back (109). A most dramatic depiction of the Nisei rejection of Japanese culture occurs in the 1990 20th Century-Fox film Come See the Paradise. After her father has been arrested by the FBI and as her family prepares to leave their home for the internment camps, Lily, the eldest daughter, and her siblings energetically break all of their father’s recordings of Japanese music. This is a poignant and symbolic moment. We have witnessed her father lovingly caring for this collection early in the film and will hear him sing Japanese folk songs in camp as a lament for his lost patriarchy.9 Many Nisei disavowed the inheritance of Japanese music, attempting to avoid yet another stigma of cultural difference.

Had it not been for his internment at Manzanar, Tak Shindo would most likely have become an electrical engineer.10 While he had some musical experience, he had just begun college before Pearl Harbor and had no thoughts of pursuing music as a career. In his July 10, 1942 internment interview, Shindo did not list music under “educational specialization” and “significant activities.” Music does appear under “skills and hobbies,” but only in ninth place after such activities as radio, baseball, and bowling. Asai has referred to the “abnormal opportunities for music making” afforded to the Nisei by their internment (435–36).11 Shindo performed in one of the camp orchestras and took advantage of the camp’s musical education program. Most significantly for his later career, he also took correspondence courses in orchestration.12 Although traditional Japanese music was present in the camps, most Nisei performed and listened to the mainstream popular music of the day.13 However, unlike other Nisei musicians, Shindo never renounced his Japanese musical heritage. At the end of his life, he still owned his family’s Japanese music collection of 78 records, which had been placed safely in storage during the internment.

Near the end of the war, Shindo was enlisted as a translator in the Military Intelligence Service. He continued his correspondence courses and took piano lessons when off duty while “most of the guys were out raising hell.” At Fort Snelling, Minnesota, Shindo served as an arranger for the Nisei Eager Beavers band.14 George Yoshida, a member of that band, remembers Shindo arranging the 1938 Japanese hit song “China Nights.” However, the band refused to play the song as it fell outside the mainstream American big band music they were devoted to and would have served as an unwanted marker of otherness.15 Apparently, this initial attempt at exotica by Shindo was premature. Shindo had more success in composing a musical show for the camp and it was this experience that encouraged him to pursue a career in music. Initially, his internalization of mainstream racial prejudice (against both Asian and African Americans) almost forestalled his attempts at a musical career. As Shindo put it: “I always thought that the Caucasians are the best—they could write music, they’re outstanding in jazz … that I didn’t have a chance. Because during that time there was so much prejudice going on, why should they hire me when they could hire a Caucasian?”16 The success of this show made him change his mind: “I couldn’t go up and play the instrument and direct an all-Caucasian band, but I think I could write professionally and stay in back of the curtain.” During his tour of duty at the Counterintelligence Corps in Baltimore, Shindo made multiple trips to New York City to hear Latin jazz, particularly as performed by Tito Puente. After his discharge, he returned to college, this time for music studies. He simultaneously took courses in jazz writing at the American Operatic Laboratory school and formed his own dance band in 1947. In addition, he worked with Latin dance bands in Los Angeles—sitting in with bands on Olvera Street, traveling with them to Mexico, and releasing an album of his Latin-style compositions and arrangements in 1949.

Shindo’s racial identity was at issue from the inception of his professional career: “I joined the musicians’ union [in 1947], which at that time was a very strange situation. There was no Japanese American in the union. You had the black union and the white union … I could have probably joined either one. … I joined the white one.”17 Shindo’s band performed primarily for Japanese American audiences at high school and returnee club dances and in smaller combos at Chinatown restaurants. However, the band itself was racially diverse. As Shindo explained in a May 9, 1947 interview: “As long as a player can produce good music, that’s all I’m interested in. My band is supposed to be Japanese-American. But besides the four Nisei on it, I have Jewish, Negro, Russian, Irish, and Mexican-American boys on it. And we have a swell time together” (qtd. in Keats).18 This article continued by paraphrasing Shindo: “Tak says musicians speak a common language. And that the question of minority groups would be settled in a hurry, if we could all get together through music.” Throughout his life, however, music proved just as likely to reinscribe racial boundaries as to transcend them. While leading his multiracial band, Shindo also pursued educational goals that would ultimately shape the rest of his career. He enrolled in graduate school at the University of Southern California in order to study composition with the famed film composer Miklós Rózsa and to pursue a Masters degree in Musicology and Asian Studies.


Figure 2. Tak Shindo and his band (c. 1949)19

Representing the Authentic in Hollywood

From the end of the US occupation of Japan in 1952 through the early 1960s, Hollywood repeatedly presented America’s new Cold War exotic ally on the screen. Authentic representation of Japanese culture was a persistently professed goal in the creation of these films. However, as is often true of orientalist exploits, the actual exotic rarely lived up to Hollywood’s ideal. Although devoted to Latin jazz, Shindo was repeatedly called upon to “represent the authentic” during the postwar years by serving as the “Japanese musical advisor” for such films as SayonaraStopover TokyoEscapade in JapanCry for Happy, and A Majority of One. Shindo had come to the attention of the studios through his earlier work on Tokyo Joe and, perhaps, through a brief article on Japanese music that he had published in 1952.20 Shindo provided Japanese instruments for recording sessions, hired Japanese and Japanese American performers, arranged Japanese folk tunes, and decided what Japanese material to use and where it should appear in a film. In addition, my research reveals that some of the orientalist music that appears to have been created by white composers such as Franz Waxman and Max Steiner was actually composed by Shindo. (This fact is not always evident from the cue sheets, but is clear in the signed pages of the manuscript score.) Although much of Shindo’s music in these films bears little resemblance to traditional Japanese styles, apparently his mere participation offered an aura of authenticity. For example, at the moment of arrival in Japan in the 1962 Warner Bros. film A Majority of One, we see and hear the following: [View video] Searching through the manuscript score in the Max Steiner collection at Brigham Young University reveals that this music featuring gong, xylophone, piccolo, glockenspiel, sleigh bells, wood blocks, and shamisen was composed by Shindo. This hustle-and-bustle music of offbeat accentuation and staccato eighths and sixteenths is quite similar to that composed for analogous moments in other films by white composers—cf. Franz Waxman’s cue for landing in Japan in the 1962 My Geisha. Shindo’s contributions to these films repeatedly centered on sequences celebrating the ideal nature of Japanese women, as is evident in the following excerpt from Cry for Happy. [View video] To some extent recapitulating the position of Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club and Josephine Baker in Parisian primitivism, we discover a Japanese American orientalist at the heart of Hollywood’s musical japonisme.

Sayonara proved to be the crucial film in Shindo’s career. As he put it, after the striking success of this film “the whole thing just lined up one after the other … it just rode and rode to the point I couldn’t keep up with it anymore.” The compositional history of the Sayonara soundtrack offers some lessons in the mechanics of Hollywood’s musical orientalism.21 The film’s composer, Franz Waxman, professed a desire to achieve authentic exotic representation. However, the exotic other was repeatedly rejected. For example, Waxman initially refused Shindo’s proposal to employ Japanese instrumentalists on the soundtrack. In a memo, Waxman wrote:

I would also suggest that our property department try to rent three of the Japanese harps (Lotos) [sic] so that we can assign three of our musicians to practice on them between now and the recording. They are comparatively easy to play and I am sure that our people will have no trouble studying their parts. The players recommended by Tak Shindo do not read Western style notation and it would make the recording exceedingly difficult. (Waxman)

A compromise solution for achieving sonic authenticity was reached when Waxman had his harpist insert paper between the strings and this adapted western instrument doubled the Japanese kotoist. Although hired to help insure authenticity, Shindo ironically played a large role in displacing Japanese music in the film. He successfully argued that the recordings made in Japan were of poor quality and that the Japanese folk songs should be arranged for western orchestra and chorus and rerecorded in Hollywood. Shindo ultimately devoted much of his career to westernizing Japanese music and Japanning jazz standards.

Shindo was extraordinarily active in film, television, and radio in the late 1950s and early 1960s. For example, he composed and conducted the music accompanying the 1957 CBS Radio Workshop episode “The Japanese Drama.” Shindo’s score for this broadcast employed several gagaku instruments, the gagaku piece “Etenraku,” and the shamisen, and was more clearly influenced by Japanese traditional music than were his other works of this period. The announcer introducing this “free adaptation of a noh play” referred to him as “the noted Japanese composer”—a moment Shindo marked with a brassy fanfare in sharp contrast to the prevailing “Japanese” style. Early in the 1957 film Escapade in Japan we see a group of geisha playing koto and shamisenand then hear a white American woman declare: “It’s charming. Now I can really believe that I am in the Far East.” Although Shindo remained uncredited, apparently his musical contribution at such moments in the film was deemed essential for creating credible “atmosphere” on a soundtrack otherwise composed by Steiner. For the 1961 film Cry for Happy, Shindo was paid $273.70 by Columbia Pictures to transcribe and arrange one Japanese folk song, to arrange two other pieces composed by George Duning (the film’s credited composer) for koto and European instruments, and to compose a solo for shamisen.

Figure 3. Publicity still for “The Sakae Ito Story” Wagon Train (1958)

By far the most bizarre of Shindo’s Hollywood assignments was his score for the 1958 Wagon Train episode “The Sakae Ito Story.” In this episode of the popular television series, the samurai Sakae Ito (played by Sessue Hayakawa)is attempting to return to Japan in c. 1860 with the ashes of his recently deceased master. As he crosses the Wild West he decides to join the wagon train of Major Seth Adams (Ward Bond). Shindo employed the shamisen and kotoand pentatonic melodies moving in stacked fourths and fifths, punctuated by gong and timpani strokes, to represent Ito throughout the episode and hired Kaoru Matsuda and Kazue Kudo (a famous Los Angeles based kotoperformer and teacher) to perform on the soundtrack. In one scene, Shindo approximates the timbres and style of gagaku as we watch Ito and his servant at prayer in their covered wagon. As the Time magazine reviewer noted, “The samisen sounded across the plains eerier than any coyote’s howl” (“Westward”).

Some members of the wagon train come to imagine that this exotic man must be carrying precious jewels and they decide to rob him. Upon breaking open the urn they had stolen from Ito’s wagon, they are disgusted to find it filled with nothing more than ashes, which they toss to the ground. Ito tracks the thieves down and then challenges them to fight, armed only with his samurai sword against their pistols. At this very moment, Sharp Knife the Indian (played in red face) arrives with a band of braves and forces the three white men to drop their guns. Ito’s mysterious ethnicity has puzzled and fascinated the white wagon train men from the start. At the climactic moment of armed confrontation, Ito’s identity is fully revealed as he is defined through a process of racial triangulation with the white and red characters. The camera cuts pointedly between shots of the “red,” “yellow,” and “white” faces, prompting the viewer to make racial comparisons. Shindo’s music in this sequence helps us locate the position of yellow on the spectrum between white and red. Sharp Knife is accompanied by a blunt timpani tattoo. He proceeds to study Ito’s face in great detail as the samurai stands fearlessly with sword bared. Sharp Knife’s timpani line alternates and then overlaps and joins with Ito’s koto, which plays “Rokudan,” one of the instrument’s most famous pieces. Through the resultant parallel motion in racial musical counterpoint, Shindo signals a fundamental connection between these two exotic warriors.22 Although puzzled by Ito’s facial features—particularly his eyes—Sharp Knife apparently recognizes him as a fellow “noble savage” and announces “Not white man.” [View video] He then decides to level the playing field by forcing the three white men to fight this exotic warrior with tomahawks. Ito cuts the men down offscreen. As Major Adams arrives upon the grisly scene, he stares at Ito and asks “What are you, savage?” Ito gestures to Sharp Knife and replies that perhaps he is “savage like him.” The gagaku style returns as Ito prepares to commit hara-kiri in order to join his master in death and declares: “Perhaps Indian understand Ito much more than you could. I think Ito and Indian are more alike.” [View video] A little more than a decade after Hiroshima, the Japanese warrior can now join the ranks of the Red Man as an exotic conquered figure in the white romantic imagination.

Shindo’s Exotica

Leading up to Hawaii’s statehood in 1959, Americans had been increasingly introduced through films, novels, and the popular press to exotic Asian and Pacific Rim lands that had suddenly taken on strategic geopolitical importance.23 With the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the popular imagination was also turned toward the equally exotic realm of outer space. In the 1950s and 60s new styles of “mood music” developed that paralleled this popular interest in the beyond and that seemed aimed at calming Cold War jitters (Lanza 67–69). The coexistence of “exotica” and “space-age bachelor pad” music in the Cold War period recapitulated the earlier simultaneity of European primitivism and Futurism. Whether employing recorded “jungle sounds” or the electronic bleeps of a flying saucer, both musical genres promised to transport listeners to alternative fantastic realms. Joseph Lanza has described exotica music as “an enchanting, teeming, intoxicating, and festering easy-listening sub-genre that vexed many an unsuspecting ear with the dark forces of ‘foreignness’ while staying within the bounds of propriety” (120). In the Cold War, defining the “foreign” took on a new urgency. Christina Klein has argued that the “dual identity” of Asian Americans gave them a particular value as Americans during the Cold War (240). In certain political quarters, Asian Americans were assumed to be capable of aiding US expansionist efforts in Asia and, as a “model minority,” could serve as symbols of America’s pluralism to counter stinging Soviet critiques of American racism in the Third World. In this context, being a Japanese American cultural ambassador could prove particularly advantageous both at home and abroad.

Figure 4. Brass and Bamboo (February 1960)

In one of the few surveys of the genre, Philip Hayward listed Tak Shindo as one of the “notable exponents [of exotica] who merit individual study” (15n4). Shindo’s inescapable doubleness as an Asian American musician is nowhere more evident than in the packaging and reception of his exotica albums of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The album covers and jacket notes of both Brass and Bamboo (February 1960) and Accent on Bamboo (August 1960) promise an enticing bicultural music and forcefully predetermine our encounters with this music. The cover image on both albums is divided horizontally or vertically into two utterly different racial/musical realms. In each case, the white female model is presented as sexually sophisticated and modern as she appears caressing and surrounded by phallic instruments in front of modish studio backdrops. The Japanese women, in contrast, are presented

Figure 5. Accent on Bamboo (August 1960)

in kimono in a natural setting or with flowers, demurely holding their instruments and representing an alternative form of sensuality. Clearly, the traditional conflation of the exotic and the erotic is at play here. The photos, line drawings, and text on the reverse side of each jacket emphasize the Japanese instruments and Shindo’s expertise in Japanese music, while also mentioning his military service and native Angeleno status (actually, he was born in Sacramento).24 These albums promise music that is both exotic and familiar. The Brass and Bamboo notes proclaim: “Each tune is cleverly ‘oriented’ to this brilliant blend of two musical cultures in a dynamic fusion of sounds and ideas. So here is Brass and Bamboo—Tak Shindo’s new Japanese-American plan for musical enjoyment, as American as ‘Ichiban’—as Japanese as ‘it swings.’” The Accent on Bamboo notes reassure us that “[a]ll in all, this well-arranged meeting of East and West is a swinging thing, and Oriental too—but scrutable.” The emphasis placed on Shindo’s exotic status was carried over into the promotional campaign for Brass and Bamboo. For instance, in a radio interview in March 1960 introducing this album, Shindo was made to speak in Japanese and the interviewer translated his lines: “I will be overjoyed and humbly grateful if my latest effort meets with your approval,” and “The conditions here are, well … groovy!”25 The success of Brass and Bamboo prompted Capitol Records to request a follow up album to be completed within thirty days.26

Although the album covers promise an exotic sonic experience of “musical sukiyaki” and “far-out sounds of the Far East,” the music consists primarily of strong but somewhat straight big band arrangements of American pop standards. Shindo’s arrangement of “Poinciana,” with its evocative tinkling bell tree and sweeps on the koto, offers a representative example. This approach to Japanese-inflected exotica is also heard on Shindo’s cool and liquid arrangement of Puccini’s “One Fine Day” in which Shindo adds a koto introduction, finger cymbals, and a hip koto interlude to Butterfly’s aria. The three original Shindo compositions on these two albums incorporate Japanese (or at least orientalist) elements a bit more prominently. Shindo featured gong rolls, koto plucking, taiko drums, and mallet instruments in “Brass and Bamboo.” “Festival in Swingtime” on Accent on Bamboo begins with a festiveondo call and response. In general, however, the listener should be surprised by the relative paucity of Japanese sounds. Several of the pieces begin with exotic introductions featuring the momentary color of koto and shamisen, only to switch somewhat theatrically and abruptly to a brash big band style.27 Rather than consistently signaling Japan, a few of the numbers reference the exotic realms of other others. We begin our journey on Brass and Bamboo in the imaginary Middle East with Shindo’s arrangement of “Caravan,” and hear a strong tom-tom tattoo in “Cherokee” at the beginning of Accent on Bamboo. Furthermore, both albums are actually mistitled. The Japanese instruments that we do hear—primarily kotos and shamisen—are not of the bamboo category. Ironically, the arrangements on Brass and Bamboo containing the most sustained exoticism were not by Shindo but, rather, by Bill Holman. In fact, when compared with his exotica compatriots such as Martin Denny and Les Baxter, Shindo’s music sounds rather “white.” Japanese instruments are particularly highlighted in Denny’s musical japonisme. For example, when Denny employed koto for his arrangement of “My Funny Valentine” or shamisen for Irving Berlin’s “Sayonara,” the Japanese instruments were given the melody throughout the number. Denny made arrangements of Japanese traditional songs, such as “Sakura,” as well as of Tin Pan Alley japonismetunes, like “Japanese Sandman.”28 In the basic concept of their exotica albums, Denny and Baxter are understood to be musical explorers, bringing the exotic to us or leading us on a global tour. Perhaps Shindo, being exotic himself, could choose to be more economical in his use of exotic signals since any music he created would be deemed exotic. (Shindo attributed the success of these albums to the fact that they were “different … not because they were Japanese.” The albums’ difference may be more apparent to the eye than to the ear.) Perhaps Shindo was able to create a particular form of Japanese American exotica by “just being there.”29

Figure 6. Far East Goes Western (1968)

In his New Grove entry on “Third Stream” jazz, Gunther Schuller—who coined the label in 1957—states: “Third stream, like all musical syntheses, courts the danger of exploiting a superficial overlay of stylistic exotica on an established musical idiom, but genuine cross-fertilization has occurred in the work of musicians deeply rooted in dual traditions.”30 Clearly, Shindo’s exotica goes further in this direction than mere courtship, although he was certainly “rooted in dual traditions.” What, exactly, is “the danger” of “superficial” exotic musical syntheses? Did Shindo in some way inflict damage upon “Deep in the Heart of Texas” on his 1968 Far East Goes Western album by adding orientalist elements in his arrangement?31 Schuller’s implication that some forms of musical synthesis are more legitimate than others and that “genuine cross-fertilization” should be held as a constant goal suggests that we should be able to judge Shindo’s brand of exotica in light of other exemplars of the style. Is Shindo somehow deficient in comparison to the more exuberant exotic displays of Martin Denny? Shindo’s more detailed knowledge of Japanese music did not result in a more “authentically Japanese” form of exotica, whatever that designation might entail. In Schuller’s terms, both Shindo and Denny would likely be found wanting when juxtaposed with the more creative (i.e., composed and/or improvised) fusions of jazz with Japanese musical elements heard in recordings by John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, and Herbie Mann. And yet, if we can manage to hear more than “superficial overlay” in the arranger’s art, it might be possible to place a greater value on the exotica of Denny and Shindo than has hitherto been the case. Perhaps the actual “danger” of radical stylistic synthesis for the practitioner is losing one’s sense of musical individuality. Was Shindo assuming a series of borrowed exotic masks as he jazzed up Japanese folk tunes and arranged Latin jazz and country and western tunes in orientalist style, or was such extreme multiplicity at the very core of his musical identity? Were none of these musical traditions—swing, koto, cowboy—exactly native to Shindo, or did he possess a peculiar form of the Midas touch, making exotic anything he arranged?

Shindo Between Black and White

Figure 7. Mganga! (1958)

Shindo’s first and most exotic exotica album, Mganga (1958), avoided Japanese associations almost entirely. In preparation for this album of original compositions, Shindo spent two weeks in the Los Angeles Public Library perusing books on Africa. Once he had collected some evocative names and programmatic ideas for this “Africanized” album, he “wrote the music according to the title.”32 Shindo’s acoustic Africa consists primarily of Afro-Cuban rhythms he had learned from his Latin jazz band days and recorded animal sounds and chanting. On this album’s cover, we see the striking image of a black man in dramatic red and green lighting, wearing a pseudo-African mask and holding a spear, with just a bit of arm and muscular chest visible in the shadows. There is no mention of Shindo’s Japanese heritage in the jacket notes and no photo of him. The notes claim that “Mr. Shindo’s knowledge and continuous research of primitive music has produced the extraordinary sounds found in Mganga” and that this album offers a “musical high fidelity safari.” The album begins with the “Mombasa Love Song” which “opens with a stirring roll of native drums” and continues with a repeated percussion tattoo and mystic wordless chorus. When listening to the “Bantu Spear Dance,” we are asked to imagine the dancers “brandishing spears, their gesticulations grow wilder with each successive beat” before they finally “fall to their knees, exhausted.” (To some ears, the shrill timbre of the piccolo and the general rhythmic pattern might instead call to mind a Japanese matsuri.) Shindo referred to this album as Afro-Cuban in style and Billboard magazine singled out Mganga on November 10, 1958 as a top “specialty album,” noting that “Shindo produces a colorful and exciting series of sounds with his excellent scoring for instruments and voices. Over-all feeling of the set is African.”

Where do we locate this album on the exotica map and in what ways does this music relate to Shindo’s racial and ethnic heritage? Can we hear Mganga as a form of Asian American music? Joseph Lam has argued that the absence of all Asian musical signs can still point to a powerful Asian American significance (53-54). Where does this leave Mganga? Could this album represent a lateral “move toward blackness” in Deborah Wong’s terms? Building upon the work of Gary Okihiro and others who have theorized connections between the African American and Asian American experience in the US and who have begun to argue powerfully for the political implications of this view, Wong states that “as Asian American jazz musicians and rappers move toward Blackness, their self-conscious movement away from Whiteness is unequivocal. … When Asian Americans explore African American performance traditions, they describe their transit as lateral” (88).33 Shindo’s Mganga might be considered a lateral move toward blackness on the part of a minority musician whose ethnic group had been defined at various points in American cultural history as either black, brown, or yellow, but emphatically not white. However, the musical style of this exotica album clearly does not represent any actual African American musical tradition and therefore is not equivalent to the work of current Asian American rappers. Having experienced internment and other acts of racial prejudice, perhaps the option of moving towards blackness seemed less than prudent to Shindo.34

Wong acknowledges that Asian American performance of traditionally black styles might have “points of contact” with nineteenth-century minstrelsy. I imagine that some black musicians would point out that claims of “lateral” motion toward blackness have been made before by economically disadvantaged white jazz musicians and rappers and that the option of such “lateral” moves still depends upon a certain racial hierarchy. In addition, when we consider the full spectrum of Asian American musical performance, the “choice to move away from Whiteness” appears to be the road less traveled. I argue that Mganga can be more readily understood to represent a move in the opposite direction, a move toward whiteness. Shindo’s models for his big band arranging style were primarily on the white end of the jazz spectrum. (Shindo cited Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw as the band leaders he most admired.) By creating this Africanized album, Shindo was momentarily assuming the powerful position of a white primitivist offering a predominately white audience a “musical high fidelity safari.” When I asked him to reflect on the impact of race on his career, Shindo answered that had he been white “the competition would have been greater, however I might have become more successful.” In another interview, Shindo offered the following speculation on his racialized career options: “If I had a beautiful black voice. … And I’m on the stage along with a black person. And I’m singing the greatest blues. Other fellow is pretty good too. He’s black. Chances are I’d never succeed. That black person would succeed. Only because the fact that the blues is associated with the blacks” (“Tak Shindo” 2000). Near the end of his life, Shindo repeatedly complained that “despite all my work for years with large film orchestras for TV and commercials, many still think of me just for Oriental music” (Lucraft 25).35 Perhaps Mganga represented not a conscious step toward whiteness or toward blackness but toward his later self-orientalizing, or perhaps it constituted a step beyond standard racial/musical categorization.

No matter how clearly we may hear the orientalist and primitivist features of Shindo’s music, his exotic authenticity is celebrated by fans of exotica. The Spaceagepop website—one of the most comprehensive sites devoted to exotica music—proclaims that “Tak Shindo was responsible for some of the more authentic uses of exotica instruments in exotica recordings.” Shindo himself had a more practical view of musical representation. On the one hand, he was scornful of colleagues who were ignorant of Asian musical traditions: “the thing about Hollywood I always say, it’s a farce to think that parallel fifths or perfect fourths are Oriental, that’s not true, that’s far from being true, but I think someone came up with the idea that because Europeans used it during the Middle Ages … and because it was ancient, they thought that Japanese and Chinese would be the same way, but it isn’t.” On the other hand, Shindo told me that he “purposefully” used parallel fifths in his albums. Shindo clearly felt the historical burden of orientalist musical clichés. By employing them in his music and thus adopting “musical yellowface,” he was satisfying his audience’s expectations and was creating—to risk an oxymoron—“authentic exotica.”36 Shindo’s music reflected and supported the orientalist visions of Hollywood. Yet, in my discussions with him, Shindo seemed detached from the racial implications of these soundtracks and albums, as though he had worked within the mythical sanctuary of absolute music. By concocting exotic orchestrations, setting a Gregorian chant to a Japanese rhythm, and employing the same melody in both Mganga and in a noh-adaptation radio drama (minus the Afro-Cuban rhythm, of course), Shindo was satisfying his own experimental impulses, his own desire to create an individual sound. While participating—somewhat reluctantly—in musical orientalism, Shindo asserted his musical individuality. Shindo’s exotic status both enabled and limited his musical career as he sought alternately to capitalize upon and transcend it.

Shindo in Japan

World War II ultimately inspired in the US a renewed and more urgent interest in Asian cultures, resulting in both the scholarship of William Malm (whose book on Japanese music was first published in 1959) and the musical exotica of Martin Denny. While continuing to produce exotica, Tak Shindo became one of those true champions of the exotic—an ethnomusicologist. Shindo represented the authentic in the classroom by teaching world music courses for fifteen years at California State University, Los Angeles, focusing primarily on East Asia. He also became an important contact in the US for Japanese musicians and served as a promoter of Japanese traditional music.37 Starting in the early 1960s, he traveled to Japan nearly fifty times and during several of these trips pursued fieldwork on Japanese traditional music. For example, in 1964 he spent two weeks filming and studying the Imperial gagaku orchestra and this scholarly interest eventually led him to Taiwan and Korea. What were Shindo’s primary motivations in pursuing these studies? Was he enacting a “strategy of authentication,” in E. Taylor Atkins’s terms, to bolster his exotic authority back in Hollywood (12)? Had he devoted himself fully to musical scholarship? Or were his studies intended to support his new career in Japan? As always with Shindo, the answers are multiple.

In the 1960s, Shindo recorded several albums in Japan. His albums for Nippon Victor from this period consisted primarily of straight arrangements of American swing numbers. He explained that with some of his albums recorded in Japan he was competing against the Japanese in creating “Japanese music.” The 1966 Sea of Spring offers an example of Shindo’s “Japanese music.” The album consists of beautiful arrangements for Japanese instruments and western orchestra of works by Michio Miyagi and traditional folk tunes that Shindo had known since childhood (“Haru no Umi (Sea of Spring)”). The Sea of Spring cover—a picturesque photo taken by Shindo of the Inland Sea in Japan—is strikingly different from those of his exotica album jackets. I find it remarkable that, for Shindo, adding Japanese exotic sounds to big band tunes transformed those tunes into exotica, while making orchestral arrangements of Japanese pieces and folk tunes did not alter their status as Japanese music, even after Shindo reset the traditional “Sakura” as a lilting waltz. Shindo told me that he didn’t continue working in his more exuberant exotica style while in Japan because Japanese musicians would not have been capable of playing it and that jazz was behind in Japan. (This, in spite of the fact that Shindo’s blending of jazz and Japanese music had been prefigured by Ryoichi Hattori and others in Japan in the 1930s [Yoshida 43–44; Atkins 134–139].) When asked in 2000 to offer advice to young Japanese Americans interested in entering the entertainment business, Shindo replied that they should make their careers in Japan since in the US “you can’t hide looks” and are inevitably typecast. Atkins has explained how the enticing hybridity of Nisei jazz musicians resulted in their enthusiastic acceptance in Japan in the 1930s (82). Shindo’s own bicultural status clearly proved advantageous for his multiple projects in Japan in the 1960s.

Figure 8. Sea of Spring (1966)

The essential duality of Tak Shindo’s musical experience continued to the end of his life. When I interviewed him in June 2000 he had just composed two marches for a Nisei veterans commemoration and was looking forward to using his computer to explore “wild polytonal” possibilities, continuing his experiments in sound. He was rather bemused by my desire to study his life and career and seemed most interested in convincing me to assist him in writing a book on Japanese music history. As I prepared to leave his home, he presented me with both an autographed copy of Sea of Spring and several mimeographed handouts from his East Asian music course. Tak Shindo was a musician equally proud of having been named a “Giant of Jazz” by Leonard Feather in 1966 and of possessing a detailed knowledge of Japanese notational systems.38 When asked by another interviewer to name the most important projects of his career, Shindo singled out his work on Sayonara, his music for the EPCOT Center’s Japanese Pavilion in 1979, and conducting his own choral arrangement of a Japanese song for the dedication of the Okinawan Peace Memorial in 1980 in Japan (“Tak Shindo” 2000). In each of these projects, Shindo explored multiple ways of sounding Japanese as a Japanese American. In doing so, he was also exploring new ways of being a musical American.

What’s in a name, or more precisely, what cultural assumptions are imbedded in the pronunciation of a name? When I made my initial telephone call to Shindo, I was careful to proceed as politely as possible in order to secure his willingness to discuss his career. As he answered the telephone, I asked whether Mr. Takeshi Shindo was at home. Initially suspicious of my use of his full Japanese first name, Shindo hesitated and then replied “Yes, this is ().” I didn’t quite catch his pronunciation of his first name at that time, but after many hours of conversation with him and subsequent extended discussions with his widow and youngest daughter, one might assume that I would have eventually mastered this. However, I still catch myself referring to () Shindo, avoiding the sound of the more nasal American(). [Pronunciation Key] Why did I initially attempt to pronounce Shindo’s first name in a “more Japanese” manner? When I arrived at his home for our interview, why did I remind myself upon ringing his doorbell to remove my shoes? As it turns out, Shindo did have a pair of slippers waiting for me just inside the door. In the last decades of his life, Shindo became more “Japanesey,” to borrow Myra Shindo’s (his youngest daughter’s) term.39

Figure 9. Tak Shindo (June 2000)

Myra sang with his big band for twenty-five years. However, her father would never let her sing Japanese songs “because I couldn’t pronounce it properly.” Like her father, Myra has always been interested in Japanese music and culture and is now an amateur shamisen player. As a Sansei (i.e., third generation), her engagement with Japanese music is inspired in part by her more general desire to explore her cultural roots. For Tak Shindo, Japanese music was simultaneously a part of his cultural inheritance and a racialized sign of his difference—a marker that he embraced but at times resented as he sought to be heard by other Americans who expected him to represent the exotic.

Works Cited

Books and Articles

Asai, Susan Miyo. “Transformations of Tradition: Three Generations of Japanese American Music Making.” The Musical Quarterly 79 (1995): 429–53.

Atkins, E. Taylor. Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan. Durham: Duke UP, 2001.

Combs, Jo Anne. “Japanese-American Music and Dance in Los Angeles, 1930–1942.” Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology Volume VI: Asian Music in North America. Ed. Nazir A. Jairazbhoy and Sue Carole De Vale. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985. 121–49.

_____. “The Japanese O-Bon Festival and Bon Odori: Symbols in Flux.” Master’s thesis.University of California, Los Angeles, 1979. 

Feather, Leonard. “Giants of Jazz: Miscellaneous Instruments.” International Musician July 1966: 7+.

Gilman, Sander L. Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race, and Madness. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1985.

Hayward, Philip, ed. Widening the Horizon: Exoticism in Post-War Popular Music. Sydney: Libbey, 1999.

Hosokawa, Shuhei. “Blacking Japanese: Experiencing Otherness from Afar.” Popular Music Studies. Ed. David Hesmondhalgh and Keith Negus. London: Arnold, 2002. 223–37.

_____. “Soy Sauce Music: Haruomi Hosono and Japanese Self-Orientalism.” Widening the Horizon: Exoticism in Post-War Popular Music. Sydney: Libbey, 1999. 114–44. 
Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki and James. D. Houston, Farewell to Manzanar. New York: Bantam, 1973.

Kang, Laura Hyun Yi. Compositional Subjects: Enfiguring Asian/American Women. Durham: Duke UP, 2002.

Keats, Mark. “Ear to the Ground.” Sports Journal May 9, 1947. 

Klein, Christina. Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Kurashige, Lon. Japanese American Celebration and Conflict: A History of Ethnic Identity and Festival, 1934–1990. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Lam, Joseph S. C. “Embracing ‘Asian American Music’ as an Heuristic Device.” Journal of Asian American Studies 2 (1999): 29–60.

Lanza, Joseph. Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong. New York: Picador, 1994.

Lucraft, Howard. “Tak Shindo: Hollywood Film Composers.” Crescendo and Jazz Music Aug.–Sept. 2000: 25. 

Malm, William P. Japanese Music and Musical Instruments. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1959.

Monson, Ingrid. Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Murase, Ichiro Mike. Little Tokyo: One Hundred Years in Pictures. Los Angeles: Visual Communications/Asian American Studies Central, 1983.

Okihiro, Gary Y. Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994.

“Program to Tell Story of Japanese Culture.” Los Angeles TimesAug. 11, 1960: 15.

Russell, John G. “Race and Reflexivity: The Black Other in Contemporary Japanese Mass Culture.” Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture. Ed. John Whittier Treat. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996. 17–40.

Schuller, Gunther. “Third Stream.” Grove Music Online. Ed. L. Macy. Aug. 12, 2003 <http:///www.grovemusic.com>.

Sheppard, W. Anthony. “Singing Sayonara: Musical Representations of Japan in 1950s Hollywood Film.” Forthcoming.

_____. “An Exotic Enemy: Anti-Japanese Musical Propaganda in World War II Hollywood.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 54 (2001):303–357.

Shindo, Tak. “Japanese Music Today.” Film Music Sept.–Oct. 1952: 21–22. 

Sturken, Marita. “Absent Images of Memory: Remembering and Reenacting the Japanese Internment.” Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s). Ed. T. Fujitani, Geoffrey M. White, and Lisa Yoneyama. Durham: Duke UP, 2001. 

“Tak Shindo.” Space Age Pop. April 13, 2000 <http://www.spaceagepop.com/shindo.htm>.

Takahashi, Jere. Nisei/Sansei: Shifting Japanese American Identities and Politics. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1997.

Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston: Back Bay, 1998.

Unrau, Harlan D. The Evacuation and Relocation of Persons of Japanese Ancestry During World War II: A Historical Study of the Manzanar War Relocation Center. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1996.
Wang, Oliver. “Between the Notes: Finding Asian America in Popular Music.” American Music 19 (2001): 439–465.

Waseda, Minako. “Japanese American Musical Culture in Southern California: Its Formation and Transformation in the 20th Century.” Diss. University of California, Santa Barbara, 2000. 

Waxman, Franz. Memo to Ray Heindorf. May 27, 1957. Warner Bros. Archives. University of Southern California. Correspondence files, Sayonara folder no. 1058. 
“Westward the Wagons.” Time Dec. 15, 1958: 52.

Wong, Deborah. “The Asian American Body in Performance.” Music and the Racial Imagination. Ed. Ronald Radano and Philip V. Bohlman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. 57–94.
Wu, Frank H. Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. New York: Basic, 2002.

Yang, Mina. “Orientalism and the Music of Asian Immigrant Communities in California, 1924–1945.” American Music 19 (2001): 385–416. 

Yoo, David K. Growing Up Nisei: Race, Generation, and Culture among Japanese Americans of California, 1924–49. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Yoshida, George. Reminiscing in Swingtime: Japanese in American Popular Music: 1925–1960. San Francisco: National Japanese American Historical Society, 1997.

Yu, Henry. Thinking Orientals: Migration, Contact, and Exoticism in Modern America. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.




Films, TV Programs, Radio Programs

China Nights. 
Dir. Osamu Fushimizu. Toho (Japan), 1940.

Come See the Paradise
Dir. Alan Parker. 20th Century-Fox, 1990. 
Cry for Happy. 
Dir. George Marshall. Columbia Pictures, 1961.

Encounter with the Past.
 Tak Shindo, 1980.

Escapade in Japan. 
Dir. Arthur Lubin. RKO, 1957.“The Japanese Drama.” CBS Radio Workshop. April 7 and 14, 1957.

A Majority of One. 
Dir. Mervyn LeRoy. Warner Bros., 1962.

My Geisha. 
Dir. Jack Cardiff. Paramount, 1962.“The Sakae Ito Story.” Wagon Train. NBC. Dec. 3, 1958.

Sayonara. 
Dir. Joshua Logan. Warner Bros., 1957.

Stopover Tokyo. 
Dir. Richard L. Breene. 20th Cenutry-Fox, 1957.

“Tak Shindo.” Hanashi Oral History Program. Go for Broke Educational Foundation. Gardena, CA. 2000.

Tokyo Joe. 
Dir. Stuart Heisler. Columbia, 1949.



Sound Recordings 

Denny, Martin. Exotica. LP. Liberty LST 7034, 1959.

_____. Forbidden Island. 
LP. Liberty LST 7001, 1958.

_____. Hypnotique. 
LP. Liberty LST 7102, 1959.

_____. Primativa. 
LP. Liberty LST 7023, 1958.

_____. Quiet Village. 
LP. Liberty LST 7122, 1959._____. Sayonara. LP. Sunset SUS-5169, 1970. 

Hampton, Lionel. East Meets West. LP. Glad Hamp GHLP 1007, 1964.

Hawaiian Nisei Songs: A Musical Cocktail of Japanese American Songs in 1950’s Hawaii. Cord International/Hana Ola HOCD 36000, 2000.
Mark, Paul. East to West. LP. Imperial 9120.

_____. Golden Melodies from Japan. LP. Imperial 12075. 

Sayonara Farewell Tokyo: Souvenir Songs of Japan. Club Nisei Orchestra and Singers. LP. 49th State Hawaii Record Co. 3450, c. 1950.Shindo, Tak. Accent on Bamboo. LP. Capitol ST 1433, 1960.

_____. Brass and Bamboo. 
LP. Capitol ST 1345, 1960.

_____. Far East Goes Western. 
LP. Mercury PPS 2031, 1968.

_____. Mganga. LP. Edison International CL 5000, 1958. 

_____. Sea of Spring. LP. Grand Prix GPM1, 1966.

Appendix: Select Chronology

1922 Born in Sacramento, California in November

1927 Family moved to Los Angeles

1941 Enrolled at Los Angeles City College

1942 Entered the Manzanar Relocation Center in March

1944 Departed Manzanar in November after enlisting in US Army

1947 Discharged from the Army, joined musician’s union, formed own dance band

1949 Tokyo Joe, Columbia Pictures, uncredited assistant composer

1951 BA in Music, Los Angeles State College

1957 “The Japanese Drama,” CBS Radio Workshop, composer/director 

1957 Escapade in Japan, RKO Pictures, uncredited assistant composer

1957 Cinerama Seven Wonders of the World, Warner-Adventure, composer

1957 Sayonara, Warner Bros., music advisor and uncredited assistant composer

1957 Stopover Tokyo, 20th Century-Fox, uncredited assistant composer

1957 Gunsmoke, CBS, music supervisor for several episodes

1958 Mganga, Edison International, composer/director

1958 “The Kurushiki Incident,” Studio One, CBS, composer/director

1958 “The Sakae Ito Story,” Wagon Train, NBC, composer

1960 Rod McKuen’s The Yellow Unicorn, Imperial Records, composer/arranger

1960 Brass and Bamboo, Capitol Records, arranger/composer/director

1960 Accent on Bamboo, Capitol Records, arranger/composer/director

1961 Cry for Happy, Columbia Pictures, arranger and uncredited assistant composer

1962 A Majority of One, Warner Bros., uncredited assistant composer

1962 Geisha Fantasy, Las Vegas Desert Inn, arranger

1964 Mood in Japan, Nippon Victor, arranger

1964 Associate Professor, California State University, Los Angeles

1966 Sea of Spring, Grand Prix, arranger

1966 Midnight in San Francisco, Nippon Victor, arranger

1968 Far East Goes Western, Mercury Records, arranger/director

1968 Associate in Arts degree, Los Angeles City College

1970 Masters Degree in Asian Studies, University of Southern California, Thesis: “The Shakuhachi: The Classic Myōan School” 

1979 Grand Opening of Japanese Pavilion, EPCOT Disney, arranger/director

1979 Retired from California State University, Los Angeles

1980 Okinawa Peace Memorial, arranger/director

1980 Encounter with the Past, Shindo’s documentary film on Manzanar

1982 Siegfried and Roy Superstar, Las Vegas Stardust Hotel, composer

2000 Composed two marches for Go For Broke Monument anniversary celebration

2002 Died in San Dimas, California in May

  1. This film, with a score by George Antheil, was one of the earliest attempts by Hollywood to portray the postwar Japanese situation. The film is equally notable for bringing the Japanese silent film star Sessue Hayakawa back to the American screen in what has to be his most evil role.
  2. Late in the film we see and hear the Japanese vocalist again performing “These Foolish Things” as Joe (the Bogart character) rushes into the nightclub and ascends the stairs, only to discover his Japanese male friend committing ritual suicide. At the moment of discovery, we hear the singer downstairs switch to Japanese lyrics and reach the song’s final cadence just as Joe pulls the sword from his friend’s belly and the sequence ends. This switch in language helps to underscore the friend’s (and the vocalist’s) ultimate otherness.
  3. Consider the initial reception of Elvis Presley, Nat “King” Cole, or recent non-black rappers. These performers surprised and provoked some listeners who perceived a disjuncture between their racialized voices heard on the radio and their skin colors observed on TV or in live performance.
  4. Karie Shindo (married name Aihara) also had several bit parts in Hollywood films and TV shows. In addition, she participated in a 1960 pageant in Los Angeles which depicted (in four tableaux of music, dancing, and drama) the history of US-Japan relations and the loyalty of the Nisei in World War II. The kotoist Kimio Eto—a famous ambassador of Japanese traditional music to the US—also participated in this performance. (See the article “Program to Tell Story of Japanese Culture.”) A photograph of her performing with the Harry James Orchestra appears in Yoshida, 219. Lionel Hampton also featured the Japanese female vocalist Miyoko Hoshino on his 1964 album East Meets West. Hampton’s band included the Japanese American trombonist Paul Higaki in 1949–1951 and the Nisei vocalist Susumu Takao sang with his band in the late 1940s (Yoshida 209–222).
  5. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Shindo are from transcripts of my interviews with him in April and June 2000 carried out at his home in San Dimas, California and on the telephone. I am exceedingly grateful to Sachiko Shindo for allowing me to continue my research in her husband’s papers at her home in January 2004. I am also grateful to Myra Shindo for meeting with me during that research visit to discuss her father’s life and career.
  6. Telephone interview on March 9, 2000.
  7. Also see Yang. A striking c. 1930 photo of a girl playing a koto in her family’s living room with a piano in the background illustrates the musical duality of the Nisei (Murase 69). On the cultural divergence between the Issei (first) and Nisei generations, see Kurashige.
  8. On the general attempt of the Nisei generation to “identify fully with American life” and the role of the Japanese American Citizens League in promoting this goal, see Takahashi, 53–65.
  9. This film—ostensibly focused on the plight of Japanese Americans—is primarily concerned with the life of the white male hero and with his interracial love. As Laura Hyun Yi Kang puts it: “The film ends with the happy reunification of Jack, Lily, and their daughter. One reconstituted family with its white male head-of-household is celebrated, displacing the ruptures wreaked upon numerous other Japanese American families by the Internment” (86–87). Marita Sturken similarly argues that the film’s more radical elements are “undercut by its privileging of the story of its white male protagonist, played by Dennis Quaid, whose character allows white viewers to feel atoned through their identification with his apparent transcendence of racism” (40).
  10. Shindo entered Manzanar in March 1942 as one of the first one thousand Japanese Americans who had volunteered to evacuate. He primarily worked as a supervisor of fuel oil delivery in the camp, but also had several work furloughs in agriculture and industry in Utah and Idaho during his internment period. His internment ended when he entered the US Army in November 1944. My detailed information concerning Shindo’s internment experience is derived primarily from his WRA evacuee case file housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC. I am grateful to Aloha South at the National Archives for providing me with copies of these records. In 1980, Shindo made a self-produced documentary film on the Manzanar internment camp entitled Encounter with the Past that includes rare footage of camp life, including various forms of musical performance.
  11. Waseda has made a parallel point: “The internment camps, thus, ironically functioned as a ‘shelter,’ in which Japanese Americans could continue to practice their ethnic cultural heritage” (126). See chapter three in Waseda on music in the internment camps. For information on the organization of music in Manzanar and the regulation of Japanese traditional music performance see Unrau, 573–74.
  12. For example, he received a certificate in “Dance Band Arranging” from the University Extension Conservatory, Chicago, on September 11, 1945.
  13. Articles in the Manzanar Free Press provide one source of information revealing the diverse musical life found in the internment camps. For example, articles appearing in the summer and fall of 1944 include references to a farewell concert for the instructor of the Manzanar Sankyoku Club; a “Symphony Under the Stars” concert series including an all-Tchaikovsky night, a night of selections from Oklahoma, and an evening of Tommy Dorsey’s music; enrollment opportunities for Japanese folk dancing classes; and an announcement of music classes on European instruments taught by Japanese American instructors. The Japanese section on September 13, 1944 included an article in which the author refers to a recent radio broadcast of opera. This correspondent states that Puccini is their favorite composer and cites La bohème and Madama Butterfly as being “complete in drama, words and music.” The author continues: “Speaking of this reminds me that ever since the outbreak of the war the shadow of ‘Madame Butterfly’ seems to have vanished somewhere.” Microfilmed copies of the Manzanar Free Press are housed at the Japanese American National Museum Hirasaki National Resource Center, Los Angeles, California.
  14. For a photograph of this band with Shindo standing in the back, see Yoshida, 206.
  15. Telephone interview with Yoshida in August 2003. This song was featured in the 1940 Japanese propaganda film China Nights starring Shirley Yamaguchi with a score by the famous Japanese popular song composer Hattori Ryoichi. Hattori and Yamaguchi appeared with Shindo’s band in their American debut in Los Angeles c. 1950.
  16. It is striking that in the 1940s Shindo placed a higher value on writing jazz music rather than on improvisation and that he apparently considered jazz composition and arranging the domain of white musicians. Clearly, these are not the values and skills normally celebrated today in discussions of jazz of this period.
  17. Quoted from Shindo’s videotaped Go For Broke Educational Foundation Hanashi Oral History Program interview on February 6, 2000.
  18. This clipping is found in Shindo’s papers and contains no other information for citation.
  19. The caption in Shindo’s hand on the reverse side of this photograph reads: “Taxco Rec Session, Recording Murray Wilson (Beach Boys) Enamorado di Ti TamBarin.”
  20. This article touches on the music employed in Japanese films and introduces the kotoshakuhachi, and shamisen.
  21. I have discussed the music of Sayonara in detail in my forthcoming “Singing Sayonara: Musical Representations of Japan in 1950s Hollywood Film.” A preliminary report of this research was delivered at the 1998 meeting of the American Musicological Society in Boston.
  22. Hollywood had indirectly drawn a similar parallel by representing the Japanese in World War II films with visual and musical stereotypes that had been employed for Native Americans in 1930s westerns. See my “An Exotic Enemy: Anti-Japanese Musical Propaganda in World War II Hollywood,” 327–328.
  23. Hawaii’s large Japanese American population played a direct role in shaping general American postwar perceptions of Japan. GI nostalgia for occupied Japan was met by recordings of Japanese popular and folk songs recorded by Nisei musicians in Hawaii and released by the 49th State Hawaii Record Company. (Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959.) In Japan, some of this music was known by the label “Occupational Forces songs.” Of course, these recordings were also marketed more generally to the Japanese American audience. Some of these recordings have been reissued on the compilation CD Hawaiian Nisei Songs: A Musical Cocktail of Japanese American Songs in 1950’s Hawaii.
  24. On the similar treatment of the Nisei actor and singer James Shigeta, see Wang, 445–46.
  25. Transcript of a radio broadcast in March 1960 of an interview between John Annarino and Shindo. Found in Shindo’s papers at his home in a folder labeled “Capitol Records Contracts.”
  26. The slower sales of Accent on Bamboo resulted in Capitol not renewing Shindo’s contract in March 1961. This is evident in a letter dated March 6, 1961 to Shindo from Ed Yelin in the Capitol Records Artist and Repertoire division. This letter is found in Shindo’s papers at his home in a folder labeled “Capitol Records Contracts.”
  27. Shindo’s somewhat theatrical shifts from orientalist signs to a big band style were prefigured in numerous Tin Pan Alley japonisme songs in which the introduction is strikingly split between a staccato pentatonic tune moving in fourths or fifths and a syncopated ragtime lick. The late 1920s/early 30s Nisei blues singer Kono Takeuchi allegedly acted out such sudden identity switches on a grander scale in her performances: “Dressed in a kimono, playing a shamisen … she opened her vaudeville act singing a few Japanese tunes. This was followed by an almost instantaneous change—flinging off her kimono, now appearing in a glittering evening gown, she would break into a raucous rendition of ‘My Japanese Mama’” (Yoshida 16–17).
  28. Martin Denny repeatedly turned to Japan for inspiration in his exotica albums. Shindo himself performed on koto for Denny’s 1958 Primitiva and Denny scored for kotoshakuhachi, and shamisen on Hypnotique (1959) and for koto—enhanced with a strong echo and doubled by marimba—in “Sake Rock” on Quiet Village (1959). He employed shamisen to humorous effect in his arrangement of “St. Louis Blues.” Shindo and Denny were not alone in creating Japanese-tinged exotica. For example, Arthur Lyman released an arrangement of “Ottome San (Japanese Drinking Song)” in 1958 and Paul Mark produced two albums of jazzified Japanese tunes—East to West and Golden Melodies from Japan.
  29. In this sense, Shindo’s position within exotica can be understood as analogous to Yma Sumac’s. (As a Peruvian, Sumac traded on her “mysterious” and “ancient” Incan heritage.)
  30. Of course, Schuller was not referring to the exotica genre and the “dual traditions” of his Third Stream were European classical music and American jazz.
  31. This Mercury Records album was produced by Quincy Jones. In my interviews with Shindo, he appeared somewhat reluctant to discuss this recording and claimed to me that the album’s concept was entirely Jones’ idea.
  32. During my January 2004 research work at Shindo’s home, I found a piece of notebook paper with translations in a folder labeled Mganga that appears to be the notes referred to by Shindo in my June 2000 interview with him.
  33. On the relationships between Asian Americans and African Americans, see Okihiro, ch. 2, and Wu.
  34. Some rather peculiar moves toward blackness have occurred in Japan in recent decades. Japanese teenagers have been ardent fans of hip hop since the mid 1990s and have not only adopted hip hop fashions but have also embraced black face (ganguro) in their attempt to emulate African Americans. On the general Japanese interest in African American culture, see Russell and Hosokawa 2002.
  35. This very brief profile contains some errors and includes an odd overview of “Oriental music.” However, the particular quotation presented here corresponds closely with sentiments Shindo expressed to me in June 2000. Some jazz musicians in Japan in the middle of the twentieth century experienced a similar pressure to “Japanize” their music. For example, the American saxophonist Sonny Rollins has been quoted as telling a Japanese jazz musician in the 1960s: “Because you all are Orientals your mission is to tie Oriental music to jazz” (Atkins 32).
  36. For an example of a more self-conscious form of self-orientalism, see Shehei Hosokawa (1999) on Haruomi Hosono. Hosono, a founder of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, helped revive Martin Denny’s exotica in Japan in the mid 1970s. Hosokawa suggests that Hosono’s music presents “the Japanese way of exoticising American exoticism” (116) and “the deconstruction of orientalism by mimicry” (120).
  37. In addition, Shindo founded his own music publishing company, Eurasia Music, and in 1961 published several works by Kimio Eto.
  38. This was the fifteenth article in Feather’s series on the “giants of jazz.” Shindo was certainly not the first or only Nisei involved in jazz to receive national recognition. For instance, Pat Suzuki had been named “Best New Female Singer” of 1958 in Downbeat.
  39. In 1981, he married his second wife, Sachiko Shindo—a Japanese woman who left Japan to join him in San Dimas. Mrs. Shindo is an accomplished shamisen player who performed on the recording of the piece Shindo composed for the Japanese Pavilion at EPCOT. It appears that in making this recording, Shindo encountered a problem with his Japanese musicians similar to that Waxman had feared in the Sayonara recording sessions. Sachiko and the other Japanese musician could not follow Tak’s conducting and were therefore recorded separately and later mixed in.
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