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Jazz 16/03/2020

Hitoshi Namekata: A Remembrance

Hitoshi Namekata: A Remembrance

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New York, NY (Top40 Charts) Hitoshi Namekata, known as Name (pronounced Nah-May), was one of those invisible movers behind so much of what happened at Blue Note during the past 38 years. He was a fan of jazz (especially Blue Note) and American and British late '60s rock bands. He joined Toshiba EMI in his early twenties, anxious to be close to the music. When Toshiba EMI regained distribution of Blue Note Records for Japan in 1982, he was wisely given charge of coordinating and marketing the label. At that point, Bruce Lundvall's resurrection of Blue Note was two years away. That summer Name was in New York for EMI meetings and a mutual friend in Japan suggested we get together. I met Name at a Tubes concert on the 47th Street West Side Pier. He hardly spoke any English but we connected. I took him to an Indian restaurant near my apartment where I discovered that he liked food as spicy as I did. We went back to my place and listened to music and drank.

We became fast friends and I started working on unissued Blue Note material for him to issue. When I came up with an unissued tune from Cannonball Adderley's "Somethin' Else," Name decided to release it as a 12" single. He told me that if it sold at least 5,000 copies, he would be able to bring me to Japan for a press tour.

By July '83, I was on my way to Japan for the first time, a life-changing journey. Name proved a master planner and marketer. I was put on a grueling schedule of jazz press as well as newspaper, magazine, radio and television interviews as well as listening sessions. When we checked into a hotel in Osaka and grabbed a cab to get dinner, a young leather-jacketed teenager reached past Name and said "Cuscuna-san, autograph!" As we drove away, Name smiled and said, "Now I know this was a success."

After the "One Night With Blue Note" concert which Bruce and I produced at Town Hall on February 22, 1985, Name, who had attended the concert, said that Nippon Television was interested in staging a similar event at Mt. Fuji. He assembled a team insisting it could be done. After a couple of trips to Japan, we picked a site, sorted out the logistics and planned the 1986 Mt. Fuji/Blue Note Festival. On the first night of the three-day event, a typhoon ripped through the area, destroying our small stage and half of the stage and seating and all of the musical instruments at the main site. After an 8am meeting, it was decided that we would go forward and rebuild. The concert started two hours late. I was amazed at and grateful for the Japanese work ethic. And the one-time festival became a ten-year event.

Name was decidedly non-Japanese in many ways; he was irreverent, sarcastic and disinterested in rules and formalities. His co-workers would, for years, tell me that we were twin brothers. Even Blue Note artists like Dexter Gordon and John Scofield remarked on our similarities. Dexter remembered first meeting Name in Tokyo just after the emperor had died and asking him politely if people were unhappy. He said Name shrugged and said, "I don't know… somebody must be."

In 1988, Name decided to start his own label within the EMI Blue Note division and Somethin' Else was born. He recorded wonderful albums with Ralph Peterson, Renee Rosness, George Adams and many others. A couple of years later, when Bruce and I went to Havana as guests of the Cuban government to meet with Gonzalo Rubalcaba and figure out how to record him despite the U.S. embargo on Cuba, Name came to the rescue and signed him to Somethin' Else with the albums coming out on Blue Note in the rest of the world.

Name was a brilliant marketer. I remember him calling me one night to ask me what the great jazz label was. Blue Note, of course. Name said, "No, for the next year the Japanese company is concentrating on Pacific Jazz. The answer for next year is Pacific Jazz." In efforts to improve and reinvent the valuable Blue Note catalog, which is as revered in Japan as it is in the U.S., Name was the first to come up with the idea of asking Rudy Van Gelder to remaster his own Blue Note classics.

Name was a one of a kind. Our lives intersected all over the planet for 37 years with Blue Note as our common cause. To me, he was more than a friend, a co-worker and a co-conspirator. He was a brother to me. So many memories and laughs and triumphs. But I remember his coming to my apartment and having a great time playing with my son's toys with me (Max was 2 years old) as fondly as our greatest successes together. Name died at age 68 of leukemia today, March 13, 2020. His imprint lives on.

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