As part of the city of San Jose’s Creative License Ambassador program, Maestra Barbara Day Turner of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra is curating a concert of original 60-second songs about San Jose, written by community members, all to be performed at City Hall on June 21. Anyone can write a song and submit it for consideration.
As part of the performances, in addition to the one-minute songs, there will be audience participation and other community crowd-sourced composition projects right there and then.
There might be some ringers, of course, which is why I’m hoping Turner resurrects the greatest song ever written about San Jose. No, I’m not talking about the Dionne Warwick abomination, the nauseating tune that even she dislikes. I am talking about a ‘70s jazz-rock masterpiece by the famous Japanese pop composer, Domei Suzuki (1920-2015), titled, “Yes, I Know the Way to San Jose.”
Suzuki first came to San Jose in 1961. In Tokyo, he was known for producing his own hits or Japanese versions of songs by Brenda Lee and Vikki Carr. After numerous visits to the Bay Area, Suzuki fell in love with San Jose and wrote the song in 1974, with English lyrics by Tom and Cathy Clark, who were living in Tokyo. The 45 RPM single features a sweeping cover photo of ’70s-era San Jose with orchards in the foreground, looking down on the valley below. Inside the single, one finds the sheet music reduction for voice and piano, as well as the lyrics. The liner notes relay Suzuki’s story in his own words:
“Leaving Japan, the first place I saw on the mainland was San Francisco,” he writes. “It was at night, and I shall never forget the beauty of the night scene from the plane that greeted me. I was met at the airport by my uncle and cousins, who took me straight to San Jose. I was to stay for two weeks with my uncle and his family, during which time we drove to San Francisco, Monterey, Pebble Beach, the mission at Carmel, and so on. The impression I received remains fresh in my mind. I became very fond of California. Before I knew it, I fell into the habit, like a migratory bird, of visiting San Jose at least once a year.”
After making several close friends in San Jose and spending much time here, Suzuki finally made good on his promise to write a tune about the city. The intro to “Yes, I Know the Way to San Jose” sounds like something straight from The Rockford Files, but then it breaks into a grooving minor-key jazz-rock arrangement replete with a horn section, electric guitar, bass, trap set and swanky English language vocals by the late Tokyo chanteuse Hatsumi Shibata. The late Japanese producer Norio Maeda arranged the orchestra and recorded the track in Tokyo.
In 1976, San Jose held several events celebrating the US Bicentennial, including a multi-day jazz fair with a residency by Quincy Jones, who conducted Suzuki’s tune, which was also chosen as the theme song for the San Jose City Bicentennial (1777-1977). Suzuki loved San Jose so much that he donated 14,000 of the records to the city’s bicentennial commission. History San Jose still has a few copies in its archives, but otherwise you’ll have to scour the antique shops on San Carlos Street or places like Needle to the Groove to even possibly track down a copy.
Upon any new listen, especially if you’re a native, it’s one of those, “why is this track not regularly performed” type of experiences. That a renowned Japanese jazz and easy listening giant could come here and reap enough rocking inspiration to write a song should inspire anyone else to write his or her own tune and submit it to maestra Turner’s project, plain and simple. She is a genius for having this idea.
Speaking of which, at presstime a dozen artists had already submitted a tune or committed to write something. Even better, San Jose’s own Jackie Gage will show up and perform her tune, “A Secret Place,” written and debuted last year at the San Jose Jazz Summerfest. It doesn’t get any more local than that.
More info at mysanjosesong.org