Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire
“Overt politics doesn’t usually mesh with jazz abstractions, but ‘Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire’ is a big, big exception.”
— LA Weekly
Using music as a vehicle to increase awareness of the World War II Japanese American internment experience, this recording features original compositions by Bay Area Asian American jazz artists Anthony Brown, Jon Jang and Mark Izu, in collaboration with San Jose Taiko. Brown's composition, "Rhymes (For Children)" from his extended work, "E. O. 9066 Truth Be Told," served as the theme music for KQED's internationally syndicated radio weekly newsmagazine, Pacific Time.
In 1997, the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund awarded federal grants to promote public education about the Japanese American internment experience. “Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire” was created to spur dialogue and increase public awareness about the internment experience through the vehicle of jazz.
THE ASIAN AMERICAN JAZZ ORCHESTRA:
Anthony Brown: drumset w/timbales and pedal tom, shime daiko ; Mark Izu: bass, sheng (mouth organ) ; Jon Jang: piano; Qi Chao Liu: sheng , suona reed trumpet [1, 10], dizi (bamboo flute) [4, 6, 8, 9, 10]; Hafez Modirzadeh: soprano and tenor saxophones [2, 6], ney (end-blown flute) [4, 8]; Wayne Wallace: trombone; Francis Wong: tenor saxophone [2, 5], flute [1, 6-10]; clarinet ; John Worley: trumpet.
SAN JOSE TAIKO:
PJ Hirabayashi: taiko, percussion, waterphone ; Michelle Fujii: taiko, percussion, shekere ; Yumi Ishihara: taiko, percussion, cowbell , clave and palito ; Crissy Sato: taiko, percussion, triangle and cowbell 
and special guests BRENDA WONG AOKI and GEORGE YOSHIDA
Anthony Brown’s Liner Notes to “Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire”
In 1997, the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund (CLPEF) awarded federal grants to individuals, organizations, and projects to promote public education about the Japanese American internment experience. “Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire” was a national multimedia multidisciplinary consortium project funded by the CLPEF to create dialogue and increase public awareness about the internment experience through the vehicle of jazz. Concert programs of the Asian American Jazz Orchestra with members of San Jose Taiko and guest artists performing original works inspired by the internment experience, symposia involving former internees, musicians, and members of local communities, a traveling photo exhibit “Reminiscing in Swingtime,” of how jazz was part of life in internment camps were major components of the project.
This recording consists of excerpts from extended compositions performed in concert as “Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire.” Following a weekend of concerts at the San Jose Repertory Theater, the full program was recorded in its entirety. The selections included on the CD are first or second takes with no overdubs and reflect essentially what the Orchestra sounds like in performance.
E.O. 9066 is a collaborative commissioned work by Anthony Brown with San Jose Taiko, commemorating the courageous spirit of those unjustly imprisoned during World War II. The introductory Executive Order 9066 is an adaptation of a Chinese melody entitled, “The General’s Order,” co-arranged by Anthony Brown and Qi Chao Liu. The music heralds the abrupt upheaval and forced incarceration of over 120,000 people precipitated by Executive Order (E.O.) 9066. Qi is featured on suona, the Chinese reed trumpet, even playing two together (2:04-2:14)!
LAST DANCE is the collaborative multimedia work by Mark Izu and George Yoshida commissioned by the “Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire” project. George played alto saxophone in the Music Makers of Poston Camp, Arizona in 1943 (front, center in the cover photograph), although he later chose drums as his instrument. He tells the story of the camps from his heart and soul; you can hear his seasoned timing in his adroit phrasing and delivery. George’s musicality prompted recording him as another instrument rather than how a singer typically would be. Adaptations of the original big band arrangements of Tuxedo Junction, Polka Dots and Moonbeams, and In a Sentimental Mood are by Wayne Wallace. Consummate performance artist Brenda Wong Aoki contributes haunting reminders in song and poetry of the nightmare World War II was for Japanese Americans. As Mark said, “Kiryoku represents the vital, ever-changing Japanese American community, the spirit of ‘keeping on,’ moving forward, creating, and celebrating.”
E.O. 9066 continues with Ichikotsu-cho, an arrangement of an 11th-century Gagaku composition (ceremonial court music), dedicated to the Issei, the first generation of Japanese in America. It features Qi and then Mark Izu on shengs, Chinese mouth organs, before other winds join in a free round. The Prelude (Truth be Told) creates an ambiance of timelessness, transporting the listener through the musical themes of the suite. Rhymes (For Children) commemorates the injustices suffered by Japanese Latin Americans, and celebrates hope for a future that will not see the imprisonment of children.
Jon Jang composed REPARATIONS NOW! inspired by the historic Day of Remembrance celebration in San Jose in February 1987 and his experiences in the Asian communities. In his liner notes for Never Give Up! (Asian Improv Records, 1989), Jon wrote, “In this music, we are trying to express the pride and sentiments of Asian peoples’ struggles in America for equality and justice.” The excerpts include Redress/Blues (for Akira “Jackson” Kato), Reparations Now! (for the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations, Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, Black Congressional Caucus, and 40 acres and a mule for African Americans), and Ikiru (inspired by Akira Kurasawa’s 1952 film). Taiko composed and arranged by Jose Alarcon and PJ and Roy Hirabayashi.
Day of Remembrance
“In the camps, we identified ourselves as Americans through our music.”
— George Yoshida, jazz musician, former internee and author of “Reminiscing
“Music helped us keep our sanity, it gave us hope.”
— “Sox” Kitashima, former internee, spokesperson, National Coalition for Redress
On February 19th, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. Two-thirds were American citizens; the rest were aliens ineligible for citizenship due to discriminatory naturalization laws. Under the guise of “military necessity,” persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast — including infants, the elderly and the frail — were taken to internment camps located in the most desolate areas of the Western states.
They were never charged with any crime; there was no due process; massive violations of Constitutional rights occurred; incalculable personal suffering and loss was sustained. In 1981 the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a federal commission, determined that the internment was not justified by “military necessity” and the broad historical causes which gave rise to the internment were “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”
Since 1978, Japanese American communities across the nation have observed this historic date as a Day of Remembrance through a variety of ceremonies, educational and cultural programs. This year (1998) marks the tenth anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided an official governmental apology, individual redress to surviving internees, and a public education fund.