There’s definitely something to be said for genetics. He’s a drum legend throughout Japan and she is a budding drum legend following in his footsteps. He has endorsed Yamaha Drums and Zildjian Cymbals for something like 30 years. She, not as long but once you see her play, you just know she will easily hit that 30 year endorsement anniversary herself someday. I have jammed and performed with them both and when I search for a way to describe their drumming, the only word that comes to mind is “fierce”. I don’t mean fierce in a sense of everything being loud or fast or complicated, though both are totally up to those tasks in addition to the main job of supporting the music. What I do mean is that when they sit down behind the drums, it becomes immediately apparent who is boss. They own the drums, they own the music and, you know it. Meet Kozo Suganuma and his daughter Satoko.
Kozo is one busy guy. He performs all over Japan and other parts of Asia with a number of groups including his own. I see the range of his Facebook posts and he is always in motion! He also owns, manages and teaches at seven Kozo Suganuma Drum Dojos (teaching studios) throughout Japan and spends a great amount of time on the bullet train just dropping by those locations weekly, biweekly or monthly for teaching and clinic duties. Like most successful musicians, he has diversified beyond the art of drumming itself with his Drum Dojos and has put out a number of educational videos as well. As a drummer, his style is original, diverse, commanding and at times, even humorous. And in addition to all of that, Kozo Suganuma is just a nice guy! He’s friendly, generous with his time and knows all the best curry places around Yokohama!
Like father, like daughter? Satoko is one busy girl. Playing with the big name Japanese rock band Fuzzy Control (check out any of their seven CDs), she also gives drum clinics, sings, does artistic painting and drawing and writes children’s books. Can I say this as the interviewer…she’s also beautiful and usually wearing her 5,000 watt smile. Satoko is constantly on the go and has developed a very unique way of practicing drums while on the road which she details later in our talk. I attended one of her drum clinics held in Osaka about two weeks after this interview took place and witnessed her in her element not just playing and talking about what she does, but taking a real personal interest in her audience. Talking with Satoko is like talking to a long time friend. She’s funny, smart, deep thinking and a great conversationalist.
I first met Kozo and Satoko Suganuma last year when I was working on a Drumhead Magazine interview with budding Japanese Drum Legend, Senri Kawaguchi and wanted to add a sidebar interview about her Drum Sensei, Kozo. Kozo and his lovely wife along with Satoko and his other daughter Kotone (who was truly instrumental in setting things up for us) treated me like family immediately even inviting me to sit in with Kozo and Satoko at a joint gig they did at the Royal Horse, a legendary Osaka jazz venue (I accepted their invite and had a blast). This year was no different. I bullet-trained from my place in Kyoto to Yokohama where they met me at the station and we drove right to another favorite curry place and then on to the studio for lots of questions and answers from two of Japan’s finest drummers. What follows, while indeed an interview, is more of a conversation between friends.
Interview conducted on April 21, 2018
GB: Kozo and Satoko, I’m so glad we could find some time to hang out and do this interview so the rest of the world can find out what they are missing by not checking the both of you out. My first question and this is for both of you; which one of you is the better drummer?
KS: Satoko, of course!! [For some reason, Satoko laughs at that one.]
GB: Kozo, tell me about your first memories of wanting to play drums. What got you started? What got you inspired?
KS: I started the drums at eight-years-old. They had what we called “Group Sounds” which was the music of the Beatles and other popular bands at that time. It was very common. My house was near three factories and when the workers would have their lunch breaks, they had instruments with them and would have jam sessions. I would watch them and I started to join in with them. I really didn’t think about playing music for a living at that age; I just wanted to play the drums and have fun.
GB: That reminds me of the interview I did with Senri Kawaguchi last year when I asked her a similar question. Her dad had built her an electronic drum set and she just played it because she thought it was fun without the thought of someday becoming the great musician that she is today.
KS: My family liked music. My mother is a vocalist and my sister is a keyboard player. I thought maybe I should find an instrument to play and I found the drums when I heard the men at the factory jamming. I actually started on the drums at eight-years-old, later than most other children begin learning an instrument here in Japan. Later on at a Japanese recycle shop, I found my first drum kit. Back then, the people in Japan, as a whole, were so poor that they couldn’t afford to buy musical instruments. The people with more money did buy musical instruments and when they got tired of them or decided to get something new, they would sell them to the recycle shops. I paid Y15,000 (about $143.00 US) for my first drums!
GB: Why drums and not saxophone or guitar or something else?
KS: I felt an emotional thing right away! It felt so good to play the drums. That’s all I wanted to do and so I just played and practiced every spare minute I had.
GB: I experienced the same thing when I started on trombone and saw I had no discernible talent. From there, the drums took hold of me and still have not let go. Tell me, did you start on snare drum or did you get right into drum set?
KS: I started on the drum set right away. I used the recycle shop drums for about two years until our family house caught fire and burned and my drums burned with it. While the fire was a very bad thing to experience, the insurance company paid to buy me a new set of drums and Paiste cymbals. My first drum set had only one tom tom but my new set had 3 tom toms!
GB: You are known for playing quite large drum sets, so how long was it before you moved on to playing an even bigger drum set?
KS: I was in junior high school where they had two drum sets with the same size drums. I decided to put both drum sets together, so I had two 10″ toms, two 13″ toms and so forth. For the time, it was a huge drum set! I liked it a lot and by the time I was 16, I was regularly playing a large double bass drum set.
GB: Let’s talk about your drumming education a bit. Tell me about what you studied and who you studied with.
KS: I did a lot of snare drum things including the 26 rudiments but I was more focused on the drum set. My teacher at the time was a jazz drummer who had me learn the rudiments. He had me play them in the traditional way of slow to fast to slow. When I was about 14, Roy Burns came to Osaka to do a clinic and that really inspired me to learn the rudiments.
GB: Hah! The old Roy Burns story. The same thing happened to me when Roy did a clinic at Findlay College in Ohio in 1972. I left that clinic knowing the drums would forever be a big part of my life and I know a number of my drumming pals experienced that same “Roy Revelation.” Those were the days of no DVDs, YouTube or anything similar. What other kinds of things did you study back then?
KS: I listened a lot. I listened to and copied Elvin Jones and Art Blakey. I also took lessons from a very famous Osaka drum teacher by the name of Katsuhiko Kawase. He had me doing things like odd groupings of five and seven, accent exercises, the rudiments and learning about jazz and other styles. I worked out of some books but my teacher wrote out many of the things he had me practice and learn. I do some of that for my own students today.
GB: Were you a serious student? Did you practice a lot?
KS: I practiced, practiced, practiced every day. I loved to practice and I still do.
GB: Were you in high school band?
KS: I was in a junior high school brass band. I played marching snare drum in the Gamo Junior High School Brass Band, the number one school brass band at that time. [Note–In Japan, a brass band is a full band including woodwinds, differing from the US where a brass band consists of only “brass” instruments such as trumpet and trombone.]
GB: How did you get to see other drummers play back then?
KS: I watched TV. In Japan, we had many, many music programs. There were a lot of programs that featured big bands which were very popular at the time. Almost every night, you could find a program about big bands to watch.
GB: Same for me back then but in America, it was the talk shows like Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and of course Johnny Carson where Buddy Rich appeared regularly. Were your original influences mostly Japanese players or were you into the American players early on?
KS: I could really only get the foreign drummers on records, so I bought records to find out what they were doing on the drums. I learned how to play by watching the Japanese drummers on TV but listened to American drummers like Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Shelly Manne and the Count Basie Orchestra through records.
GB: If you could name only one drummer that totally excited you back then, who would it be and why?
KS: Elvin Jones! No one played like Elvin Jones. I also loved the Mahavishnu Orchestra with Billy Cobham. Billy was kind of my idol back then and later on, I was able to perform together with him at drum clinics in Osaka, Kanazawa and a few other places around Japan. That was about 20 years ago and it was really an amazing experience for me.
GB: It’s interesting to me that, though you took some lessons early on, you were mostly self taught by watching and listening to other drummers and figuring out what they did. I’ve known many almost totally self taught drummers over the years. Some good but many not so good probably due to not knowing the correct things they needed to learn to “get it right.” You, on the other hand, play with a highly developed technique and “drumistc” vocabulary. How do you explain that?
KS: I just watched and listened and paid attention to what seemed to be working for the successful drummers of the time and applied that to my own playing.
GB: When was your first paid gig?
KS: I was about nine-years-old and I played a gig at some kind of bridal party. Then I was asked to play as a “kid drummer” on a TV show along with a famous actress and comedian.
GB: You’re the Japanese Cubby from the Mouseketeers!
KS: When I was 10-years-old, I entered a local drumming contest for kids and I won it. The prize was something like Y200,000 (about $1800US) and I spent it on a trip to Hong Kong with my family!
GB: I’ve read that you considered yourself a professional drummer by around age 15. Did you just wake up one morning and say “This is going to be my life” or was it something that just happened without you making a conscious decision?
KS: I didn’t like to study school kinds of things. I just wanted to play the drums. I quit high school and turned professional. It’s funny to me because I quit high school, yet now I teach drums at university!
GB: In addition to countless Japanese artists, you have performed with international artists like Bob Malach, Billy Sheehan and Scott Kinsey. How did those gigs come about?
KS: I had a friend who had worked with Scott Kinsey. Scott was performing in Japan and needed a drummer that would fit his style of music and I was recommended for the gig. That’s basically how it has happened on all the gigs I have played with American musicians. They decide to come to Japan and need a drummer, so I get the call many times. Also, there is a big music publisher in Japan, Victor Music, that brings musicians to Japan and they call me to back many of those musicians. I have made many teaching videos over the years that have sold well and that has made me more well known and brought many more gigs my way, too.
GB: You are very active in drum education. You have taught for a long time and you have established a series of drum dojos around the Tokyo area, one of which I visited last year in the Shibuya part of Tokyo. How did you get into that?
KS: I enjoy teaching very much and having made a number of drum instructional videos, the Drum Dojos were another thing I could do. I have seven “Drum Dojos” around Japan located in Kanazawa, Yokohama, Hiroshima, Osaka and the Tokyo area. I travel around to the schools and teach. It keeps me very busy doing that along with my regular gigs.
GB: Over the years, many drummers I know have studied with certain teachers specifically to learn that teacher’s method of approaching the drums. Some of these drum teachers that come to mind are Freddy Gruber, Jim Chapin and Joe Morello. Is there a “Kozo Drum Method” that you teach?
KS: I think I have developed my own technique and approach to playing the drums and I teach it in my Drum Dojos and in the DVDs, I have released so yes, I guess there is. [Kozo’s drumming is very unique amongst the players I’ve seen in my 52-year interest in drumming. It’s very free yet very structured. He seems to be not afraid to try any new idea but when he plays, his technique reflects a discipline of economy of motion, making the bounce work for him and remaining very relaxed at all times.]
GB: I’ve spent a significant part of my time in Japan for many years now and I’ve seen so many great bands put together with only one rehearsal and for only one or two gigs and the bands are just fantastic but all the members including the drummer are reading charts. How important do you think it is for drummers to be able to read music?
KS: I would say 50 percent. Reading music opens up so many more possibilities of being able to work as a drummer. I think, at least in Japan, you must learn to read and interpret charts or you just won’t work much. There is not time or studio space available to be able to work through and memorize everything, so if you can read and interpret, you become much more valuable.
GB: I’ve heard a lot of music in Japan that’s written in some kind of odd time signature or multiple odd times. Much of the music I have heard you play is in odd time signatures. Do you think that is an important thing for most drummers to be good at?
KS: I think, at least for the market in Japan, it is a very important thing to know and to really understand all the implications in doing it. Odd times should not feel “odd” once you master weaving in, out and around them.
GB: How do you teach odd time to your students?
KS: First, I get them to be comfortable with just counting it and trying to play it but then, we work on the more important aspect of developing a feel with it to keep it from being mechanical and repetitive.
GB: Tell me about how you met Senri Kawaguchi and became her sensei/mentor.
KS: Senri’s father first brought her to my Nagoya Drum Dojo when she was six years old. When I heard her play, she was amazing. She played a Michel Camilo song in 7/4 time and she played it perfect the first time. It was a big surprise. She was my student for 10 years and we still spend time together when we can.
GB: You play a number of different styles of music including jazz, rock and some very complicated fusion and you do them all extremely well. There are not a lot of players that come to mind that are able to do that. In fact, as I’m writing this, Steve Smith is one of the few that comes to mind that does all those things well in playing, ranging from Journey to Hiromi to his own Vital Information group. How are you able to make that transition so smoothly?
KS: I like all kinds of music; bebop, hard rock, Latin, extreme heavy metal and classical and I have studied all of them in great depth to be able to know what it takes to perform each type authentically. If I want to work nationally, I have to know what I’m doing in each style. It’s basically a requirement. Also, Tokyo and Osaka drumming requirements are different. In Tokyo, more jazz drummers get called for jazz gigs and rock drummers get called for rock gigs but in Osaka where I grew up, one drummer really needs to be competent in all styles. It’s a big difference culturally just between those two cities.
GB: What are your thoughts on drum solos? Are they required? Do you enjoy playing them?
KS: I really prefer to play the groove and vocal support. I get many requests to play drum solos so I kind of have to do them though I don’t really like it that much.
GB: Do you have a method for constructing drum solos?
KS: I would say I know about 20 percent of what I’m going to do in a solo ahead of time but there is the other 80 percent that I let happen on its own. They are mostly not preplanned as to what I will play.
GB: You’ve endorsed Zildjian and Yamaha for what, 30 years or so? You even have your own Zildjian drumstick which, unfortunately, is not available in the US. How did those endorsements happen?
KS: Well, originally, I endorsed Tama Drums but then moved to Yamaha. I was 18-years-old when I first started to endorse Tama and I was with them for 10 years. Then, at age 28, I moved to Yamaha which has been 30 years now! I got my Zildjian endorsement about 25 years ago. My original drumstick was made by Promark and I was about 18 when that happened. Later on, Zildjian asked me to endorse their sticks and they introduced the Kozo model here in Japan.
GB: I have a pair of your drumsticks and they are quite unique. The coating makes them really easy to hang on to and the weight distribution seems good for many different applications.
KS: I have been really happy with this Zildjian drumstick. The company has been very good to work with.
GB: Your latest recording project with your new band Trimurti is, at least to me, hard fusion meets hard rock. It’s really different from some of the other things I’ve heard you do. The music is in your face and very complicated. It reminds me a bit of an LA band from several years ago called Cosmo Squad.
KS: The guitar player, ISAO, uses a nine-string guitar and Nagai Toshimi, the bass player is using a fretless bass. We have all contributed music to this project. It’s something I have wanted to do for a long time. I will also be appearing this year at some jazz festivals with other bands.
GB: What do you think about your daughter Satoko going into the wild world of the professional music business?
KS: I think it’s wonderful but I was surprised. I didn’t expect that but I am happy for her.
[Kozo had to leave for another commitment at this point, so Satoko and I sat down in the family studio to continue.]
GB: Satoko, what was it like as a child having a father that is a well-known professional musician?
SS: I was proud of him. My friend’s dads went to work while my dad played for a living. Playing and working; kind of different, right? I thought “my dad is always playing!” I thought he had a cool job. When I was in elementary school and maybe five-years-old, I went to my dad’s show in Osaka at the Ceremonial Hall of Osaka jo Castle. It was a really huge show, something like 10,000 people and in the middle, my dad was playing drums. I was so surprised. My dad’s job was crazy; not a normal job. With the big audience, the music and the surprise of seeing my dad up there playing, I was just so proud of him. I realized then how different my home life was compared to my friends.
GB: Do you feel like you grew up any differently due to your dad’s career?
SS: I don’t know really. My life was all that I knew at that time so everything seemed normal to me.
GB: This is a really obvious question, but why do you play drums and what got you started?
SS: When I saw my dad’s show that night in Osaka, I kind of recognized that I am going to be a professional drummer too. I have two sisters, one older and one younger, and they didn’t think like that. One of them teaches English and the other is an elementary school teacher. After I saw my dad that night, I began to play but didn’t really start formally until I was 13-years-old. We had some electronic drums in the house at the time and I began playing on them just because it was fun.
GB: Was there any pressure on you from your dad to play drums?
SS: No, not really. My dad is my dad and I am me and he always respected that. If I did something bad, he would step in as my father but musically, no; no pressure. I also think that if people have confidence, they don’t push something on others that may be important to them; they just let it happen, if it’s going to happen. I started piano lessons earlier but we didn’t really do a lot of musical education around the house. I enjoyed the piano lessons but I didn’t practice as much as I should have. The thing about piano is that I can play my favorite songs on it and people will recognize what I am playing but if I do that on the drums, they usually can’t tell what the song is. Piano was easy for me but I liked drums more than piano. I told my parents I wanted to start drums but my dad was always so busy with his career and teaching, so my mom told me I needed to get some lessons either by attending my dad’s classes or from some other teacher. But, she also told me I needed to find my own way to the lessons because with three kids, she couldn’t manage to get me there every time, so I took the train to attend my dad’s drum classes. [In Japan, it is not at all unusual to see young children riding the trains by themselves; a real testament to what a safe place it is!]
GB: Was your father a musical influence and mentor for you?
SS: He was, of course. He gave me my first lesson and he was an amazing teacher for me. He taught me how to practice. Most of my friends were the kids of musicians, so we all had a similar background with music just being a normal part of our lives. So yes, there was his influence but it was something that was just there like a normal part of life. Most of my lessons came from my dad but when I was in Junior High School, I studied for two weeks with Alex Acuna who was in Osaka at the time. I also went to a number of workshops and drum clinics where I saw players like Sonny Emory, Dave Weckl, Gerry Brown and Dennis Chambers.
GB: Your hands are very “clean” and precise. Is that something you focused on trying to do? Did you do a lot of just snare drum and rudimental practicing when you were younger?
SS: I’m not so interested in technical things now but I did practice a lot when I was younger on those kinds of things including the 26 rudiments. My dad is kind of a geek for rudiments though. He knows something like 400 different rudiments including all the standard ones, the Swiss rudiments, the various German things and I liked to play them but I am really more into the groove thing. When I was about 18 or 19, it occurred to me that how I feel is more important to me than building a lot of technique and that I needed to get more experience actually playing so I could learn where, when and how to apply the technical things. I also just wanted to get more human experiences beyond music like seeing beautiful places and enjoying different things in life. Everyone can do eight hours of practice if they try but it’s not like an experience you can have by just living life; you being you. Then at about 23-years-old, I decided the lifetime experiences were a great thing but I needed more drum practice to develop my skills further. It was kind of like a circle; learning to get the input of the information and then how to get it out through my playing.
GB: Do you find that you play different on different nights depending on how you feel?
SS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. If I feel something about something going on in my life, then it becomes part of my drumming.
GB: Watching you play, I see some of your father’s influence in your playing but I also see some very original drumming from you too. What other musicians and drummers have influenced your playing?
SS: Arturo Sandoval is one that really inspires me. He’s just crazy the way he plays. He plays trumpet and piano and he even scat sings so well. Of course, his trumpet playing is just amazing. Stylistically, he can play any kind of music and do it well. Arturo expresses himself in two ways. Think about this: 60 beats per minute is always 60 beats per minute and middle C is always middle C. Arturo is able to express himself like that; very precise and articulate, but he also is able to go beyond that precision; under it, around it and in between that precision and wherever else he chooses to go. He plays technically correct but he takes that ability beyond what is written and is able to go someplace new with it.
GB: Are you saying it’s like Arturo is using a map to know where he’s at but then jumping off into new unexplored areas? That’s a way to look at things I’ve not heard before. Tell me more.
SS: Total freedom means nothing if no one can understand. If there is no point of reference, there is nothing to grab onto to know where you are and where you are going. So we need some rules or language or framework to use as a point of reference and a place to jump out to try something new. I think that’s really important in music to have a basic framework to start with so that when you do go exploring, you know where you came from. I think Arturo is a master at that concept. That’s what I try to do on the drums…to play something understandable that listeners can grab onto but also to try to take it in a new direction when the music seems to call for it.
GB: I am imagining being turned loose in outer space. You’d have no point of reference; no up, down, north or south. You’d have no idea where you were or which way to turn to get to where you wanted to go.
SS: Yeah, that’s it exactly. So if you apply that to music, just blowing a bunch of notes means nothing but if you are blowing those notes over a chord structure or in reference to a beautiful painting or against some other reference point, no matter how obscure that might be, you are then giving what you play some meaning.
GB: You give a number of drum clinics every year to drummers of all ages but there are always those newbies in the audience just getting started with their drumming passion. Tell me the top three things you believe younger drummers should focus on as they develop.
SS: Groove, sense and technique. Technique is skill. Can you make a big sound or a tiny sound, play fast or slow, etc. Sense is how you apply that technique and groove is putting technique and sense together to make it music; to use it tastefully.
GB: Tell me more about “sense.” I’ve not heard anyone use that term related to playing drums.
SS: Sense is like fashion. If you choose a good shirt that fits you well, it really looks cool but if you choose a bad shirt for you, it doesn’t look so good on you. On drums, if you have good technique, then how do you use it? Is it for your own benefit or for the benefit of the music?
GB: What about groove?
SS: Groove is the people part of it. Black music has kind of its own groove. I’m Asian and I grew up listening to music with an Asian groove. If I am going to play some black music, I need time to learn and get used to that groove. If I go to some jazz place, there is a certain groove happening there that I need to pick up on. You can’t teach groove in a one hour drum clinic. Students need to go to lots of places and experience all the many different grooves out there.
Sense is individual style. If you want to wear a skirt or if you want to wear some blue jeans, that’s the sense you are using. Same for music. If you want to use this technique or that technique, that’s how you are choosing to express yourself. I can’t really teach sense or groove in a drum clinic. I can talk to you about it but those are things only you can figure out for yourself. Really, I can only mostly teach technique. If you have a sense that you want to play loud, I can teach you the technique to play loud. If you don’t have any sense, I can’t really teach you anything.
GB: You play left-hand lead on a right-hand drum set. Is that intentional?
SS: I’m naturally left handed as is my dad but Japanese culture is all right handed, so in my dad’s generation, people were never allowed to be left handed. It was culturally unacceptable. My dad played right handed because of that but he is naturally left handed. He has also always been a big Billy Cobham fan, so when he first saw me playing open handed, he said “That’s good; keeping doing that!” I play both directions though. When I went to my dad’s lessons when I was young, I had to play like he taught there but he said I could do what I want when I get home!
GB: What was your first paid gig?
SS: I think I was 17-years-old and there was this huge musical event with traditional Japanese instruments and about 6,000 people in the audience. They had a professional drummer there but she had an appendicitis so they contacted me. The gig was in Kumamoto down near Nagasaki, so I had to get on a plane to get there.
GB: Fuzzy Control, the band you have performed with for a long time now, is quite big in Japan. How did you get that gig?
SS: When I was 19-years-old, I met the guitarist and we decided to put together a band. Sixteen years later and I am still playing with them. Currently, we are taking some time off to do some other projects but we will get back together soon. From age 19 to around age 26, I had to do other things musically to support myself but at 26, we were big enough that I could support myself with just Fuzzy Control if I needed to.
GB: I don’t know how it works in Japan totally but I assume at this point you have the bus, the roadies and all the people to help you put on a show?
SS: I do.
GB: Like your dad, you endorse Yamaha Drums. I’ve seen you on several videos demonstrating Yamaha drums. So you do clinics for them?
SS: I do maybe 10 clinics a year for them. It’s fun. I don’t have my own signature drum set but I mainly use Live Oak or the Maple Custom series.
GB: Do you get nervous when you have to play in front of all the drummers that attend your clinics?
SS: I never get nervous when I play drums.
GB: Do you have other endorsements?
SS: I use sticks made by Promark for the Moridida Instrument Company in Japan. They are the Satoko model stick that I designed and it’s totally different from the sticks my dad uses except that we both love nylon tips. My stick is similar to a Promark 5A. I also endorse Zildjian Cymbals.
“Total freedom means nothing if no one can understand. If there is no point of reference, there is nothing to grab onto to know where you are and where you are going. So we need some rules or language or framework to use as a point of reference and a place to jump out to try something new.”
GB: You kick ass as a drummer. Tell me about being a “girl drummer” in Japan. Is it more difficult to be accepted as a female drummer versus a male drummer?
SS: There are so many girl drummers; it’s getting more popular. I think it’s more about the band here though. The band is more famous than the drummer. That’s different than like Dave Weckl or Billy Cobham. They play with this band or that band but they are still famous for who they are.
GB: But if there’s a band audition and man and woman drummer of equal ability audition, in Japan, who’s going to get the gig?
SS: I think the girl may get it because they look good and are having more fun playing.
GB: Even with the long tradition of male dominance in Japan, if you are female, look good and can play the music well, you’ll probably get the gig?
SS: Yeah, I think so.
GB: What kinds of things do you practice now?
SS: My practice is in my head! I imagine my drum set. I imagine the drum things or music I want to practice and I just do it…in my head. It takes much concentration but that’s what I do.
GB: So you don’t physically practice?
SS: My life is one where I am so busy. I stay in a lot of hotel rooms or spend time on the Shinkansen [Japanese bullet train] or on an airplane and don’t have many opportunities to sit at a set of drums these days and practice that way, so I came up with this way to practice.
GB: Do you do any teaching in addition to your playing?
SS: No, I don’t like teaching. I am too serious about the drums and music to do that. Maybe if a student has super passion, then I will teach them. I have so much passion for music that I just don’t want to deal with anyone who doesn’t have that too. My life is really short and I don’t want to waste any of it on something like that. I like doing drum clinics more than lessons because the people that attend have enough passion to want to be there and learn.
GB: What is the dream gig you have always wanted to do but not yet had the opportunity?
SS: Day by day, it’s changing but maybe today it’s Janet Jackson. Lots of people ask me how to become a professional drummer and get those kinds of gigs but I think a lot of it is luck. If you grew up in the house next to John Lennon, maybe you would have played drums with The Beatles! Of course you have to have the proper skills to do the job, but I think a lot of it is just luck. It’s kind of a sad truth I think. I have been very lucky. So what is your dream gig?
GB: Mine? To play with Hiromi Uehara!
SS: She’s my friend and she is so amazing.
GB: Next time you see her, please share with her that she is my dream gig! Tell me about what’s coming up for Satoko musically in the near future?
SS: I am also a painter and do children’s books. I spend about half my time on drumming and half on art. Once a year, I do an exhibition. It’s called Doramu toh Aht [Drums and Art] and I paint on drumheads. This year, I am planning to release a children’s package with a CD, book and pictures. I recorded the CD and did all the artwork and writing. That will be in November. I also have more clinics coming up.[Satoko showed me her book and I think it will be a hit in the Japanese market. It is professionally put together and her art work in it, especially the dragon picture, is guaranteed to pull the children reading it into the story. One thinks of most dragons as being huge, mean and breathing fire. This one is the size of a tube of toothpaste and friendly.]
GB: Will you tour America and Europe someday with someone?
SS: I’ve played in Singapore, Taipai, Bejing and have been to Seattle, Los Angeles and New York playing with the band Dreams Come True.
GB: Satoko san, arigato gozymashtah!!!