RIP Toshio Mashima

(Cover Video: Mr. Toshio Mashima conducting his work “Bay Breeze” with the Shobi Wind Orchestra on 15 September 2014)

A piece of very sad news came up in my phone this morning; I could not believe my own eyes.

A great star has fallen — Mr. Toshio Mashima passed away at 8:01 am (JST) today, 21 April 2016. He was only 67 years old.

I would like to briefly review his remarkable achievements for the band world in this tribute. One of his biggest contributions to band culture was to introduce jazz music into band music. Mashima has been devoted to jazz music after his university days, or rather during when he himself was a jazz musician. His work, “A Sweet Breeze in May” (1997) is filled with jazz harmonies, such as the beginning chord in the piece, even when it is a very traditional style march. Even his popular composition “Les Trois Notes du Japon” (2001) is written based on the usage of jazz harmony.

Many composers have tried to put jazz elements into their own music, but it seems that only Mashima can do so in a natural manner. His orchestration technique was of extremely high standard, and his music often sound rich even if played by bands of smaller instrumentation. It is noted that many younger composers have tried to learn his technique from his music, such as the use of glissando by horns. This technique was in fact introduced by Mr. Mashima himself and many composers had follow suit in using it in serious band music.

It goes without saying that Mashima’s arrangements of jazz or popular music had changed the band scenes all over the world. These days, it is quite difficult to find Japanese band people who have not played his younger days arrangements such as “Omens of Love” (1986) or “Takarajima” (1987). Mashima also introduced native modern jazz or Latin music through his works, “A Night in Tunisia” (1988), “Mambo Inn” (2001) from New Sounds in Brass, and the “Gold Pop” series (2009, 2010, 2011). His original pop pieces for band such as “Bay Breeze” (1992), “Samba Express” (2010) and the “Mirage” series are also loved by many and performed as part of important band repertoire.

Mr Mashima playing trombone at a reception after a concert which he conducted on 11 Jan 2010
Mr. Mashima playing trombone at a reception after a concert which he conducted on 11 Jan 2010

Over the years, Mr. Mashima held many clinics to educate people about the proper way of playing jazz or popular music. Thanks to his great efforts, more people are introduced to this new genre. Personally, I have learned a lot through his classes, such as the differences of the shape of notes in classical music, the distinction between Brazilian Latin and Cuban Latin, and other important knowledge. I think, without his clinics, popular music performance would not have achieved the high standard today.

Now, let me recall my personal memory with Mr. Mashima.

In my junior and senior high school band days, I have of course played his works as a student. I first met Mr. Mashima when I was a university student. He was a real gentleman who always had a nice pocket handkerchief, and one who loved Paris and French culture.

When I started my career as a music editor and engraver, I had many opportunities to work with him. He often invited us for dinner after concerts, rehearsals or recording sessions. He always spoke with calmness, but talked enthusiastically about many topics, such as the wonderfulness of Paris, Jazz music, Beethoven, good food and drinks etc, often with red wine in his hand. Through our conversations, he also debated on how band music should be, providing me with a lot of insight into band culture.

With Mashima’s firm belief as an artist, working with him was actually a very tough experience for me. As one of the music editors, my main role is to correct issues within the scores; but he had a strict policy that if an editor asked immature questions, he would give him or her up for someone more competent. Hence it was stressful sitting next to him at the recording studio to do proofreading for his music. However, it was overall a great experience that has fostered me a lot as a music editor; and I can only appreciate the opportunities to work with him on so many occasions.

It only came to my knowledge that Mashima suffered from tongue cancer last year. In the last few years where I continue to meet him, I felt that he has aged a lot due to his increasing grey hair and bent back. Perhaps, the cancer cells were already in his body during that period of time. Mashima’s health condition worsened after his operation half a year ago, after two third of his tongue was cut to prevent the spread. He was then faced with difficulties to utter a proper word, and unfortunately they also discovered the metastasis of his cancer. No one expected he would leave us so early…

I had the final conversation with Mr. Mashima on 23 January this year at the concert by Siena Wind Orchestra, where he said, “Never give up” in a faltering voice. I saw him for the last time on 13 March at the Kyo-en music festival, which is about 40 days before his demise.

The news of his premature death today filled band people with grief. It is of great sorrow to us that we will not be listening to his new music, or be able to converse with him anymore. However, his works will be loved and performed forever as we continue to think fondly about his music and his contributions.

Now, Mr. Mashima may have started to drink with his teacher Mr. Bin Kaneda and Mr. Naohiro Iwai in heaven with red wine in his hand, but he could be asked why he has gone there this early.

May Toshio Mashima rest in peace.

Keiichi Kurokawa
Keiichi Kurokawa

Keiichi Kurokawa was born in Saitama, Japan in 1980. He graduated from Saitama University majoring in East Asian Cultures. He participated in wind band club while in school, playing trumpet in junior high and high school, and bass and alto clarinet at university. He began arranging during high school and since then has made many arrangements and compositions for wind band and chamber ensembles.

His arrangement, American Riverside Medley (Wind Band / Brass Band) was selected as one of test pieces of Singapore Youth Festival 2014. Almost his works are published from Brain / Bravo Music.

Kurokawa is now a music engraver and editor and a band director. He is a member of Japan Band Directors Association (JBA) and teaches computer music (notation software) at Yamaha Music Avenue Shibuya in Tokyo.

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