The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Education > People



Overcoming strict practice to reach the pinnacle of student big band jazz music

High Society Orchestra
Takanobu Suzuki (center)
Shuntaro Kinno (left)
Shunya Aramaki (right)

There are a variety of band types in jazz music. One of these is big band jazz. In this style of jazz, a 17 person organization composed of four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, and four rhythm instruments (piano, drums, base, and guitar) is standard. The High Society Orchestra is a popular big band group that receives an unending stream of requests to perform. Popularly known as the High-So official student club, the band has been winning countless awards since its founding 58 years ago. Last year High Society added another commendation to its record, the Azusa Ono Memorial Award, with being recognized for the fact that the band won the top award at the R! Jazz in Nerima Amateur Big Band Contest and won the 17th Ota City University Jazz Festival held that year. The accolade High Society is seeking the most now is to win the Yamano Big Band Jazz Contest (hereafter referred to as “Yamano”) held on August 17 and 18. The pinnacle of student big band contests, Yamano is also the largest, with close to 50 bands participating each year.

The members of High Society celebrating receiving a 2012 Azusa Ono Memorial Award, the most prestigious student award.

“The Kunitachi College of Music has won Yamano six years in a row, but this is the year we intend to break that streak. We also don’t intend to lose to our rivals from Meiji or Keio, either!!

So says Suzuki Takanobu, the secretary general of High-So, and one can sense his desire to once again bring victory to High Society, which has won Yamano 8 times. To achieve the strict goals they have set for themselves, the band normally engages in a hard practice regimen of four hours per day, three days per week. In addition, two months prior to contests, the group also conducts a severe selection process to choose who will perform.

“High-So has a rule that says only regulars in their third year of school and above can enroll, and first and second year student ‘juniors,’ as they are called, must leave the club if they are unable to become regulars during that period. In addition, third year students who fail to become a regular in an audition also cannot enroll in the club.”

As can be understood from the words of Shuntaro Kinno, tenor saxophone player, the difficulty and relentless competition involved in becoming a regular helps keep the band’s skill level high. At the audition for Yamano held recently, two third year students left the group after failing. The bonds between members, however, remain unshaken. This is because the reasons for the audition selections are explained in front of everyone until all members are satisfied. The selection of the songs to be played at contests is the same. The number of the repeated discussions they hold is equal to the depth of the bonds between High-So members.

The members who have passed this intense competition will participate in a six-day five-night training camp at the beginning of August. Shunya Aramaki, trumpet player, told us, “It’s at the training camp that the performances of the members come together.” High Society’s strength is the beauty of their ensembles’ sound, and this sound is only perfected after hard hours of training at all times other than when eating or sleeping.

While the members of High-So are serious in their regular studies, almost all other hours are spent practicing. “Even so, we listen to jazz on our breaks, too,” say the three with a smile. Although many members have no experience in performing jazz prior to entering High-So, this kind of single-minded determination lead to the group’s first victory in three years at the Waseda-Keio-Meiji University Jazz Festival and has given momentum to the band leading up to Yamano. On a roll, High Society is ready to take the title as the student big band jazz champion!

The 17th Ota City Jazz Festival, which High Society won. The winner is decided by popular vote, so High Society went with an entertaining performance.

The moment High Society won the top award at last year’s R! Jazz in Nerima (abbreviation).

Focusing on music even more seriously than usual at a summer training camp.


High Society Orchestra

Takanobu Suzuki (center)
3rd year, School of Fundamental Science and Engineering

Secretary General. Plays drums. Graduated from Waseda University Senior High School. He enjoys watching movies on weekends. His favorite food is udon.

Shuntaro Kinno (left)
3rd year, School of Creative Science and Engineering

Band manager. Plays tenor saxophone. Graduated from Hachioji Higashi Senior High School. He enjoys visiting book stores.

Shunya Aramaki (right)
3rd year, School of International Liberal Studies

Concert master. Plays the trumpet. Graduated from Palos Verdes Peninsula High School. Last year he studied abroad in New York.