Yesterday I had visit from prolific record producer Kiyoshi Itoh and his associate Takeo Suzuki. Because of their longtime business association with John, I have known both of these gentlemen for decades. During the 1980s-90s, when Kiyoshi produced many of Nancy Wilson’s recordings, we saw them often here in Los Angeles, in New York, and also in Tokyo.
Even though we had not seen Kiyoshi in many years, he kept in occasional touch and he spoke to John by phone this past December. Kiyoshi’s travel plans had him coming to Los Angeles in April and he made a date with John to come and visit him then, right around his 100th birthday. I put it on our calendar, even though John didn’t expect to be here and said so, but John was very happy just to have spoken with Kiyoshi and to have felt his heart’s intent. That meant more to him than the possible visit.
A few weeks ago Suzuki told me that Kiyoshi still had me on his calendar and wanted to come to the house, or perhaps the cemetery. I had to explain that John gave his body to science and that there is no cemetery plot to visit. A drive to our house in Altadena from the west side of town near the airport would take at least an hour, and probably much more. Definitely would be worth any hassle to see John, but with him gone….
“Are you sure?”, I asked Suzuki. “It’s a long round-trip and I know Kiyoshi has just this one afternoon in town. Please make sure he knows that I would not be offended if he needs to change his plans.”
“We will be there at 3 PM.”
Knowing what the traffic would be like, I actually felt bad for them and considered refusing so they would not have to make the trip, but some part of me understood that for them this was an action of deep cultural import. Most cultures speak of paying respects, but here in America (maybe even more so in Hollywood) it can be more a matter of lip-service. This is why John was adamant about not having a funeral or memorial concert mounted in his name. He hated to see people show up at such events and speak of their love and admiration for the departed when they had not been there for the person while still alive. “If you are going to pay tribute or give thanks, do it while they can hear you,” John would say. But John also had great respect for other cultures, and I think he would have felt, as I do, that the Japanese desire to show their respect is deeply rooted and more honest, particularly regarding elders.
To be sure, I consulted with my friend Chie Imaizumi and she confirmed that for me to refuse would have been rude. I was still a bit nervous so I invited her to be here as well. I wanted everything to be just right. I was also thinking that she is a fabulous composer/arranger and I could hear John saying ‘it will be good for them to meet.’ With “I’ll Be A Song” ( Nancy Wilson produced by Kiyoshi, seated, and arranged by Masahiko Satoh, standing) playing softly in the background, I prepared some green tea with green tea cookies, and awaited their arrival.
Through the window I watched Kiyoshi and Suzuki park and pull from the back seat a huge floral arrangement. I had just the spot for it on John’s desk next to his portrait. They entered and put the vase on the desk, then clasped their hands prayerfully and bowed to John. Then we exchanged hugs and sat down to chat for a bit. I told them about John’s last months and how peacefully he made his transition.
In years past, following meetings on our offices or hours in the studio, we often went out with Kiyoshi to eat shabu-shabu in restaurants on one coast or the other. John was especially fond of this meal where you cook your own thinly sliced beef and vegetables in a pot of hot broth then dip in goma-dare (sesame) or ponzu sauces. When John and I found an authentic Japanese restaurant here in Pasadena specializing in it, we became regulars, going once a week for many years. With only one day in town, Kiyoshi and Suzuki were not free for dinner, but after they left, Chie and I went there and toasted John.
Kampai, my darling.