The Jazz Avengers: Formidable Octet Going Strong

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Top row from left: Ami Nakazono, Juna Serita, Miho Terachi; middle row from left: Chizuru Segawa, Senri Kawaguchi; front row from left: Marie Takeda, WaKaNa, Miku Yonezawa

The Jazz Avengers is a force to be reckoned with. Led by virtuoso drummer Senri Kawaguchi, the all-female group of eight elite jazz instrumentalists released their eponymous debut album in April. Their concert at Billboard Live Yokohama on July 4 was a stunner.

The jazz band has a unique setup. Four of its members are saxophone players, each possessing abilities to become the band’s frontwoman: Ami Nakazono on soprano sax, Miho Terachi and WaKaNa on alto sax, and Miku Yonezawa on tenor sax. At the July concert, the sounds of the four saxophones playing together swelled into a force that rocked the audience.

Yonezawa was all smiles while playing with the others at the concert but gave off a completely different aura when she began her solo part. The deep tones of her tenor sax crawled on the ground like the roars of a wild beast. With her imposing demeanor she looked just like a samurai.

Marie Takeda on keyboards and guitarist Chizuru Segawa played on while Kawaguchi on the drums showed her leadership by supporting other members from the very bottom. As if she could no longer hold it in, she unleashed her technical mastery, looking like a statue of a multi-armed deity.

Juna Serita’s electric bass solo sounded like a tank as she used her thumb to slap the strings with explosive force.

“People often tell us that we’re so bubbly when talking on stage, while our performance on the other hand is very handsome,” said Kawaguchi in between songs.

The concert was such a success that most of the audience stood during the encore.

Kawaguchi, WaKaNa, Yonezawa and Segawa sat down with The Yomiuri Shimbun for an interview sometime after the concert. Once the four of them gathered, they began happily chatting, just as they had done in the dressing room at Billboard Live Yokohama. It was as if they were meeting up for some club activities at school rather than as an act of professional musicians.

The band’s origin dates to 2021, when Kawaguchi was requested to gather young female Japanese musicians to give a performance at the closing ceremony of One Young World Summit, an international convention of next-generation leaders held in Munich that year.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Jazz Avengers perform at a concert.

“We formed an eight-woman band named Senri’s Seven with members suggested by the organizers and those I recommended,” said Kawaguchi.

Initially, the band was supposed to be an impromptu one-off.

At that time much of the world was under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it proved difficult for the members to travel to Germany. Instead, it was decided that the band would perform against the backdrop of Tokyo landscapes in a documentary about them. The members all kept their schedules open for more than a week to do the shooting, but it ended up taking only three to four days, including rehearsals.

“Since we had a lot of time to spare, we chatted, made music together and ended up getting along with each other really well,” said Kawaguchi. “So, we decided to do some gigs together, which were all very fun. And then we all agreed that we’d like to continue the band and changed its name. That’s how it’s been so far.”

All-sax brass section

They were inspired to rename the band to The Jazz Avengers, like a superhero movie series, since the band featured eight highly skilled players. As I mentioned above, having a brass section comprising only saxophone players is quite an unusual format because the section normally includes trumpet and trombone players. Apparently, it was not intentional and came about naturally when the German event initially requested “young female Japanese musicians.”

“I had never played in such a format before,” said WaKaNa, adding that when she played together with the three other saxophonists for the first time, she was amazed by the powerful, dense sound they produced.

“I usually play standing alone in front. It was a moving experience that we could create such deep and brilliant sounds when we played together either in unison or in harmony,” she said.

Yonezawa agreed, saying, “As players of the same instrument, we find it easy to understand each other even during recording sessions.”

Of course, the other four members are also top-rate musicians: the rhythm section of Kawaguchi on drums and Serita on bass along with Segawa on guitar and Takeda on keyboards. The four saxophonists are the band’s front players, but sometimes Segawa jumps in front of them and plays a fierce solo, which is becoming her signature move.

“I get the sweetest part,” said Segawa, who has even leapt off the stage at times and played among the audience like the guitarist of a rock band.

Kawaguchi hopes that her band will play the role of promoting jazz music as a whole.

“I always think how it’s too bad that many people don’t listen to jazz because they think it’s difficult,” said the band’s leader. “The popular TV anime ‘Bocchi the Rock!’ generated buzz for rock bands. Like that anime, I’d be glad if there’re people who think, ‘I want to form a jazz band!’ after listening to The Jazz Avengers.”