COURTESY ALVIN KOO
"I want to be a singer who can sing any kind of music," says Rie Furuse. "I want to have the skill and voice to sing any kind of songs." The jazz singer will perform Sunday and Tuesday in Honolulu while on vacation in Hawaii.
Rie Furuse has been expanding her vocal range since she found jazz seven years ago
LIVING IN Tokyo has been good for singer Rie Furuse. The 25-year-old musician moved from her hometown of Kumamoto, on the island of Kyushu, when she was 18. While studying French literature at Dokkyo University, a friend took her to a local jazz club for the first time.
Jazz Singer Rie Furuse
Sunday: 3 to 6 p.m. at Ward's Rafters, 3810 Maunaloa Ave.
Tuesday: 9 p.m. at Jazz Minds Art and Cafe, 1661 Kapiolani Blvd.
"I'd never heard of jazz before," Furuse said earlier this month via telephone from Japan. "I was so surprised ... like, 'Wow, I never knew there was this kind of music,' and I was very interested in it."
Having studied classical piano since the age of 3, she was blown away by the freedom jazz musicians had to improvise and play off one another. So Furuse refocused her priorities, dedicating herself to developing as a singer and searching for a deal with a record label to release her first album.
While on vacation in the islands this week and next, she'll perform Sunday at Ward's Rafters in Kaimuki with pianist Satomi, drummer Abe Lagrimas and bass player Jeremy Ward. On Tuesday she'll perform with Satomi, drummer Shinya Yarimizo and bass player Jon Hawes.
NOT ONLY did Tokyo expand Furuse's musical horizons -- it also expanded her network of professional contacts, a must for any young performer.
"There are many great musicians coming to Tokyo," she said. "Actually, I met the pianist Rafael (Alcala) when he came to Tokyo with Sheryl Bentyne, who is the vocalist for Manhattan Transfer."
Furuse would eventually travel to the United States to spend some time recording with Alcala, and end up landing a regular gig at the Roppongi Hills Club that allowed for more opportunities to meet other American musicians. She also took advantage of her ability to speak English, which had gotten her a job as a translator for former Chic member Diva Gray.
"I was asked to be her interpreter when she teaches Japanese artists to sing English songs," explained Furuse. "She has a huge network ... it's a perfect opportunity for me to study with her and learn about the process of recording."
WHILE FURUSE counts Patti Austin, Lorez Alexandria, Renata Mauro and Dinah Shore among the biggest influences on her singing career, she's also very interested in pushing the boundaries of traditional jazz.
"I want to be a singer who can sing any kind of music," she said. "I want to have the skill and voice to sing any kind of songs."
With her debut album in the works, Furuse wants to explore some of the other genres she's been exposed to while living in Tokyo. Instead of focusing on pop music that's tailored to teen audiences, she's more inclined to target an older demographic.
"I want to get more (a) wide-ranged audience, so now I sing funk and Latin," she said. "But the core is jazz, using chordal structures and improvising. Then I sing funk."
But Furuse also realizes she's still very new to the music industry, and acknowledges that her tastes may change even more as she gets older. Even traditional Japanese music is an option in the future, she said.
For now, Furuse just wants to soak up the atmosphere in Hawaii and apply what she learns here to her career in Japan.
"I feel like I'm just starting, that I have many things to do from now on," she said. "I'm still looking for what I want, and eventually I want to have my own style."