“Songs for J-Town” Premiere Coming to Presidio Theatre

The Presidio Theatre in San Francisco presents the world premiere of Emmy Award-winning jazz innovator, composer and performer Mark Izu’s Songs for J-Town in one concert only, Saturday, April 23, at 7:30 pm. Songs for J-Town is a Japanese American Jazz concert dedicated to the artists’ and communities’ grandchildren’s children and the ancestors who carry them.

The Presidio Theatre is located at 99 Moraga Avenue in San Francisco, and tickets for the concert are priced $25-$60 for adults, $15–40 for youth 17 and under, and may be purchased at https://www.presidiotheatre.org/show/2022songsforjtown

“This is my 45th year as a musician and composer–and my first concert in a very long time,” says Izu. “As I emerge out of the chrysalis of COVID, I muse on what the world has become. Where is my place in it? What do I have to contribute?

“My musings always take me back to J-Town. We the original, the first Japanese settlement in America, displaced three times: the Anti-Japanese laws during the Victorian era, the Incarceration, and Redevelopment!

“And back to my father fighting in Europe with the 442nd. To my mother in-prisoned in Poston. Still our brave little community stands!

“Warm memories of people and places come and gone: Issei grandmas in kimono riding Muni, Nisei aunties cooking community feasts, Sansei fighting for Redress. As I compose this music, the spirit of my sensei, Togi Suenobu, whispers in my ears, ‘The journey continues’.”

Songs for J-Town is a concert featuring music from the history of San Francisco’s Japantown, beginning with the story of the Sun Goddess by Brenda Wong Aoki and a blessing by Konko Priest Mas Kawahatsu to sanctify the space, exorcise the historical ghosts of anti-Japanese propaganda and begin healing from what the military did to Japanese Americans during the Incarceration and to the Japanese people in the 1940’s during WWII.

The concert centers on an instrumental jazz performance infused with Gagaku, a 1500-year-old ceremonial Japanese music honoring the Sun Goddess, that Izu studied for 26 years under his mentor Togi Suenobu.

The concert also features songs that bring back the swing and big band tunes that were popular with Japanese American political prisoners in internment camps after they were forcibly removed from their homes in Japantown during the height of anti-Asian hysteria in the 1940s.

There will be resistance songs that call back to the Japantown of the 1970s, the birthplace of Asian American Jazz, a genre which Mark Izu helped pioneer during the struggle by Black and Japanese residents to fight the forced evictions of tens of thousands of neighborhood residents during waves of demolition led by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency.

Caroline Cabading, a Fillmore Filipina herself, will sing lonesome ballads the manong, unmarried male Filipino elders, sang to themselves, survivors of cruel immigration and marriage laws that prevented Filipino women from settling in California while also preventing Filipino men from marrying non-Filipino women.

Following the performance, because of the long isolation imposed by the pandemic, there will be a simple closing reception with tea and Japanese candy for audience members to greet and enjoy one another.