Yoko Kanno: The Jazz Genius
Everyone knows, well almost everyone, that Yoko Kanno is the genius behind the musical score of Cowboy Bebop along with Macross Plus, Resonance no Terror, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and so much more. She is very unique her style of composing and chooses her musical styles well depending on the anime. She knows how to draw the attention of the audience further into the anime.
Cowboy Bebop is probably her most successful to me. Her mixture of jazz and blues plays into the film noirish Cowboy Bebop style. The different types of genre varies wide from hard rock to country and from acoustic ballads to funk. It is a very experimental composition, but works well for the anime. The main genre, and reason for this blog, is the jazz though.
In a recently new interview with Yoko Kanno, she goes into the details of how she created most Cowboy Bebops score. During her middle and high school years, Kanno spent time in the brass band. During her time, the ‘song kids’ were not the coolest kids around. These were kids who played other peoples songs. So instead she began to create her own songs and perform those instead. She could never understand why the other kids would play the ‘uncool’ music. Instead, Kanno wanted to shake the souls of those hearing her music. She wanted to make “you lose it.” This was the beginning of the yearning that would soon be Tank!. She wanted a fire to light up when it was played.
In university, Kanno began to transcribe hip hop and rap. This was to help grasp the understanding on rhythm. This inspired her to take a trip to the US, New Orleans to be exact. There she studied the jazz and funk culture. She also visited LA where there was a variety of music being played on the streets. This is where she learned “that the beat is a form of language.”
Who Are The Seatbelts?
The Seatbelts are a group of people that Yoko Kanno has worked with separately on other anime OSTs. She gathered them together to create The Seatbelts. They mostly play jazz and blues but dive into other styles as well. For Cowboy Bebop, the band was given a background story. According to the Bebop lore, The Seatbelts got their name since they wore seatbelts while performing on stage. This was so they could play their hardcore sessions and be safe doing so. They began to get famous in 2048. Most of their personal lives and information are unknown due to the high security of Y.K., their producer. Tank! was ranked number one in 2056 on The Solar System Music Hit Chart. During this time, they also traveled from planet to planet performing concerts.
Jazz/Blue Inspired Themes
Tank! is the opening theme for Cowboy Bebop. It basically sums up the show in that little session. Jazz and blues are to be expected. Yoko Kanno wrote the song while her band, The Seatbelts, performed. She has Masato Honda as an alto saxophone solo player towards the end of the full song. With mostly just instruments (other than the count down to jam provided by Tim Jensen) and screams jazz the whole time. It is an iconic song and opening as well.
The Real Folks Blues is the ending theme used in the majority of the episodes as some have special endings. Performed by The Seatbelts and vocals by Mai Yamane, this song is mostly an homage to the blue genre. The lyrics were written by Yuho Iwasato while Yoko Kanno composed and arranged the rest. This song is one of just a few in the series that is sung in Japanese. The last episode may have a different ending, but the song appears through an alternate version called See You Space Cowboy… sometime during that episode.
Each of the OSTs released of Cowboy Bebop are unique in certain ways. The first one released, Cowboy Bebop, has many of the trademark songs from the series. The second album, No Disc, is unique due to the many genres present in the works (from heavy metal to blue grass banjo types). The third OST, Cowboy Bebop Blue, had many vocal tracks. The OST to the Cowboy Bebop movie, Future Blues, explores western and Arabic style music.
Yoko Kanno used many different songs as inspiration for her own work on the OSTs. Here are a list of songs that are known to be her actual inspirations:
Imperial Drag – Zodiac Sign inspired Want it all Back
Robbie Robertson – Coyote Dance inspired Space Lion
DJ Food – Let the Good Shine inspired Mushroom Hunting
Harry Connick Jr. – Blue Light, Red Light inspired You Make Me Cool
Skunk Anansie – Secretly inspired No Reply
Jaco Pastorius – Liberty City inspired CAR24
Steve Reich – The Desert Music inspired Powder
Sugababes – Overload inspired Cosmic Dare
Angelo Badalamenti – Dub Driving inspired Pot City
Brigitte Fontaine – Comme à la Radio inspired Black Coffee
Pink Floyd – On the Run inspired On the Run
Tom Waits – Midtown inspired Bad Dog, No Biscuits
Lunatic Calm – Leave You Far Behind inspired Pushing the Sky
The Rolling Stones – 19th Nervous Breakdown inspired Diggin