“…but what was the most unforgettable part of the night came early and the feeling stayed late. Jay "Bird" said 'This goes out to one of our very favorite people in the world and she's right here with us. This is for Chieko.' SoulMates then soared into the most beautiful, heart-tugging, and tear-inducing rendition of Sukiyaki. Of course, it is the English-speaking world that calls it that. In Japanese, the title is literally I Shall Walk Looking Up. The original was sung by Kyu Sakamoto entirely in Japanese but still was a huge hit in the U.S. in 1963, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. It even reached #18 on the R&B charts.
SoulMates, however, gave the most emotional of instrumental treatments of the song. This was the song of the night. This was the song that stuck in everyone's mind. People were absolutely "oohing and aahing" at the end. One woman called it "the most beautiful thing I ever heard." Another said, "I have heard it sung and I have sung it myself many times but I never heard anything like this!" As the melody faded away, "Bird" said once again, "That was for Chieko." '
When Jay “Bird” Koder plays this song, something seems to come over him. His face changes and he seems to drift, not aimlessly, but with the sense of being carried on a current. But the song is not taking him; he is taking the song.
He plays the song at half-tempo and—instead of the original sounds of orchestra and bamboo sticks—SoulMates bring the soulful sounds of the great trio of keyboard, drums and guitar. Jarrod Lawson on keys and Reinhardt Melz on drums create the perfect (yes, I said “perfect”) tapestry of heart-felt dedication, warmth and grace for the “Bird’s” guitar.
His guitar does not cry or moan. It does not wail. It is a sigh—a sigh of all being right with the world. In the midst of troubles and storms, all is well. Amidst confusion and even sadness, there is still something beautiful in the world and in life. For me, in the middle of the worst situations…my beautiful Chieko is there.
When Jay “Bird” Koder plays Sukiyaki, he is playing it for her but he plays with understanding—understanding what she means to me. It is as if he is playing what I cannot. And the effect touches everyone in the place.
During a performance of the song for Chieko’s birthday, one man admitted to getting teary-eyed when he heard the song. Another man who looked like a veteran from the Battle of Jutland sat in the back and even his weathered face and craggy smile turned into springtime as he listened to “Bird's” playing.
Sakamoto’s song is remarkable on its own but under the “Bird’s” lovely treatment, it turns into a serenade, a sonnet. The beauty of Chieko is mirrored in SoulMates’ Sukiyaki.
The last time we heard it was when we had just discovered that we were having to move away. There would be only a few chances left to hear SoulMates before we were gone. On this evening, when we told “Bird”, Jarrod and Reinhardt what was happening, they played Sukiyaki for Chieko.
It was a fitting song on this emotional evening. The performance was sterling and may have very well been Bird's finest version of this song. As “Bird” strolled into the audience, he played in front of Chieko and they bowed to each other in a meaningful and touching way. It would be the last time we got to see them perform... for a while.
I concluded the blog of February 29 with these words: “If you ever saw sweet Chieko, you would understand why he said what he did at the beginning and why he reminded us at the end that this song was for Chieko. If you ever saw Chieko, you would think that it was indeed fitting that such a beautiful song should be played for her. If you ever saw Chieko, you would know why she is everyone's favorite.”
If you ever saw Chieko, you would understand why I can “walk looking up.”