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Naomi Grace breathes new life into Tokyo’s jazz-pop scene

By Chris Betros

Jazz-pop singer Naomi Grace remembers her first live gig in Tokyo very well -- it was at a Ginza Royal club, one of those places with bunny girls, populated by men drinking whisky in the dark. “I was so nervous, but it was a wonderful experience. You only live once, so I thought why not?” says Grace, relaxing in the Omotesando studio of her husband, renowned illustrator Susumu Matsushita. That was more than 10 years ago, and Grace’s singing career has moved up to another level with the recent release of her debut album “Solo in the Spotlight.”

Born in Washington DC to a Japanese mother and American father, Grace grew up in Japan because her father was in the U.S. military. “My dad wanted to be in show business and dreamed of singing like Frank Sinatra. We were always singing in the family but I never thought it would be a career for me,” Grace recalls.

At 13, she started modeling after being scouted on Tachikawa air base. “It was a brand new world but only on weekends. My dad was quite strict about my schooling. Toward the end of my modeling career, when I was close to 30, I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then I met the president of this entertainment production company and we talked about a singing career. I never had professional singing lessons and really didn’t know if this was the right path for me. I did all genres, whatever the bandmaster gave me, in whatever key.”

Over the years, Grace has sung in clubs, lounges and at parties. She performs most months at the Prince Park Tower’s Melody Line hall. “I pick a theme and music to go with it. I sing mainly in English. I feel with standard jazz that I can express my feelings better in English.”

Right now, Grace is thrilled to have completed her CD. She adorns the cover in a slinky black gown, akin to the Barbie doll after which the CD is named. “I’ve been singing for quite some time but this is like a new beginning. It’s jazz as entertainment, not jazz for people sitting in the dark, drinking whisky out of sight. My husband wrote the music for the title song ‘Solo in the Spotlight’ and I wrote the lyrics. The rest of the tracks are rearranged standard jazz covers.”

Grace is hopeful the CD, which is dedicated to her late father, will help to define her. “Before, when I met people, they’d ask what I do and I’d say I’m a singer. Then they wanted to know if I had a CD. I still consider myself more a live person. So I hope people will hear the CD and then come to my live events to get the feel of what I want to present. I like to interact with audiences and get feedback, even if it’s criticism. Some people don’t like me … they think I express myself too much. They feel that jazz should be sung in a more cool or ‘kakkoi’ manner. I just want people to come and be entertained. I’ve noticed a lot of women in the audience, who come back. That’s great.”

Grace says Tokyo needs more supper clubs to spur the jazz scene. “In New York, you can drop in to a club, have a drink, something to eat and see a show for a reasonable price. Here in Tokyo, it is really pricey.” When she’s not singing, Grace likes to relax at home in Fussa, about 90 minutes from Tokyo. “I’m not a morning person. I usually get up in the afternoon. On days off, I walk a lot. I listen to a lot of jazz at home because I am always looking for new sounds.”

This month, Naomi Grace will perform on Dec 25 at Satin Doll and Dec 27 at All of Me. In January, she will sing on the 23rd at Melody Line at the Prince Park Tower, as well as Jan 29 at Ristaurante ASO in Daikanyama. On Feb 11, she'll perform under the theme of "Be My Valentine" at Harajuku’s Quest Hall.

For info on Grace’s upcoming events, visit http://naomigrace.com/

© Japan Today

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She's quite good. I wonder if she is the sister of Hiroko Grace?

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In Japan she's "Na-omi," in the U.S. she's "Nay-omi."

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sarge wrote:

"In Japan she's "Na-omi"

Not quite correct, sarge, but keep trying.

Naomi Grace is very pretty and quite accomplished in her chosen field. I wish her the best of luck.

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Wow, she is a nice looking young jazz maverick.

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Imagine being lucky enough to wake up to that beautiful face (scratch that), beautiful everything (face, body, voice...), every morning. Her husband must live in pure bliss.

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