Haruka Kikuchi grew up in Tokyo: a big city girl with a background in classical music. Yoshitaka “Z2” Tsuji is from Osaka; his mother started teaching him piano when he was five years old. Haruka came to traditional jazz though a music teacher—Z2 says he was hit by a bolt of lightning when he first heard Oscar Peterson. Their studies and enthusiasm brought them both to New Orleans separately, but soon they found each other and have since created a life rooted in their mutual passion for the city’s music and culture. Haruka has played with Shotgun Jazz Band, Catie Rodgers and the Gentilly Stompers, Shake ’Em Up Jazz Band, Cha Wa, and has toured with Postmodern Jukebox. Z2 plays with Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers as well as Kevin Morris & Uptown Production.
What was it like for you when you first moved to New Orleans, Haruka?
Haruka: My first apartment was uptown, so I rode the streetcar to the French Quarter to play. The first band that I played with was Shotgun Jazz Band. I had visited before I moved here in 2014. During that visit, Z2 asked me if I wanted to do some busking in Jackson Square. I was more familiar with New Orleans jazz than he was. I still remember I called a song like “Panama.” He didn’t know it. I said, “It’s easy, just follow me.” Marla Dixon was just walking in Jackson Square and she said, “Oh you play traditional jazz? I play traditional jazz, too!” She gave me her card, and that’s how I met her and came to Shotgun Jazz Band.
Did you have a similar experience, Z2?
Z2: When I first moved here in 2010, I didn’t know anyone and nobody knew me. I just knew Kermit and Rebirth. I sat in with Kermit at Vaughn’s the first Thursday I was here. The second week I came and sat in again. The third week, the bartender, Miki, called me. She said Kermit needs a keyboard player. The regular player was on vacation for two weeks. I said yes, but I didn’t have a suit! Miki’s friend had a suit, so we went to his house. It was violet! I needed a suit that day so I had no choice. My first gig with Kermit in New Orleans I wore a violet suit! I still have it.
Do you two often play together?
Haruka: Our music backgrounds are a little different. His hero is Oscar Peterson. My trombone hero is Kid Ory. We sometimes play together, so it’s like a family band, but we also try to respect our differences in style. His style is more bebop style and my style is more traditional New Orleans. Of course we still play together sometimes, like every Saturday at The Little Gem with Kermit.
Kermit plays a big role in your lives! When you got married you decided to have the reception at Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge.
Haruka: Yeah, because when we were thinking about our wedding party we just thought that we had no choice but to do it there because it’s like our home. We have many funny photos!
Your baby is named Shouta. Is that a Japanese name?
Haruka: Shouta is a popular Japanese boy’s name.
Z2: It sounds like “Showtime!”
Haruka: He has a Chinese character name also. His Chinese character name means “laughing big boy.”
Seems like Shouta has been going to gigs and festivals from an early age.
Haruka: He went to French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest when he was six months, seven months. I remember the first time he kicked in my belly it was last June. I was on tour with Postmodern Jukebox. During the show they feature each musician. So they said, “Haruka on trombone!” I played my signature song in the show, the Joe Avery blues “buh buh bah bum!” Then he kicked: Boom! I was so excited on stage. I didn’t tell anybody, but oh my god!
Do you think you’re here to stay in New Orleans?
Haruka: Yes. No plans to ever leave. We went on tour to Japan in May. The main reason was just to show Shouta to our parents. It was our first time playing together in Tokyo and then in Osaka.
Is it challenging to have a new baby and to both be musicians?
Haruka: Yes, for me, because I’m just a beginning mom. So everything is the first time without rehearsal. We’re just so glad because he’s such a healthy baby.
Haruka Kikuchi is playing Satchmo Summerfest with Catie Rodgers and the Gentilly Stompers on the GE Stage on Saturday, August 3rd 1:50 p.m.
Z2 is playing Satchmo Summerfest with Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers on the Fidelity Bank Stage on Friday, August 2nd 4:30 p.m.
PHOTO BY by Stacey Leigh Bridewell
Haruka Kikuchi and Yoshitaka “Z2” Tsuji with their son Shouta