83-year-old drummer Yoshio Kinjo broke out into the world as Okinawa’s jazz pioneer

83-year-old drummer Yoshio Kinjo broke out into the world as Okinawa’s jazz pioneer

Yoshio Kinjo grooving on the drums. August 26, Urasoe


September 25, 2018 Ryukyu Shimpo

By Chie Tome


“OK, one, two, three, four.” With a commanding tone, Yoshio Kinjo, 83, from Tomigusuku leads the 17-person big band, “Y.K. Singing Orchestra.” Kinjo was introduced to the drums in 1954, in his senior year of high school.

He has been playing them ever since in a musical career that spanned over 60 years, running at the forefront the world of Okinawan jazz.


Kinjo had an interest in music ever since he was a child, and he joined the concert band while attending Naha High School. At first, he was a standout in the trumpet section, but as an upperclassmen he was discovered to have talent on the drums and switched over.


“Whether I was asleep or awake, all I thought about was music,” Kinjo said of his senior year, when he formed a band with six other concert band members and spent all of his time not on schoolwork performing at nightclubs and cabarets.

It was at that time that he was discovered by talent scouts and officially formed a band called, “Crazy & Cool.” He decided to make his living playing music.


Before the reversion of Okinawa to mainland Japan, Kinjo would also occasionally perform at clubs inside the U.S. military bases.

Particularly, in the 60’s at the height of the Vietnam War, he toured around dancehalls in places such as Rycom Officer’s Hall, Henoko, and Kin, playing music for U.S. soldiers and girls to dance to.

Yoshio Kinjo (center back) performing with his band at clubs and cabarets when he was a senior at Naha High School. 1954, at the Taihokan in Naha


“I think we were playing to help the soldiers, who could be called to the front lines at any time, find some relaxation.

The pay was also triple that of your average salaryman,” Kinjo reflected.


After the reversion, he switched to playing tunes from the Okinawa Symphony Orchestra and Chieko Iha.

In 1979, he appeared on the Okinawan jazz record, DAH NAH with the Ryusei Tomoyose Quartet, and participated as a consultant on Okinawa Jazz Kyokai’s first album Uchina Jazz! He sought new possibilities for the American-born style of music in Okinawa.


Currently, Kinjo periodically performs concerts with the “Y.K. Singing Orchestra” which was established in 2015, and puts a lot of effort into cultivating young musicians.


Kinjo continued to watch the evolution of the Okinawa jazz scene over the years.

Looking down at the hands that drummed out the rhythms over generations, he said smiling gently, “All my life all I have known is jazz, so I want to continue until the very end.”


(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)


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