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Kaoru Abe

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Biography

Japan (1949 – 1978)

Kaoru Abe (阿部 薫 Abe Kaoru?, May 5, 1949 - September 9, 1978) was an influential Japanese alto saxophonist, who is often regarded as having the most abrasive saxophone sound. Self-taught at a young age, Abe performed with notables such as Motoharu Yoshizawa, Takehisa Kosugi, Yosuke Yamashita, Derek Bailey, and Milford Graves, although he generally performed solo. He was married to the author Izumi Suzuki, and a cousin to singer Kyu Sakamoto. He also appeared in the film Endless Waltz by Kōji Wakamatsu.

To some listeners, this avant-garde Japanese player from the ’70s wins the sweepstakes for the most abrasive saxophone sound in history, an important competition indeed in this genre. With some saxophonists claiming their tone can remove coats of varnish from antiques, cook a 20-pound goose in one hour, or even wound a small rodent at 200 feet, there is no denying the impact of Kaoru Abe (阿部薫) on alto sax; and on clarinet, he hardly harbored ambitions to be the new Artie Shaw. Unfortunately, his premature death meant he never lived to see the heyday of Japanese avant-garde music, nor enjoy the prestige his type of abilities on saxophone might have garnered him as the interest in free jazz increased in the ’90s. He also never held at least half of his releases in his hands, since some of the best material from this player was only released in the years after his death.

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