LOCAL MUSICIAN and promoter Jeff Zagers has been bringing underground and high-caliber indie talent to Savannah for years now—you just may not have heard about it.
While Zagers used to primarily book small, intimate shows in his home, he’s eagerly branching out to a larger space at City of Savannah’s Black Box at Cultural Affairs to showcase master improvisationist Tatsuya Nakatani.
Nakatani builds percussive soundscapes that blur the line of rhythmic musical performance and engrossing experience of heightened senses and awareness.
There’s something laborious in how the 44-year-old pulls a hardwood bow across a gong or Chinese cymbal, drawing tremoring tones from Japanese Buddhist bowls and integrating both manufactured and handmade instruments in his work.
As Nakatani slowly builds his textures onstage—something that, to be watched, has such a human touch about it—the notes and tones swell into something distinctly mechanical.
They’re strange sounds to hear in a concert hall, a kind that push the listener to note the skill in evoking such grinding, buzzing sounds from ancient instruments.
If the sawmill in Twin Peaks had its own theme, Nakatani would be an apt composer (take note, David Season-Three-Is-Coming Lynch).
“There’s patience involved with listening,” Zagers explains. “It starts with patience, and you get broadened to the world of it. So time is passing, but you don’t notice because there’s total focus on something that’s very subtle and acoustic and not something pounding at you.”
Listening to Nakatani in a still room, audience members develop a new kind of sensitivity to the tones and subtle beats. Ears prick as he gently pulls his bow, right before the sounds are built into terse, resonant rhythms.
Zagers explains a rising of the senses while listening to the acoustic sound artist, and an experience completely unlike most acts you’ll catch downtown on a weekend night.
“I think there are a lot of people who are craving it, and there’s a lot of people who would cringe at it,” Zagers states.
This will be the third time Zagers has booked Nakatani. In February 2012, Nakatani played a house show at Zagers’ place, and Zagers set him up at Non-Fiction Gallery in 2013.
“He played for a good 40 minutes, then there was just a roar of applause,” Zagers remembers.
Each time Nakatani’s come through, Zagers has strived to put him in a larger venue. While shopping around for an alternative venue in the past months, he found an ideal spot in the Black Box Theatre.
“I feel like the space is perfect,” he says. “It’s a place you go to sit and see something.”
In the Theatre, the artist performs on the floor, while the audience is seated in risers. This way, the crowd can witness Nakatani’s every move instead of craning over one another’s heads for a view.
Zagers presents the show in collaboration with Dollhouse Productions, a pairing that allows him to cast a wider net beyond his usual audiences.
“It’s a hard time if you’re just one person promoting a show if don’t have a lot of experience, but you have the burning that you want people to hear this sort of thing,” says Zagers, who had been dying to get Nakatani back to Savannah.
He also sees it as a chance to bridge the Savannah generation gap. With The Black Box Theatre being an all-ages space and the show starting so early in the evening, it’s the best of both worlds—for those who don’t want to wait until 11 p.m. for a show to start, and for those who wouldn’t be allowed into a bar gig.
“I know there’s people out there who aren’t young and hip to what’s going on, and they need to be informed,” explains Zagers.
“I’m starting with this now to make slow steps and get people here to hear him and get to know him,” Zagers says. “Because I think he could come back on other levels, even being involved with the [Savannah] Music Festival. It’s of that caliber.”
Indeed, Nakatani’s penchant for performing in homes, DIY spaces, and even New Orleans alleyways is really a small glimpse in his breadth and demand as a performer; he arrived to Zagers’ house in 2012 fresh off a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. In 2013, he provided a live soundtrack to 2011 Japanese vampire film Sanguivorous at the Smithsonian Institute. Despite high-profile gigs, though, he remains fiercely independent, and often relies on the community within his tour stops.
“He tours by himself,” Zagers admires. “He has a kitchen in his van, very self-sufficient. It’s pretty incredible and inspiring for anyone on the road.”
Often, while planning out a tour, Nakatani will invite local musicians to join him in a gong orchestra. While his previous Savannah performances have been strictly solo affairs, he’s working with Zagers to assemble a team of 10 locals for a one-of-a-kind Savannah gong orchestra. Thus far, locals Louis Clausi, Cara Griffin, Sam Kim, Andrew Olsen, Andrew Hartzell, Jose Ray, Robyn Reeder, Luis Salazar, John Swisher, and Zagers are slated to perform.
Zagers has handpicked musicians of all backgrounds, striving to find folks who may not have worked together before.
“It’s kind of on the fly and spontaneous,” says Zagers.
Peter Mavrogeorgis, who helms Dollhouse’s studio side, will be on site recording the performance.
With only 100 seats, attendees are encouraged to get their tickets in advance so as to not miss out on a truly one-of-a-kind evening.
“Something my friend Mike Williams said is, ‘He has scored our lives,’” says Zagers. “And it’s pretty incredible to hear in a musical setting.”