Monday, June 9, 2008

Take Toriyama

It's hard to believe that a year has passed since Take left us. It's still such a shock to most of us and so painful to realize that he's gone. Like so many others, I had some of the most beautiful and wonderful experiences with him personally and musically. The guy really had a sound, and when you played with him, you were never just playing with a drummer... it was always something greater than that, and so incredibly selfless. He was really the whole package, and exuded such groove, sensitivity and joy when he played. I'll never forget the string of trio sessions and hangs that Take, Chris VanVorstVanBeest and I did at my old place in Park Slope, and fortunately there's some material from a recording session that Take and I did together with Ethan Herr in 2004 or 2005 that I'll cherish.

I'm still amazed when I remember how many people showed up to share their grief and pay him tribute at his memorial. Never had I seen a gathering of musicians that transcended the cliques or divisions that supposedly exist in our little music world.
In just a few short years in New York, Take had touched so many people. Anybody who was there for the walk down 9th street from Prospect Park will never forget the intensity and the collective feeling present that morning. Such a strange mix of sadness and joy to see the music community together that morning, so many friends normally wrapped up in their own lives who rarely come together otherwise unless it's for a gig.

To take his life the way he did, Take had to have been suffering in a deeper way than any of us can imagine. I remember the Buddhist monk who conducted Take's formal memorial pointing out that just like cancer can invade the body, there is a sickness of the mind that is so powerful and debilitating that one loses all hope that things can get better. Take and I were never the closest of friends, which never seemed to matter to me. We're both fairly quiet people and he was somebody I felt close to without opening up to or spending loads of time with. Regretfully, I didn't see him much in the last six months of his life, but through others I know he was going through some really difficult things and kept so much of it inside, fearing that he would burden others by sharing his pain. One of the most tragic things is to think of just how many people would have done anything for him had he reached out. Most people knew he was down, but nobody saw what was coming, and I think his suicide made all of us aware of just how real of a phenomenon it is, one we all need to keep in the back of our mind when we know somebody is suffering.

Take's friend and teacher Hal Crook spoke at the funeral, and it's been posted on Yoshi Waki's website. I don't think anything better or more comforting could have been said.


We have gathered here today to honor and pay our respects to our dear friend and brother, Take Toriyama, who made all of our lives better simply by being a part of them. Take’s life touched us all in the best of ways, and his death has left us with an unfathomable emptiness.

At a time like this, it seems that Silence is the real super-power. In Silence, things become clear, and we understand. In Silence we are consoled and healed. We may never get over our sorrow, but in Silence we can accept it and get used to it.

Words can never explain or clarify what went wrong. Words cannot console us, or heal us, or diminish our pain. At times like this, the purpose of words is to set the stage for Silence to take over and do its thing. Silence is the real power here today, so I will be brief.

I met Take when he first came to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music, some 13 or more years ago. He became like a son to me, and like a brother as well. Not that I could ever replace his natural family, whom he loved dearly, but I was grateful for the opportunity to fill in for them while Take was living here.

In fact, I used to joke with Take about this, sometimes calling him the son I never had, and never wanted. But of course, during his years at Berklee and afterward, I wanted very much to be his mentor and his friend, and we became the closest friends. I’ve never had a closer, or truer friend.

In all my life, I’ve never met or known a kinder, or gentler, or more considerate soul than Take Toriyama. Always positive, always doing right, always taking the high road regarding his values and principles. To me, Take was a model example of the best in human potential. Sure, he may have been just a short little drummer guy, but he was a big tall hero to me.

Music was a major part of our connection, as it was with everyone who really knew Take. We got inside each other’s heads and hearts and hands on the bandstand every time we played together. I learned how to tap into the musical strengths of another being from playing with Take. He made it easy.

We studied music and life together, we practiced and performed together, we ate sushi and drank sake together. We recorded together and toured Europe together – sometimes just as a duo. And I can tell you that throughout all our travels and experiences together, everyone loved and respected Take as much as they loved and respected his music.

When I listen to Take’s playing, I think: This is someone who understands everything. Not just drums. Not just rhythm. Not just melody. Not just harmony. Not just form. Not just freedom. Not just music. Everything. Take got it all. He understood the things that matter most to people.

The first thing you read in Take’s self-written bio is, “An amazing parents raised Take.” His parents and brother Kazu were always a major part of his life, as was Natsu, the woman he called his soul mate. He was a great son, a great brother, a great musician, and a great friend. And he should not have died. But he did.

And now we want answers. We say it is human nature to try to make sense of things when they go wrong. We think there has to be an answer. And if we can’t find one we may make one up, just so long as things make sense to us in the end.

Well, maybe it is human nature to search our minds for answers. But it’s also a torturous game, a pathological mind game. Well, maybe it is human nature to search the mind for answers. But it is also a selfish, pathological mind game. The mind, after all, is as much the home of deception as it is truth.

At times like this, I remember what Shakespeare said about thinking. He said, “Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Nothing has meaning unless we think it does; or, if we prefer, everything has meaning unless we think it doesn’t.

So, it doesn’t really matter how we leave this life – unless we choose to think it does. One person’s tragic defeat may be another’s triumphant victory. Who is to say? Maybe, in his mind, Take chose victory. And who is to judge? Who is anyone to determine for anyone else what the right course of action is?

When we think about Take leaving us, and how it happened, we become angry and sad because we all loved him and we will miss him. We know that death is the ultimate irreversible act, and that he will not be back to play or hang out with us again.

But I will not think of Take’s final act as good or bad. I refuse to let my thoughts about his death make such an incomprehensible decision. Thinking is simply the wrong tool for the job.

I will let my laughter and my tears determine what is good and what is bad. I will let Silence make things clear to me, and console me, and heal me. I will never get over my sorrow from his dying, but in Silence I will accept it and get used to it.

And I will enjoy the deep and beautiful memories I have of my deep and beautiful friend for as long as I live.

Hal Crook

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