J Music Ensemble is a New York based 8-piece band including Electric Guitar, Bass, Drums, Keys, Saxophone, Trumpet and Trombone. They bring elements of Japanese music and Jazz together and deliver a beautiful and powerful fusion of the two. J Music Ensemble performs in popular platforms like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Sakura Matsuri Festival, Liberty City Anime Convention, and the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival. They also put out amazing covers of “Perfume”, and “Persona 5”. I was honored to have an opportunity to interview the Band Leader, Patrick Bartley Jr, who shared with us the story of J Music Ensemble.
JT: What originally got you into Japanese music and culture?
Patrick: I originally wanted to be a visual artist. By the time I was six, I was drawing a lot, and I saw Dragon Ball Z on Toonami, from then I got hooked. And I didn’t have any idea that it was anime (from Japan), I thought it was the greatest anime ever made. I had no idea what was going on. And then, a bunch of different shows started coming on Toonami, like Tenchi Muyo, Rurouni Kenshin, Ronan warriors, DragonBall Z, Gundam Wing, Mobile Suit Gundam. It was a 90’s fanfare.
By the time I was seven I was playing with my older step sister. She had a Sega genesis and the 6 pack. It had 6 games on it. Anybody who had a Sega Genesis knows what I am talking about. It had Sonic the Hedgehog 1, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Super Hang On, Columns, and Revenge of Shinobi. Those were the games man [chuckles].
I thought sonic was so cool. I would research sonic stuff and images on yahoo, and somehow stumble upon Sonic music. I downloaded all these midi files from browsers and put them in my floppy disk so I can take it home and put it in the computer and listen to it. While doing all that research, I found out that Sonic was Japanese.
Growing up, I listened to whatever hip hop was at the time, listened to R&B music in the car with my mom, and went to church. I was taking that subconscious influence, taking black music elements, and taking the deep rich elements that Japanese music holds so dear, and trying to bring all these things together. This all started back then, when I was playing Clarinet. [Patrick originally started music as a minor at his Art school: Bethune Elementary School of the Arts]
I didn’t know that Anime was Japanese, until I was ten or eleven. I picked up a book called Ranma ½ — an older manga from the late 80s and 90s. This series was the real beginning. It was the glue for everything. I got addicted to it. From there, I wanted more. I found out later that a lot of my favorite shows that were anime were manga first, and then I got obsessed with it. The gears started turning. So, it sealed the deal and I knew that this was something that I love.
That was pretty much how I got started. Without talking about the musical part of it, this was how I got into Japanese culture.
JT: What was the click that made you start the band?
Patrick: I discovered another composer during the summer. My friend sent me a video of Kagamine Rin (Vocaloid), who was featured in a song by Sasakure UK. It was a song called Tiger Rampage. This was the first time I ever saw the world of visual art and music come together. I couldn’t ignore this I think he should be regarded as just as much of a great composer as Beethoven or Duke Ellington, or Bach. He needs to be. And then my friend Andrew Olsen hit me with a bunch of Hatsune Miku, vocaloid artists, composers and songs. This was Summer of 2013. I was so obsessed. It’s an artificial voice, but they were creating some really ridiculous and beautiful music. At that point, I started calling people, saying, ‘Hey, let’s get a band together’.
JT: What was the biggest obstacle for J Music Ensemble?
Patrick: Forming the band was the biggest ‘obstacle’. This was a difficult time for us because everything happened so fast. I felt like I needed to do it before it was too late. I didn’t realize at the time that there’s no “too late”. I had no idea 5 years ago that the band is going to be like how it is now.
Back then, it was still a combo – more of a collective thing. It wasn’t my band, even though I had the idea and direction. I didn’t establish it as my band. I said “Hey, let’s play some tunes.” That was a struggle, I couldn’t really decide on the direction it would go in. I had band members that weren’t explicitly down with the Japanese music theme. I lucked out that second time I met Chris. I started showing him more music, and he became infatuated with the culture. Max [The trumpet player] is a Japanese video game head. We both played Sonic. So that became a nice dream team at the time, in terms of the enthusiasm, but the music part was the thing that still needed to improve.
JT: What was the biggest accomplishment of J Music Ensemble?
Patrick: The liberty city and the BBG are the most satisfying accomplishments.
The con was important because it’s always been my dream to perform at a con since I was in high school. I want to reach out to these people and be in a community where all of us feel comfortable. We are all just mega ultra-nerds. At the same time, we are artists. We want to be a guide in the same way the other big artist have been guides to us.
BBG was such a big accomplishment because this was a series of 2 years of non-stop communication and networking.
I met Tomo, who works for Sony Music Japan in 2015. He introduced me to Justin, a writer for JQ Magazine (definition) and the JET (definition). Through him, I met this guy Dan Grunebaum and who later on did a story of us on Nippon TV. Through Dan, I met Anita Jacobs, who runs the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. So it was a long run of communication.
Being recognized by Perfume was also great. I brought half of the band with me to a Perfume concert. We were outside from 12-5pm [waiting in the line to get in] and we were just playing. After the show, Perfume posted a picture of us playing on their Facebook page, and some fans recognized us and mentioned us in the comments.
“Time to Play” was crazy because that was our first album. Me and Chris did all the artwork ourselves. That was the first time we had all of our music in a package that people can download. Even though this isn’t the album that I’m trying to push too much now, there’s still people buying the music because people want to support us. We did everything in one day for that album. 10 hour recording session.
JT: What are some experiences or advice you would like to share to fellow young bandleaders or musicians out there? And what do you think it takes to be a bandleader?
Patrick: The thing that helped me get to this point is that I was open to whatever situation that I was in. It’s really easy to be a young talented musician and be self-aware of that talent and turn down all the opportunities that you don’t want to do. We get sucked into this whole thing where, you are a young person, you got to know when to say no. But man, if you are 18, 19 years old, you are not old enough to say no yet.
I learned how to be a band leader from the many different gigs and experiences that I had with different bands and band leaders. I absorbed what they do, even from people my age, seeing what they do and how they’ve accomplished what they were trying to accomplish. Being on The Late Show was a really big wake up call. You get the mic, there’s not even a soundcheck, and you got to be ready to do it. That taught me about efficiency and gave me the idea of an opening theme, so I wrote a J Music Opening theme because of that.
There’s so much more I’m probably missing… the most important thing I can think of right now, in terms of being the leader of a band, is that the best leaders are always the best sidemen. It’s extremely important to know what you want from your group. You cannot know that until you become a better sideman yourself. You want to have a clear vision, but make sure to include the people that you are working with.
I guess the best advice man, just be open. Open your mind and your heart. you never know what you are going to find. The thing you are looking for the most might be in front of you. What was in front of me was a plethora of incredibly enriching jazz opportunities, performing opportunities, rehearsing opportunities. All those little opportunities helped me develop my own project. You have to absorb that. You can’t forget it.
I am personally a huge fan of J Music Ensemble’s music and performances. You can find J Music Ensemble on various social media sites: