Clarinetist Ryoichi Kawai (1940 – August 2023) founded The New Orleans Rascals in 1961 as an extension of the Original Dixieland Jazz Club of Osaka Japan. He established a legacy for traditional jazz in Japan that survives to this day, with the Rascals remaining the most well known of the traditional jazz bands in the country and the related Waseda University New Orleans Jazz Club still nurturing new musicians including Haruka Kikuchi, now well-established in New Orleans.
Kawai is one of the reasons Japanese jazz fans are known to idolize George Lewis. He modeled his own playing on the legend, especially after Lewis’ 1963 visit, during which he jammed with the Rascals. George Lewis greeted The Rascals with a brass band at the airport on their first trip to New Orleans and Ryoichi Kawai was made an honorary citizen of the city. They toured America repeatedly over the coming decades and collaborated with musicians visiting Japan, producing a number of albums on both sides of the Pacific. Notable partners included Don Ewell, Alton Purnell, Tom Sharpsteen, Carol Leigh, Tommy Sancton, and Geoff Bull. Ryoichi Kawai earned the deep and lasting respect of many in the jazz community across America and Europe.