At the start of October Jerome Jennings, a drummer, bandleader and educator at the Juilliard School in New York, set up a GoFundMe page aimed at raising $25,000 for the medical expenses of his friend and fellow musician Tadataka Unno whom he describes as “one of the brightest lights in jazz piano.” A month on and more than ten times that amount has been collected with donations and well wishes still coming in.
Unno, a Japanese national who left this country twelve years ago with his wife Sayaka to realize his dream of making it as a jazz musician in New York, was on his way home from a video shoot when he was set upon by eight assailants at the subway station on West 135th Street on September 27, 2020. After being blocked from going through the turnstiles, the thugs started beating him up, breaking his right collarbone and causing bruising to his head and body.
“He had come to the city to mix with people not like him, & now he was suffering for this difference.” Jazz pianist Tadataka Unno, a Japanese #expat who was living his dream in #Harlem, was brutally attacked near his home in late Sept @nytimes https://t.co/p7CXPtnoGt #HateCrime pic.twitter.com/MSDMmTOFCl
— The Displaced Nation (@DisplacedNation) October 27, 2020
The attack was captured by a camera at the subway, however, more than 35 days later and not one arrest has been made. According to a quote from Unno in the Asahi Shimbun, one of the perpetrators called him “Chinese,” along with a profanity, yet the Asian Hate Crime Task Force, set up in August due to the rise of violence against Asian people, did not consider the assault to be racially motivated.
For Unno, who began playing the piano at the age of four, the road to recovery will be a long one and the fear is that he may never be able to perform to the same level as he did before the senseless attack. As well as the physical and emotional suffering, there’s also the financial implications. He is the sole breadwinner in his family and recently became a father for the first time. Like so many musicians around the globe, he had already suffered a considerable loss of earnings this year due to the spread of Covid-19 and now is unable to make any money at all.
“I believe I will play the piano again, but honestly I don’t know how long it will take,” he wrote on the GoFundMe page two weeks ago. “Playing the piano involves a delicate balance between the shoulder and arm. It’s possible that the feeling of balance will never come back. And even if it did, it might take a long time for a full recovery. But more importantly, I’m still unsure of the extent of the psychological and physical damage from the trauma.
“Thanks to all of you, the GoFundMe campaign that Jerome started reached its goal in just one day, and we closed it off to donations. However, as the news of the incident spread, more and more people from around the world expressed a desire to help, so we decided to reopen the campaign. The nature of the crime reflects some serious social issues in the US, so the US, Japanese and Chinese media have covered it widely. Violence is never justifiable and should never be overlooked or ignored.”
Along with the huge number of supportive messages on the GoFundMe page, there have also been many people posting how angry and dismayed they are about the increasing number of crimes against Asian people living in America. “Sorry for what happened to you. Racial discrimination and persecution should be condemned by the public and prosecuted harshly by the law,” posted one contributor.
“As a New Yorker, I am ashamed of my city,” wrote another. “This should never have happened. Mayor De Blasio does nothing about crime and when people in power use the term Chinese virus, this is the outcome. How will he support his family if he never plays again? That was a hate crime, for those who think otherwise.”
Chinese-born composer Huang Ruo took to Twitter to give his thoughts on the assault. “As an Asian-American living in NYC for more than 20 years, I have also personally encountered racial slurs in the city before, although nothing has been physically harmful,” he wrote. “Some people might say ‘oh, it isn’t so bad.’ The truth of matter is, it hurts in indescribable ways and only those on the receiving end can really feel the hurt of racial discrimination. To make matters worse, the ongoing pandemic and the racial rhetoric given by some politicians only flame the fire making Asians and Asian-Americans lives much harder in today’s America.”
A few days ago, I had an encounter w/a local acquaintance who used a racial slur when he spoke of the coronavirus. In an effort to offset the after-effects of that encounter, I made a donation to https://t.co/DAnyfnbeng ( I did not learn of this news story until later that day).
— Judith Lagana (@lylacmuse) October 27, 2020
According to an article by John Leland in the New York Times, Unno has received many messages from Japanese Americans writing about their own experiences of racism in the United States. This brought home to him the fact that there is no major movement like Black Lives Matter that creates a space for Asian people to talk about these issues. “The Asian community is not so tight,” he told Leland. “Asian people need to stand up and take action.”
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In response to the crime against Unno, 45 leading Japanese musicians have gathered to organize a charity concert in his support. The concert will be live streamed on November 15 and all the proceeds from it will benefit Unno’s recovery. Find more information here.
Featured Image: TADATAKA UNNO at www.tadatakaunno.com