An Interview With Jim Tanaka

On March 17, 2002 I had the honor of interviewing the late James U. Tanaka.


JT: I was born in Nevada. Near Reno, Nevada in 1917. Let’s see, I went to an art
school in Los Angeles and I was always interested in art and I thought maybe
if I went to art school I would learn more about what they did, how they did
it and so forth.

MK: Did you have an interest in art when you were a child? Or did the art
come later?

JT: A little later, I guess, yes. Perhaps when I was in high school.

MK: When did you start working with Walt Disney?

JT: At Disney? Oh, that was…I guess…let’s see…You know it was after Disney
that I went to art school ‘cause I never had a chance to go to art school.
Didn’t have any money actually, but anyway, I went to school…. Yeah…after I
worked at Disney. A friend of my brother knew a friend who had a friend who
worked at Disney. They were looking for artists so I went for an interview
and I got the job.

MK: I recall a Donald Duck orange juice can. Was that one of your creations?

JT: It could have been. It’s been so long ago now, I can’t remember too many
things, but I guess it was one of the things that I worked on.

MK: What made you decide to leave Walt Disney?

JT: I retired actually. When I was 60 years old I retired from
Disney and started doing some freelance work.

MK: I believe you had a jazz series at the Turning Point in Piermont, New
York many years ago.

JT: That was the first time I had a chance to meet with people who were in
that field. You know, selling posters and original paintings. That’s the
first contact I had, was right there and it was a very exciting period for

MK: I remember a collage that you created where you’re playing the
trumpet. Are you also a musician?

JT: No I’m not. I did have a painting like that?

MK: It was a collage and in the middle of the collage you’re holding a trumpet.

Jim Tanaka Collage

JT: I've always been interested in jazz since I was in high school I guess. I didn’t play any
instruments and I wasn’t in with a jazz group but I loved jazz and always
went to jazz shows in New York, in the Village. And there I got to know the
feeling of what jazz was about and I really enjoyed it.

MK:‘Stomping at the Savoy’, was that a series that you painted?

JT: Yeah…Stomping at the…gosh…you remind me of so many things. Stomping at
the Savoy, I believe is a title of a song.

MK: Benny Goodman, it was a Benny Goodman piece.

JT: Yeah, right. Yes, I title, I guess, a lot of my paintings from popular

MK: Whenever I ride my bicycle up Clausland Mountain I'm
reminded of your woodcut of Clausland Mountain.

Jim Tanaka woodcut of Clausland Mountain

JT: Oh, you bring me back such memories. I vaguely remember that.

MK: You made this for a benefit.

JT: Oh yes. I know that I did some paintings for a benefit and I forget who
it was for or what.

MK: I think it was a project to preserve Clausland Mountain.

JT: Oh yeah, yeah. I remember that now, yes.

MK: A while back I recall watching a sitcom and finding one of your paintings in the set.

Jim Tanaka watercolor Wild Women Don't Have the Blues

JT: Oh is that right? God! I remember…off and on I see my paintings in
the background of a program or something.

MK: Have you had the opportunity to do any painting recently?

JT: No ... very little. You know I’m 85 years old now and I haven’t done very
much. Though I’m thinking of going back to painting. The thing that I’m
interested in right now are abstract paintings. I found an old painting and
I was looking at it and I said you know it's pretty good. I think probably I'll go back to abstract painting.

MK: With oil or watercolor?

JT: With acrylic.

MK: Acrylic?

JT: Yeah.

MK: Well thank you very much for calling.

JT: Well, it was nice talking to you.

'Stompin' at the Savoy' : the Art of Jim Tanaka

About Jim Tanaka

The Alpine Community House Show


An Interview With Jim Tanaka (Complete Unedited Text) (Edited QuickTime Audio File)

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Jim Tanaka's Jazz “Mini Posters"

'Stompin' at the Savoy' : the Art of Jim Tanaka



Jim Tanaka


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