Koto jazz is a compilation on variations of popular traditional Japanese koto music with a western rhythm. These include Sakura Sakura, Tori No Yo Ni, Rokudan, Midare, and a score of others. Kenji takes these musical pieces and plays them on the piano, varies the sound and tone with western influences of rhythm and beat. He has also created his own Koto jazz pieces Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka[ra] Hana [e tobu] (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower) and Kabutomushi (Rhinoceros Beetle).
This is not to be confused with Jazz Koto, which integrates the koto instrument and sound into western jazz music. Jazz Koto became popular in the 70s and 80s by such notable western musicians as
June Kuramoto (also see June Kuramoto’s website),
Reiko Obata and East-West Jazz,
the fusion jazz band Hiroshima,
Eugene Yamamoto, and
Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto (also see her as a member of the Murasaki Ensemble), and
Koto jazz is the opposite. It is its image, as a reflection on still waters.
Some hints of koto jazz influences can be heard in the contemporary music of
George Winston (Windham Hill Records),
Peter Kater (Silver Wave Records),
Shadowfax (Windham Hill Records), and
Andreas Vollenweider (Edel Records, Sony Records).
These globally popular musicians transcended their time (the 80s) with a deeper challenge to the traditional sound and rhythm. Each received international recognition for their music, and much can be credited to their serious experimentation with eastern influences.
Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka[ra] Hana [e tobu] (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower) and Kabutomushi (Rhinoceros Beetle) are musical pieces that attempt to capture the energy of the natural object; in this case, a hummingbird and a rhinoceros beetle. I believe staying true to the spiritual origins of Koto is paramount.
Spiritually, Koto jazz seeks to bring out the Japanese Shinto-Buddhist spiritual nourishment derived from connection and reverence to nature as well as ancestral worship. The western influences of jazz music, in part, have their origins in western Judeo-Christian ideals and institutions. It is my opinion we need to bring these two together into an harmonious whole of “yin and yang”, bringing out the best in both traditions which lifts us to broader spiritual growth and learning.
The best written description/ representation of this that I’ve read to date is the a #1 New York Times Bestselling book by James Redfield called The “Celestine Prophecy“, and our evolution toward a global non-religious spiritual awakening.