Category Archives: creativity

Koto Jazz 32: Shakuhachi (Bamboo Flute)

The most common instrument played alongside the koto instrument is the shakuhachi (bamboo flute). The shakuhachi made its presence in Japan from China during the Edo period as a form of Zen Buddhist meditation called suizen (blowing meditation). As described by Wikipedia, the Fuke sect of Zen Buddhist monks is known as komusō, or priests of “nothingness” or “emptiness”. The shakuhachi is most commonly made of bamboo, its original form. The term itself is an ancient unit of measurement. The instrument is extremely versatile and seemingly limitless in range. But the most distinctive part of the shakuhachi sound is its depth and richness of tone.

Here is a basic introduction of the bamboo flute, or shakuhachi, and koto music played in harmony together. The following are some I have in my collection:

  • Japanese Traditional Shakuhachi Music, by Satomi Saeki and Alvcin Takegawa Ramos
  • Shakuhachi Flute Meditations, by Riley Lee
  • Sakura-Japanese Melodies for Flute and Harp, by Lily Laskine and Jean-Pierre Rampal
  • The Japanese Bamboo Flute and Koto, by Yamato Ensemble
  • Variatons on Haru No Umi, by Kenji (note how this variation admittedly does not capture the full range and coloration of the shakuhachi as it is converted onto the piano)
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    Koto Jazz 31: Ikebana (Art of Flower Arrangement)

    I like the straight translation of the word ikebana. This includes the merging of the word ikeru, meaning to “keep alive”, with hana, meaning “flower”. The art of flower arranging certainly keeps alive and often brings to life the full range of beauty in color and structure combinations.

    Some sources emphasize the spiritual aspects of ikebana, providing silent reflection on the beauty of color combinations, and emphasis on shape and lines of the non-floral part of the plant such as branches, leaves and stems. The non-floral pieces often bring shape and form to the flower arrangement, and serve as the back drop of the intended image, while the flower is featured in the foreground.

    Silence is important for our ability to be inspired to connect more deeply with the natural forms before us when doing ikebana. We honor the uniqueness of each plant or flower and the flowing lines of stems and branches for back drops. Ikebana can help us appreciate and tolerate our differences, not only in nature, but in general.

    Its origins again date back to China – to a 6th Century Japanese Buddhist missionary who visited China three times and brought the art form to Japan. His name was “Ono no Imoko” and became the grounds keeper, then abbot for Rokkaku-do, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto. He lived in a small house known as the ike-no-bo or the “hut by the pond”, which is the original school of Ikebana.

    Ikebana has become part of various Buddhist ceremonies such as offerings to the spirits of those who have passed away, but also paying honor to the Buddha. While spiritual in its origins, the Japanese today use it to show cultural refinement and for marriage potential.

    Koto Jazz 25: Pogodas & The 5 Elements

    Every true traditional Japanese garden has a pogoda. The pogoda is distinguished from the lantern by its multiple layers of roofs. The temple pogoda, like the famous Nara Temple or the temple at San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden (pictured above), is a thin tower with 5-13 floors, each of which has its own roof. Usually made of granite or basalt, it originates from Buddhist Asia, and can be found in Japan, China, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam and Nepal, according to My Oriental Garden. Unique in the Japanese garden, the pogoda is the primary ornamental focal point of the garden that is recognizably made in the image of man versus God; man-made. Perhaps, this symbolizes its religious origins, Buddhism and Taoism, as the enlightened person being in harmony with the natural world.

    Functionally, the pogoda and lantern are clearly distinguishable in a Japanese garden. The lantern originates from Buddhist temples to light the pathway to the temple (see more information at Koto Jazz 12: Japanese Lanterns. The pogoda on the other hand, symbolizes the temple itself.

    When a pogoda features five roofs and floors, it reflects back to the five elements of Buddhism, or “godai” (“gogy” in Chinese), also referenced to describe lanterns (see above link) – Wind (kaze), Water (sui or mizu), Earth (chi or tsuchi), Fire (ho, ka or hi) and Void or Spirit (ku). Sometimes a sixth element is included, Consciousness (shiki).

    Note the (Confucian) “yin” and “yang” type of qualities of the five elements. The Wind (kaze) represents inward breathing and open mindedness. In Buddhist philosophy it can also mean evasiveness on the one hand, or compassion and wisdom on the other. Water (sui or mizu) adapts to the environment and changes with the seasons. It can also be associated with defensiveness on the one hand, and adaptability and flexibility on the other. The Earth (chi) (including plants), stable and solid as a stone and confident (ideals particularly in western cultures), can also mean stubbornness and resistance to change. Fire (ka) represents human drive and passion (ideals particularly in western cultures), but also unrestrained desire. Void or Spirit (ku) represents creative energy, spontaneity, and inventiveness.

    I recently wrote a piece called Alpine Wind Storm representing the complete opposite and not at all consistent with Buddhist meaning of Wind ;-/, which is featured live here; other koto songs below are more symbolic of the Buddhist intended symbolism of the Wind and the other four elements:

  • Kozan No Kaze [or Alpine Wind (Storm)] (the 1st song in this medley),
    – Koto Jazz medley live at the Brass Tacks, Seattle (July 5th). Kozan no Kaze is inspired by world renowned jazz piano player, Li Pui Ming’s style of jazz which I call “chaos jazz” (my piece is also more “chaos jazz” than koto jazz). I will also feature this piece when I play at the Royal Room, Seattle in September (see events section)
  • 1) The Wind:

  • Koto Jazz 17: Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”.
  • Koto Jazz 8: The Wind and the Spirit.

  • 2) Water:

  • Koto Jazz 24: Waterfalls
  • Koto Jazz 7: Water, Water, Everywhere

  • 3) Earth (including plants):

  • Koto Jazz 21: Moss in Japanese Gardens
  • Koto Jazz 20: Flowers in Japanese Gardens
  • Koto Jazz 19: Japanese Maple Trees
  • Koto Jazz 16: Bonsai
  • Koto Jazz 9: Islands of Japanese Gardens

  • 4) Fire:

  • Koto Jazz 12: Japanese Lanterns (& Lighting)

  • 4) Void or Spirit:

  • Koto Jazz 13: Koto Jazz & the Shinto Source
  • Reflections on Service & Spirituality
  • KotoJazz 22: 3 Key Elements to Japanese Gardens & Koto Jazz

    The Portland Japanese Garden (the Garden) website outlines the fundamentals of the Japanese garden succinctly. So many elements seem to come in threes – Shinto, Buddhist, Taoist – and then the three essential elements – stone, water, and plants (see Portland Japanese Garden, at http://japanesegarden.com/learn-more/gardens/). According to Wikipedia, “traditional Japanese gardens can be categorized into three types: tsukiyama (hill gardens), karesansui (dry gardens) and chaniwa gardens (tea gardens).” (see Wikipedia, Japanese gardens).

    Likewise in Koto Jazz, three fundamental elements are present in the music and sound that makes it unique – Japanese Koto, western influence (rhythm and jazz), and reverence to Nature. To continue this analogy, The Garden begins with the “bones” of the garden, stones. I would parallel this with the traditional Japanese koto musical roots of koto jazz. Though they may vary from one musical piece to another, traditional koto tunes with its spiritual roots provide the base of the “musical garden” of koto jazz. The Garden’s second element is water described as the “life-giving force” of the garden. Likewise in koto jazz, western influences of rhythm and jazz weave within and through koto jazz as its “life-giving force”. Finally, the Garden describes plants as the gardens’ tapestry of the four seasons. This is the embellishment and coloring of the garden landscape, just as inspiration from Nature provides the embellishment and coloring of koto jazz music.

    Other physical elements such as pagodas, stone lanterns, water basins, arbors, maples, and bridges, are provided by this kotojazz.com blog. Feel free to scroll down for information about these elements of the Japanese garden. The above image is a scene in the Portland Japanese Garden showing varieties of colored Japanese maples and a bridge.

    On July 5th at 9pm, you have the opportunity to see some of this koto jazz music on display at the Brass Tacks, Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. It’s an exciting opportunity to first hand experience the creative energy and spiritual presence of koto jazz. For more information, see “events section” of this website. I hope to see you there!

    KotoJazz 21: Moss in Japanese Gardens

    In Japanese Zen gardens, “each element in the Zen garden is symbolic; stones represent mountains, sand represents water, and moss represents islands” (source: see Moss Acres link below). Each element plays a role in a miniature natural scene of great beauty.

    My favorite, the fern moss, is a spitting image of larger ferns with broader frays narrowing toward pointed ends. The fern moss is ideal for shaded areas and needs minimal sunlight. The fern moss, which are relatively flat, can be complemented by other moss. The tree moss, or Hair Cap moss, has the appearance of a miniature tree. Each unit grows taller and in clumps, which more effectively represents the look of an island. Likewise, the Cushion moss, grows in distinctive rounded clumps. This gives the appearance of islands a midst the bear earth or sand, which may represent the water or sea. The moss featured in the photo above of the famous Ryoan-ji Zen Garden in Kyoto, appears to be tree moss. This particular rock has always reminded me of the famous Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

    Mosses in Japanese rock gardens provide a very clean design and manicured appearance. Unlike grass, most all mosses are highly resilient and adaptable, and less vulnerable to extreme weather conditions of heat or cold. They simply go dormant. The moss’ unique biological structure enables it to grow places where most plants cannot, as it prefers nutrient-poor soil. Moss is able to absorb pollutants such as nitrates and ammonia, as well as humidity and nutrients directly from the air. This is why you find mosses growing virtually anywhere and on anything!

    A useful tool for our daily lives, is a simple ritual the monks of Saiho-ji (near Kyoto) established for their visitors. Reminiscent of my own childhood calligraphy lessons in Tokyo, visitors to this famous moss garden and temple sit and write or trace the characters of a Buddhist scripture (sutra) while the monks chant in worshipful trans-formative music. Looking back at my calligraphy lessons at Japanese public school, this ritual is related to the calligraphy art form, which emphasizes a spiritual connection by the calligrapher with the peaceful flow and natural order of each Kanji character.

    From here, visitors walk the paths of the temple and gardens, and perhaps meditate at the most famous dry Zen garden, Ryoan-ji. “Moss is the grounding element, an island of green around many of the 15 iconic rocks edged in raked white gravel,” as elegantly described by Susan Heeger of Garden Design Magazine (see link below).

    Here are a few informative websites about moss:

  • Ryoan-ji Zen Garden (rock and moss garden)
  • Moss Acres
  • Real Japanese Gardens
  • Garden Design Magazine
  • Photos: Ryoan-ji Temple moss garden
  • KotoJazz 19: Japanese Maple Trees

    The two English translations of the Japanese maple, or “momiji”, are “baby’s hands” and “becomes crimson leaves”. The first meaning has some Japanese cultural significance. It is believed that passing a newborn baby through the branches of a Japanese maple encourages a long, healthy and prosperous life for the child. The second meaning is best described by a popular Japanese expression, “Yama ga moeru” which means “burning mountain in autumn”. You may have the opportunity to see an entire mountainside of wild Japanese maples turn a fiery red in the autumn season.

    Here are koto music about trees, leaves, and related themes:

  • Japanese Garden
  • Through The Leaves
  • Hidden Inside The Leaves
  • Red Koto
  • Sounds for the Soul: Koto & Nature
  • Japanese & Chinese Koto Harp & Shakuhachi Flute
  • My Sakura, Koto Jazz by Kenji
  • Raindrops from Trees (Ki Kara no Ame no Shizuku), Koto Jazz by Kenji
  • Black Pine Bonsai, Koto Jazz by Kenji

    The most popular of Japanese maples are the red and green variations, but there are countless (over 1,000) variations of colors, sizes and shapes of both the leaves and trees. The Japanese red maple has been cultivated for over 300 years. The Iroha- momiji, or green leaf Japanese maple is native to the Korean Peninsula, China, and Japan. The wild Japanese maple has green leaves in the spring and summer that turn yellow, orange, bright red, pink, or purple in the fall. Younger trees take on the shape of a large challis or bowl, while more mature trees are layered and have a dome-shaped image. Somewhat unique to the Japanese maple is that a parent Japanese maple tree may produce seedlings that have completely different shapes, colors, sizes and structures than its parent (a message here for our own parenthood?).

    The flowers come in spherical clusters and have five purple or red sepals and five white petals. They give the bare branches an attractive red glow in early spring.

    It is customary for Japanese people to take an annual autumn trek to the mountains of Japan, known as momiji-gari (“Maple tree hunting/ viewing”). This is similar to Canadians and Americans who take annual treks to the mountains for viewing the yellowing of aspen in the western Rocky Mountains; or the east- and midwesterners viewing the coloring of maple trees. However, momiji-gari has a spiritual significance. For most Japanese, this annual trek is also a Shinto spiritual trip to commune with the spirits who dwell in the trees, the mountains, and elsewhere in the Natural world.

  • Koto Jazz 17: Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”

    Although I have added a few new music samples to the Koto Jazz blog, see “Sample Sounds” and “Buy My Music” pages of this web site, here I take another brief break from the Koto Jazz theme to honor an artistic genius in the film medium.

    Here are some Koto jazz and related music about flying and the wind:

  • KotoJazz 8: “The Wind and The Spirit”
  • Koto Samples (“lightness of flying butterflies”)
  • “Matsukaze” (”wind in the pines”), by Taiga Yamaki III (also known as Yamaki Kengyō), and Matsukaze
  • Koto House Flying Sword Music
  • Tori No Yo Ni (‘Flying’ Like A Bird, by Sawai Koto Ensemble
  • Breeze, by Mitsuki Dazai
  • Tori No Yo Ni (Like a Bird on piano), Kotojazz by Kenji

  • Also, have a listen to my newly posted short sample tracks while reading on about my take on “The Wind Rises” by Hiyao Miyazaki:

  • Pachelbel’s Canon in D Minor, George Winston style
  • Springtime in the Dead of Winter
  • Black Pine Bonsai, and
  • Wandering Kabutomushi

  • I had the opportunity to watch Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie (admittedly, I may be the final Miyazaki fan to actually see his final film), “The Wind Rises” (for sound track, see The Wind Rises by Kaze Tachinu and other items about “The Wind Rises”). Despite the apparent limitations of the anime platform, Miyazaki proves again the seeming unlimited capacity for creativity and beauty. His presentations offered magically colorful and stunning scenery. Miyazaki’s art team presents a realistic natural world, and adds a bit of Shinto magic, with the actors revering, honoring, praying to Nature throughout the movie.

    The movie speaks of love and innocence in the midst of the global turmoil surrounding the world wars. Miyazaki deliberately steers the movie away from the darkness of the day into a dreamland of gorgeous flower laid meadows, and shimmering streams. Poignant was the time Naoko prayed to the forest pond for Jiro to appear. As Yoda would say, “appear he did.”

    Even Jiro’s ongoing dreams about flying and building planes showed reverence to the nature of the wind’s powerful energy, and his building planes pays honor to the wind. We join as active participants in Jiro’s flying dreams. In the film, Jiro’s dreams feel as real as real life. Jiro is the main character in the movie, based loosely on aerospace engineer, Jiro Horikoshi. Miyazaki again nails it with his unique ability to interweave near realistic dreams into the surreal reality of the characters’ life experiences– more realistically than any director (I would argue), and again, more realistic to the real life experience.

    It definitely hits a chord with the integral role dreams play in our lives (see Carl Jung’s work on the “Interpretation of Dreams.” While his colleague Sigmund Freud’s interpretation of dreams focused more on the “retrospective”, Carl Jung’s dream approach is and I quote the above link, “‘prospective’– it treats dreams like a map of the dreamer’s future psychological evolution towards a more balanced relationship between his ego and the Self.” This approach is very apparent in Miyazaki’s film.

    The story may have glossed over the pain and suffering of his dying lover (Naoko), dying communities during wartime, and the insane violence surrounding war, but this was intended and done so elegantly as the story was not about death and war. In fact, it provided the back drop necessary to evoke the story of a champion of perseverance and Zen-like focus in a world where, at times, there appeared to be none. It brought out the true authentic, peace-loving nature and Shinto spirituality of the Japanese people. In real life, war deceptively shrouded this fact by the blind powers of Japan’s relatively small military industrial complex (small at least compared to America’s own still lingering military industry). There is a message for each of us again, to look inward rather than outward for reflection and resolution.

    Given Miyazaki’s place of prominence with this final movie, it is appropriate to comment on this masterpiece and the majesty of his life’s work.

    Koto Jazz 16: Bonsai

    As a child, I always believed the work of “bonsai” to be the art of imitating natural mountain scenes above timberline. My images were of wind-blown pines standing tall alongside alpine lakes. Growing up partly in Colorado, I spent many days and nights 10k or above traversing the Continental Divide, contemplating the wonder of the crystal clarity in glacial lakes, rushing streams and falls suspended below jagged cliffs. Here are stunning, iridescent meadows interrupted only by the howling wind, or the sweet melody of mountain birds and squeak of pica. The pine trees are shaped and formed into a perfect flowing angle of branches tilted forward to bend but not break, by the powerful, magical hand of the wind. While I’d love to say this is true, it’s not true.

    I never imagined it to be an art form which has swept across the Pacific into the creative hands of artists and gardeners across America. As so much of Japanese culture, the art of bonsai can be sourced from China, specifically “penjing”, the art of Chinese landscape. I had the opportunity to see this first hand during many visits to various parts of China. There were featured “penjing” gardens in the areas I visited, of which there seems to be a greater emphasis in the coupling of “penzai” (Chinese bonsai) with uniquely shaped pumice-like stones. The word bonsai does in fact come from the word penzai, both of which are translated to mean tray or pot (bon) and plantings (sai). China doesn’t appear to be as set on miniaturization as does Japan, and it reminds me how so much of Japan’s early ingenuity stems from their unique skills in miniaturizing most all things.

    It is likely that “penzai” made its way to the Island of Japan from China somewhere between 600-800 A.D. when Japan initiated a number of Imperial missions to mainland China. However, bonsai first appeared in Japanese paintings in the medieval period (1100-1200, according to Wikipedia).

    Here are some nice explorations of bonsai koto jazz style music:

  • Black Pine Bonsai, by Kenji
  • Bonsai Garden (album), by Midori
  • My Tree, My Bonsai – Feng Shui Garden

  • Other:

  • Bonsai Bop, by The Ryoko Trio
  • Bonsai Juju, by Bonsai Garden Orchestra
  • Hunting Bonsai from World War Tree (album)

  • Bonsai as an art form may be of interest to you. You can find additional information about bonsai at the following sites:

  • National Bonsai Penjing Museum
  • Bonsai Gardener (good introduction)
  • Bonsai Northwest
  • American Bonsai Society
  • Bonsai Kits
  • Bonsai on Wikipedia
  • Penzai on Wikipedia
  • KotoJazz 15: “Chaos Jazz”

    “Chaos Jazz” might be a genre of its own, and if that is the case, the east-west connection is alive and well in this category. Some samples of “chaos jazz” I’ve listened to that are connected to koto jazz tunes are:

  • Hatchidori (Hummingbird)- by Kenji
  • Tori No Yo Ni (Like a Bird), version by Kenji
  • Strange Beauty, Who’s Playing, & She Comes to Shore (3 albums), by Pui Ming Lee (the most dynamic, powerful chaos jazz I’ve heard; my recommendation: Strange Beauty (album)), by Pui Ming Lee
  • Nozaki (Edo Gigaku), by Masahiko Satoh
  • Koto Power Trio, by Michiyo Yagi, Jim O’Rourke, and Tamaya Honda
  • Shizuku (album), by Michiyo Yagi
  • She Comes To Shore, by Pui Ming Lee
  • Yuji Takahashi biography; and MP3 music samples, by Yuji Takahashi
  • Improvisational music, by Makoto Ozone
  • Drummin’ Koto- Ney & Guitar Intro to Silent Speech (featuring Mieko Miyazaki (koto), Patrick Goraguer (drums), Nguyen Le (guitar), Kudzi Erguner (ney) by Chris Jennings
  • O-Lim (Ascension) (Red Sun), by SamulNori (images of Korean traditional music and jazz)
  • Record of Changes & Then Comes the White Tiger, by SamulNori

  • Others:

  • Deception Pass, by Scott Cossu
  • Aerial Boundaries, by Michael Hedges
  • Something Ala Mode, by Rondoparisiano
  • Motherboard, by Random Access Memories
  • KotoJazz 14: The Serendipity in “Order Out of Chaos”

    I know I’m not alone in this. I know that many people, artists, designers, engineers, express their deeper, at times darker, life experiences through their art or trade of choice. My big lesson while playing the piano, is facing and overcoming fear. The first step is to know how fear is present in my life. It helps me face them. I find it is often tied to something that happened so long ago that I have unconsciously carried it with me unresolved over years, decades. So much of it stems from childhood trauma.

    So often I sit in fear of imperfection, fear of sweet imperfection; not playing this or that tune or melody just right. I at times become paralyzed, as if it is better to not play at all if it can’t be played perfectly. My piano playing experiences are a microcosm of life’s lessons.

    There will always be imperfection, and through that imperfect journey, that stumbling, prodding, and wandering into the unknown and uncertain, I have the opportunity to learn its innate perfection. It is the imperfection of the journey that makes it perfect; at minimum, it brings out perfection. The imperfection carries with it uncertainty and chaos. Out of the uncertainty, unclarity and chaos, inevitably comes the impeccably clear Mastery of Serendipity (discovery by accident).

    It reminds me of “chaos theory”. Just like 1977 Nobel Prize Winner Ilia Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers’ book titled, “Order Out of Chaos” states, “the two great themes of classic science, order and chaos”, which coexisted in near conflict since science began, scientifically and mathematically coalesce into a “new and unexpected synthesis”. As Edward Lorenz puts it in his definition of “chaos theory”, chaos occurs “when the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”

    More reading about creativity and chaos theory is available here at Creative Chaos. If you dare to venture into a story line about “chaos communities”, how about a book on the Burning Man event?

    Out of Spontaneous Serendipity comes the rare and unique, the innovative and delightfully unknown perfect masterpiece. When music lets go of the predictable, releases, or liberates itself from certainty of pattern or predictable stroke, only then does it venture into the unknown; only then may the genius of Serendipity coalesce into the uncharted territory of the perfect Masterpiece.

    When we consider the great masters and creators of jazz, rock, or classical music, for example, we see that the great musicians follow the “chaos theory” in music quite profoundly. And when they have taken a slightly divergent course as proposed by “chaos theory”, only then did they reach a place that transcends what JFK called “the stale, dank atmosphere of normalcy”. Only then did they re-direct and advance the currents of our time. When that happens, profound spiritual, social, and cultural changes occur.

    We live in a time of rapid, often chaotic change. Perhaps, we live in a time where science and art, where the technical and creative, where the image, the design and the real, where “The Head and the Heart”, truly converge into an harmonious co-existence of “order out of chaos”.

    KotoJazz 6: The Creativity of Music

    The creativity of music happens when a performer hits upon a series of sounds that elicit inspiration in a musical tune. It is always a form of channeling energy, and music has a way of communicating that energy like no other medium. It expresses emotions and/or sensations that cannot be put into words.

    It can be a direct channeling of energy from that inspiration or it can be an emotion, positive or negative. We create to express all the range of emotions, or even to free ourselves from an emotion(s). If other people are moved by that creative expression and their images, they will listen. We create to express joy. We create to express deep despair. It is not intended to gloss over our deeper, perhaps darker emotions. Like everyone, we have suffered deep pain and torment at different times in our lives. At times, at our own doing; at times not. We may cause extreme pain and suffering to a person we love the most; such as a direct family member or a close friend. When we do that, we can choose to express it in our music. We search for grace in the moment of that realization. The more sincere and honest we are about our emotions, about a new found awareness, the more effectively they are expressed in our music, and the more likely people will be inspired by it.

    It is a searching for the point of touching our feelings, or connecting with our emotions. We data mine music that had been played before and see if we can play it too. We play it again to try and bring back those feelings. We data mine from anything that inspires us in everyday life. We data mine the natural world. In all the ways to data mine creativity, we always data mine our feelings and emotions around our life experiences, no matter how simple or complex. It is not so important what it is we play about, but how deeply that subject moves us when we play. While music is not always inspired from mundane sources, there are no boundaries for where we can find inspiration.

    KOTOJAZZ 5: KOTO JAZZ & TRIBUTE TO GEORGE WINSTON

    Today, I post two of my favorite George Winston originals– Moon and Thanksgiving. I also posted up a new Koto jazz variation I play based from my favorite Koto piece, Tori No Yo Ni (Like A Bird).

    It is my favorite Koto tunes because it genuinely puts me into the mind of a crane, playing in still waters, and lifting off to explore the skies only to return again. I must call my version a variation on the Tori No Yo Ni, as I’m about half way through this ten minute piece. It’s a blast, it’s lively, it’s reverent to the power and beauty of the crane which has inspired all of Asia with its artistic majesty.

    My other two posts, I play two of my favorite George Winston songs. I can credit my inspiration to play the piano to one person– George Winston. When I speak of him I feel like a giddy child back in the day when I was still learning the basic chords and then trying to morph it into one of his masterpieces. I suspect I’m not the only piano player inspired by his works. When I saw him performing in jeans and barefooted in front of a formal black tie event, I knew he was my guy! Not really, more than that, his music helped me reach for the deeper elements of music and how it can serve as a touchstone for connecting people spiritually.

    As is the case for me with most musicians, my favorite George Winston songs were not his most popular, which were Ode to Joy and Variation on the Canon. I do love those songs and it gave me the opportunity to play these variations for my college graduation ceremony before thousands of students and parents. I’m blessed by this memory, particularly because my dad was there with me. He flew out to be see me graduate, but more importantly, to see me play. It is a blessing, especially as I reflect on his passing, and reminisce over my life long images of him . I played for his memorial reception. Because I shared my music at the funeral reception a few weeks ago, my good friends Sachiko and Eugene Lee shared encouraging words, and Sachiko shared her koto playing experience. Also, my dad’s colleague at the University of Colorado, Dr. Joyce Lebra encouraged me to book events in the Seattle area when I return. I am doing that. I had been a regular performer in the 90s in Seattle, but gave it up after getting married and other priorities took over. It was a joy to play for my daughter, nieces and nephews at the funeral who seemed to be as captivated by Tori No Yo Ni as much as I was playing it, though I could’ve done without the banging at the other end of the piano! 🙂

    I played for church services and other events just because of my George Winston version of Variations on the Canon. However, what George Winston did for me was bigger than that. He laid his inspiring music on my table to explore variations on all music, and ultimately led me toward a deeper appreciation of instrumental jazz, new age, koto, and other eastern music.

    KOTOJAZZ 2: CONTEMPORARY NEW AGE/ JAZZ PERFORMERS WITH A TOUCH OF KOTO

    Some hints or images of koto jazz influences can be heard in the contemporary tunes 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.

    KOTOJAZZ 1: KOTO JAZZ DEFINED – SPIRITUAL ORIGINS

    Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka[ra] Hana [e tobu] (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower) and Kabutomushi (Rhinoceros Beetle) are musical tunes that attempt to capture the energy or images 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, 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.