Category Archives: new age

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.

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KOTOJAZZ 4: KOTO INFLUENCES TODAY

If you talked to contemporary ambient/ new age artists

  • Lee Pui Ming,
  • Geoffrey Castle,
  • Riley Lee or
  • Brian Eno,
  • would they attribute some of their influences to Koto music? There’s no question in my mind each of these artists’ musical expressions are rooted in the same source. The spirit of these creators of art, whether or not directly linked to Koto, have produced their works in the same spirit as those of Koto, stirred by the energy and images of the Natural world; Nature breathing life into their music. Each offer a subtle eastern influence, except in the case of Riley Lee where it’s more front and center. Riley Lee’s Satori, for example, as a Grand Master of shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute), pulls from similar Japanese traditions.

    While it might be a stretch to say that the alternative rock band Kid Simple’s album “Samurai” or The Sun Dogs’ single “This Shroud” were inspired by traditional Koto music (more Native American influences), it is more accurate to say their music happens upon a same consistent, slow and steady base accompanied by a exploration in and out of dissonance, similar to those often expressed in Koto pieces.

    Koto Jazz is an exciting genre concept for which the above artists may or may not subscribe. Even if these artists came upon their similarities completely independent of Koto influences, the spirit behind the Koto tradition is present in their music.

    What I love so much about Koto music are its basic principals — there are none– none that can be defined and put into a western context; back to its Shinto- Buddhist roots. Perhaps, it involves a tune stringing along a single minor/ sharp chord somewhat randomly interwoven, but not always; possibly fusing a jazz chord progression or two into the mix (but very rarely more than two), with long moments of silence and silent moments where it seems (from a western perspective) a note should be played? Koto does not attempt to interfere with a pure and transparent channel of life flowing through music by intervening patterns imposed by western chordal structures and definitions. This all too often restricts and limits the free natural flow of sound and spirit.

    To quote part of JFK’s eulogy of Robert Frost, “if art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. . . We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda, it is a form of truth.”

    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.

    KOTOJAZZ 3: KOTO JAZZ DEFINED VS. JAZZ KOTO ARTISTS

    Koto jazz is variations of popular traditional Japanese koto music and melodies synthesized with western jazz and rhythm. These include Sakura, Tori No Yo Ni, Haru No Umi, 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), Aki no Ho (Toward The Autumn Season), Shiodamari To Kaze (Tide Pools & The Wind), and Wandering Kabutomushi (Rhinoceros Beetle).

    Koto Jazz is not to be confused with Jazz Koto, which integrates the koto instrument and sound into western jazz tunes. In addition to the famous rock musicians such as David Bowie and the Rolling Stones who occasionally used the Koto instrument in their songs, Jazz Koto became popular in the 70s and 80s by such notable western musicians as

  • June Kuramoto (also see June Kuramoto’s website),
  • Dorothy Ashby,
  • Reiko Obata and East-West Jazz,
  • the fusion jazz band Hiroshima,
  • Eugene Yamamoto,
  • Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto (also see her as a member of the Murasaki Ensemble).
  • Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, and
  • Masako Naito.
  • Koto jazz is the opposite. It is its image, as a reflection on still waters.

    KotoJazz 3: Koto Jazz Defined vs. Jazz Koto Artists

    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),
  • Dorothy Ashby,
  • 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
  • Masako Naito.

    Koto jazz is the opposite. It is its image, as a reflection on still waters.

  • KotoJazz 2: Contemporary new age/ jazz performers with a touch of Koto

    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.