My first performance was a video recording session thanks to my good friend Ed Yakuzawa of Victory Music. Some of the koto jazz tunes have been uploaded to YouTube. Here are a few:
2) My Sakura
Half time playing a piano gig at the pub in South Bend/ Raymond, the oyster capital of the world. And two Koto Jazz fans! This was so much more relaxing than a few weeks ago when I played at the Seattle Center. Ahhh, the taste of the ocean air , a couple koto jazz tunes . . .. and more oysters . …
Probably due to their unique and resplendent colors, I would say there are two top Japanese ornamental grasses that rival each other in popularity – the Japanese red blood grass and Japanese yellow forestgrass.
Of the two, only one is indispensable to a complete Japanese garden image – the forestgrass. In addition to its bright yellow hue, the Japanese forestgrass displays as a flowing cascading ornament unmatched in the world of grasses.
Varieties of yellow hairgrass and sedgegrass are more hardy versions. They can be used to accent a garden or garden area with a simple placement in the foreground of any garden area as pictured above.
Come join a celebration at the end of the Chinese New Year on March 6th, 6-8pm, Friday, Dragonfly Holistic Healing across from the Fremont bridge is having a “Chinese New Year” celebration open house, featuring koto jazz piano by Chris Kenji at Dragonfly Holistic Healing, 760 N. 34th Street, Seattle, WA 98103; Fremont neighborhood. Website: DragonflyHolisticHealing.com. Come join us for a Free Admission party. Gang Xi Fat Cai!
This song I wrote as a young teenager, which I have never played publicly until this week at the QCafe in Seattle. It is wonder I remembered it only recently.
This song story of “endless golden wheat fields” is about my time (2 1/2 years) in third grade and middle school in Lawrence and Hays, Kansas, respectively. Peering across the golden wheat fields of Kansas are much like viewing across the Pacific Ocean during an early sunset– bright golden hues reaching far and wide into the horizon, billowing with the breeze, knowing that it never ends even there, and reaches into the heavens.
And yet it possesses its own mystical beauty quite unique to the clear and simple way of Kansas. Its flowing, undulating golden waves of grain connect us with the earth and the mysteries of Her beauty. It is the incessant reminder we are nurtured by her every day, and we belong to her glory and wonder. It is a reflection of the people of Kansas; a kind, gentle, gracious people who at best are attuned to the best of who we are and who we can be.
There are many more songs I have yet to uncover during my younger years which I had completely forgotten.
“Searching for the Rising Sun” is a memorial piece for my father who passed away at this time last year. As myself, dad spent his life seeking to share his understanding of Japan and East Asia with the west. He was an educator by trade. I’m a musician and sales person, but the end goal is the same.
The title of the tune is truly reflective of his aim — a search for the land of the Rising Sun, representing Japan.
“Aki No Hou”, which means toward the autumn season, is loosely derived by two traditional Japanese Koto pieces – “Midare” (off balance) and “Aki No Koto No Ha” (the sea in springtime). Some of the plucking styles used in “Midare” are used here.
While my tunes have similar patterns to the “Akin no Koto no Ha”, Aki no Hou takes on a life of its own. Ultimately my creation as the final product has little or no resemblance to these ancient Japanese original works. I wrote “Aki no Hou” in the fall of 2014, inspired by the changing seasons, the energetic dynamics of the autumn; the changing colors of trees and plants, the bustling of wildlife in preparation for winter, and the anticipation of settling into its moments of solitude.
This “Raindrops Fall from Trees” song is special as it originated with a fun music exchange with my daughter as we traded turns playing my keyboard one rainy spring day. She came up with a basic melody which is the basis of this song. The song conjures up the likeness of gentle raindrops falling on leaves and tree branches, then coalescing to slide off leaves and land on the moist earth below. It is like the gentle hands of the sky extending its reach to the earth to give us peace in solitude.
While I added to it, the original melody remains, on of the relaxing meditative tunes. It is a beautiful spontaneous expression my daughter came up with and she just as quickly and easily named it. “Why its raindrops falling from trees of course.” Yes, of course.
The Haystack Horse Trot was written in November of this year (2014) and inspired by childhood memories of horse back riding on the Cannon Beach, Oregon coast to and from Haystack Rock. Horse back riders today are often seen riding along the shore toward Haystack Rock, racing waves rolling in. Haystack Rock is recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records as the third largest single rock structure in the world. The second largest lies just a few hours away by car along the Columbia River east of Portland, and Ayres Rock in the Australian outback is the largest.
Growing up in Colorado also gave ample opportunity to ride horses in the mountains and valleys of the Rocky Mountains. I learned a horse is a friend, a pet, a means of transportation, a guide, job work mate, and a teacher, all rolled into one.
Unlike other tunes I wrote where there is a free form flowing and at times undulating motion, this song takes on a more consistent, western style rhythm.
This new age musical tune was inspired by a hike with my friend Kim. We climbed to the ice caves at the summit of Mount Index off highway 2 just northeast of Seattle.
The Mount Index ice caves were leaking typical eerie, echoing sounding drops of water melting off blue ice, which increasingly gathered and coalesced into more and more tributaries of water racing toward the opening of the ice caves. It is the beginning of the water cycle, passing beyond alpine lakes and converging with glacial streams and eventually, rivers racing toward the Pacific ocean.
It’s one of my fun trance-like tunes of quirky frivolity reminding of the simple world we live in and the majesty of the basic elements that give us life.
This energetic Koto jazz piece I wrote this summer (2014) is reflective of the spring season mating patterns of the hummingbird. To attract its mate, the male hummingbird scales up and down the keys of the sky as a kind of mating dance to attract the attention of female hummingbirds. I observed this odd mating dance at Discovery Park in Seattle during a hike in the summer of 2014.
This melody also reflects the playful dance tunes of hummingbirds flying from flower to flower, which is the translated name of the song Hatchidori Wa Hana Kara Hana E Tobu. Purchase preview is available on Amazon music at Hatchidori Amazon.
In my last performance at the Royal Room November 30th, I told the stories about how each of the Koto jazz songs I played came to be. The following I hope serve as a glimpse into the koto jazz process as I reflect on a particular part of the natural world and seek to bring out its natural majesty and beauty in a musical tune. Tide Pools l & The Wind, for example, I wrote a few weeks ago.
Shiyodamari To Nami (Tide Pools & Waves) – This smooth jazz song was inspired by viewing tide pools on the Oregon and Washington coasts, feeling the motions of wind dashing upon tide pools and waves; their undulating patterns; their graceful dance on sandy shores. When we leave our world whatever it is and enter the world of the majestic wind, we see that the Wind breathes the Spirit of life onto our world and we can be left with nothing but awe and inspiration.
Koto Jazz tunes, though more definitively classical koto in style and sound, may be associated with Japanese American jazz. According to the “Music in Asian America” blog, Asian American jazz is a genre of jazz that arose in the late 20th century in the United States. Asian American jazz is often referred to as a hybrid of African American jazz with Asian influences (see Music In Asian America). It is music played by Japanese/Asian musicians, or jazz music that is in some way connected to Japan, Japanese or Asian culture. Japan has the largest jazz fan base in the world, according to some sources. The diverse styles and genres of these musicians demonstrates the individual unique expressions of Asian American jazz.
The following are summaries of leading Japanese American jazz performers (click on the artists names for music samples):
Hiroshima may be the most well known Asian American fusion jazz/smooth jazz rock band. The group was formed in 1974 by Dan Kuramoto (wind instruments and band leader), Peter Hata (guitar), June Kuramoto (koto), Johnny Mori (percussion and taiko), Dave Iwataki (keyboards) and Danny Yamamoto (drums). Named for the Japanese city of Hiroshima, the band is best known for the fusing of Japanese music and other forms of world music into its playing. Among the band’s many accomplishments– their popularity in the Asian and African American communities for R&B Funk sound, opening act for Miles Davis 1990 world tour, and their 1989 original score “The Moon is a Window to Heaven” used in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”.
Ryo Kawasaki (born February 25, 1947) chose a career as a jazz fusion guitarist after spending some years studying as a scientist. During the 60s he played with various Japanese jazz groups and also formed his own bands. In the early 70s he came to New York. Kawasaki is able to switch between hard bop and jazz-rock, and continues to play jazz guitar with an edgy rock influence.
Toshihiko Akiyoshi: Though born in Liaoyang, Manchuria of Japanese emigrants, Toshihiko Akiyoshi began her musical career in Japan. Akiyoshi and Tabackin (her husband) formed a 16-piece big band in 1973 composed of studio musicians a year after moving to Los Angeles. Akiyoshi’s music is distinctive for its textures and for its Japanese influence. Akiyoshi was inspired by her own Japanese musical heritage and composed with Japanese themes, Japanese harmonies, and even Japanese instruments (e.g. kotsuzumi, kakko, utai, tsugaru shamisen, etc.), all the while remaining rooted in jazz.
Gerald Oshita (1942–1992) was an American musician of Japanese ancestry who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and specialized in wind instruments, particularly those rare ones of low register. He performed and recorded with saxophones, contrabass sarrusophone, and Conn-o-sax, and also made shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flutes). Oshita’s music drew on elements of jazz as well as contemporary classical music.
Glenn Horiuchi (February 27, 1955 – June 3, 2000) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and shamisen player. He was a central figure in the development of the Asian American jazz movement, according to Wikipedia. Glenn Horiuchi was a West Coast pianist who worked to combine jazz with Asian and Western classical music. He released albums on the 80s and 90s such as Soul Note and Asian Improv.
Anthony Brown, the son of a Choctaw and African-American father and Japanese mother, is an American jazz percussionist, drummer, composer, and bandleader. He specialized in American and Asian instruments and styles in his compositions and arrangements. Brown lead a cross-cultural ensemble, the Asian American Orchestra, whose interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite was nominated for a 2000 Grammy Award. He also performed with Asian American jazz artists Jon Jang and Mark Izu.
The jazzy funk fusion style music of Eugene Yamamoto represents Jazz Koto music very well. He successfully preserves an Asian international sound or melody while including western rhythm, jazz and funk music styles.
You can listen to samples of Eugene’s music at Jazz Koto of Eugene Yamamoto, by Accardi/Gold and Union Label Music / Cloister Recordings.
His music is a frivolously fun style, even using the traditional Koto instrument in a new and unique way with adventurous, rhythmic plucking. He does this with a steady western style beat, which differentiates it from Koto Jazz tunes and traditional Japanese koto music. The rhythm and beat is definitively western, while some songs are interwoven with Asian and Japanese style melodies and chordal structures. These distinctions can be heard clearly as you listen to “Walk in the Garden” and “Samurai Dream Vacation“.
In “Saki Train” and “Martian Tea House” it seems he uses the Japanese koto instrument and sound with a funky, electronica sound.
Kudos to Eugene for his take on Jazz Koto and definitely worth a listen.
I have some new songs I will play live at the events below in Seattle, Kirkland, and Cannon Beach, Oregon. Here are a sampling of the new recordings (note: the full versions are 4-6 minutes long. These are rough samples. Each song will be recorded live on a Steinway grand piano either at the November 30th or December 13th performances). Many of these are a departure from the koto jazz tunes themes (see Soundcloud for full version or links on the above “sample sounds” page):
•November 22nd & 23rd (Saturday & Sunday), “Koto Jazz Season Suite and Thanksgiving” songs, by Kenji at Primary Elements, 7-9pm, in Cannon Beach, Oregon; no cover charge. Address: Primary Elements Gallery is located at 172 N. Hemlock, Cannon Beach, OR 97110; Call or text: 206-200-2733;
•November 30th (Sunday), “An Evening of Thanksgiving”, by Kenji at the The Royal Room, Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood, 8:00 – 10:00pm; no cover charge. The first hour is “An Evening of Thanksgiving, featuring at least popular songs about thanksgiving (e.g., Peter Kater and George Winston). This is followed by “Koto Jazz- Season Suite” by Kenji. This piano series is preceded by wine tasting at 6pm. For directions and map, visit map to Royal Room, Seattle. Address: 5000 Rainier Avenue, Seattle, WA 98118; Call or text: 206-200-2733;
•December 13th (Saturday), “Warming up for the Holidays” with Instrumental New Age Jazz by Chris Kenji at Stage Seven Piano Studio, 7:30-9pm, in Kirkland, Washington; no cover charge. Address: Stage Seven is located at 511 6th Street South, Kirkland, WA 98033; Call or text: 206-200-2733;
•November 7th (Friday), “Season Suite”, by Kenji; Stormy Weather Arts Festival at Primary Elements, 6-8pm, in Cannon Beach, Oregon; no cover charge (includes wine and refreshments). Address: Primary Elements Gallery is located at 172 N. Hemlock, Cannon Beach, OR 97110; Call or text: 206-200-2733;
•NOVEMBER 8th (Saturday), “Koto Jazz Season Suite” album and New Age music by Kenji at the Brass Tacks, 7-9pm, in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle; no cover charge. For directions and map, visit Brass Tacks Georgetown map. Address: 6031 Airport Way, South, Seattle, WA 98108; Call or text: 206-200-2733;