Tag Archives: ambient

Koto Jazz 42: Shapes in Design & Music

Shapes in designs are key to our expression and creativity.  There are the sharp shapes, sharp angles such as pyramids and squares (see the above photo’s stone walk way behind the water feature).  Traditionally, this is associated with the manhood and the west. It is common to find square stone walk ways, squared off gate ways, even pyramidal shaped trellises, and square- shaped garden areas. Substantial changes have taken place in the modern era to include rounded shapes and designs. This is not something you think about in the daily neighborhood dog walk. You don’t pass by the Jones’ house and say, “my, what a nicely manicured, squared off hedge outlining their nicely square-shaped yard.” However, it does influence your psyche over time, and if this is all you see and all you grow up with, it influences how you see things and see the world. I would argue, it narrows your vision.

Then there is the circle or rounded shapes.  Traditionally, this is associated with the Buddhist circle of life and the yin- yang symbol of the east. The rounded water features (see above photo) rounded walk ways, rounded stone steps, rounded gateways (more common in China), rounded bridges, are not commonly seen in North America but are more readily available garden features in Asia. For example, I visited a number of Chinese gardens which featured circled garden entry gates outside of Shanghai. This is a generalization of course, but it offers insight into the role of shapes in garden design that can provide you options on how plan your own garden.

The Shapes of Music:

Likewise, music presents its own shapes. There are the common, chordal structures perfected by the west featuring linear patterns, and melodies that take sharp turns. Then there are the often meandering, circular flow of chords and progressions, even non-chords and non-progressions, and musical patterns of the east.  The synthesis of the two are at times attempted to be expressed in modern jazz.  However, western jazz maintains its biases from its origins and while it proposes a best effort to synthesizes the two, it tends to de-emphasize the meandering nature and musical flow of the east (e.g., traditional Koto and east Indian music) without even knowing it. Thus, the concept of koto jazz rears its creative head– a melodious journey, but not beholden even to modern jazz progressions!

Thus, koto jazz tunes can often fit more appropriately into the genre commonly known as new age.  While new age has taken a popularity hit with the closing of society and its mis-representation of new age as being connected to some type of religious agenda, even cult, this is only a temporary passing misappropriation. From what I’ve observed of the new age movement, there is no agenda, except to offer people some peace of mind with soothing sounds and melodies! How’s that for an “agenda”. That said, eastern styles of music are finding their way into the North American and European music worlds quite independent of the new age trends.

Indian Bollywood:

Take for example, my friend Prashant’s Bollywood Dreams Entertainment and the dance style of modern east Indian Bollywood music. I could not help but notice the circular and meandering motions of this invigorating, high energy dance style. This is consistent with the musical melodies of many popular Bollywood songs (see Bollywood Dreams Entertainment), which likewise meander, wander and move in circular melodic motion.

While this koto jazz blog does not concern itself with business achievements, it’s no accident that the likes of Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs admitted to having strong eastern influences in their lives. This, I believe, is where there is a collision of creativity into real world situations, such as high end physics, engineering, architecture, and various sectors of business ventures.

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Koto Jazz 39: Old & New Faces at the Royal Room, Seattle

I saw a lot of old faces in the crowd at my performance at the Royal Room (Columbia City, South Seattle) and a lot of new faces.

I can’t thank the old faces enough for coming out to see me play the piano (thank you, thank you, thank you). As we grow in our understanding and expression of koto jazz, it is not possible without your support. What an opportunity to play before a full house on a Monday night. 🙂

I’m also curious about the new faces and why they came. So I went out and talked to them. The feedback I received is that people are interested in the music, but more than the music. They are interested in the flow state and the connection to a spirituality with Nature and the Shinto and Zen Buddhist origins that these Koto jazz pieces introduce to the listener.

I’m surprised I received as much feedback as I did about the spirituality that creativity offers us. On the music side as predicted, people loved certain songs, all the comments came from one of the Koto jazz pieces I wrote (Hatchidori and Kozan no Kaze) and a few endorsements of the variations on known Koto melodies I jazzed up. But it was also the energy they like.

My music is an attempt to re-connect with the spirituality about and around Nature. This spirituality is not locked up in the closed doors of any institution or church, or temple, or shrine. My music serves as a simple offering of our attention to nature and invitation to be present to it in whatever form it takes before us; whether a hummingbird or ripples on creek rocks. Music is one of many vehicles that can unleash that spirituality.

The Shinto influence of it is so much more than the political environmentalism of our time. It’s really not enough for me to say “I drive an electric car”, or “I’m saving up to put solar panels on my home.” Sure, that’s all good, practical good. But it’s not spiritual. It is the essence of the natural world we tend to overlook. We forget that we come from this Natural state and we tend to take it for granted. When do we say thank you in the language of the Creator, that we are grateful for everything created for us in this world? The Creator does not speak a specific human language; not even English. It’s Not just about the stuff We create, but the stuff of Life that’s been here almost forever.

In other blog entries here, I talk about the science of the flow state or Shinto spirituality, ions and all that. Clearly it’s that, but more. I’m interested in all that, because I like science and I like proof, but I’m also interested in the “more” part. There will always be more, and I’m tired of the polemics and ideology that rend our age. I want more, don’t you? I choose today, to pay honor and reverence to that which is “More”; was here long before I came into existence, and most certainly will be here long after I pass on.

The presence of the Natural world in our lives is not a religious proposition, it’s not profound at all, it’s really simple. We can be changed and transformed by it if we “tune in”, if we choose to listen to the language of the Creator. Seek this first, my friend, “and all else . …. ”

Yes, my next big challenge as a musician will be to write a koto jazz piece about the “Sea Slug” (pictured above). If I can write a song about a sea slug, I’m getting somewhere. 🙂

Koto Jazz 36: Flow State in Art & Music

Have you ever been so immersed in a creative adventure that it takes you to a different, alternative plain where your creative expression no longer feels like you, but a part of something more? Wikipedia defines the “flow state” as being “fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” It is a serendipitous, spontaneous expression of joy. It is spontaneous because one’s greatest level of creativity emerges from the collective unconscious almost without your own planning it to happen. It just flows out of you, and in many cases, it rushes out of you like a waterfall. It is serendipitous because so much of your unique and beautiful creative discovery almost happens by accident in this flow state.

The energy of the flow state is passed on or transmitted to onlookers, such as an audience, or a passive participant in the activity. I’ve attended many live performances in the creative arts, even visited many fellow word pressers, and whether it’s someone’s live performance, garden reflections, a haiku poem, ikebana flower arrangement, or garden design, I feel the person’s flow state and their creative energy in their creations. This also happens when I listen to a brilliant musical performance. The artist gives me insight into the person’s connection with their creativity, their spirituality, and their connection to the world. Perhaps, this is what Carl Jung referred to as the “oceanic self”, a part of our being that is connected with all of Life, and the energy of Life.

The artistic expression can take us to another plain or spiritual state. I get this when I listen to the “chaos jazz” music of Li Pui Ming, the eternally optimistic consonance of Peter Kater, or in a very different way, the meditation music of Shakuhachi flutist Riley Lee and ukulele composer Jake Shimabukuro. Li Pui Ming takes me into her collective unconscious of order intermingling with chaos and a genius flow state. Riley Lee and Jake Shimabukuro take me to a meditative or contemplative “flow state” much like the Buddhist/ Taoist teaching of being in a state of “action through inaction.” Athletes enter this zone as well, according to Wikipedia. The famous martial arts expert Bruce Lee for example, encouraged his students to “Be like water …Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water.”

In my own musical performing experiences, it is not uncommon that the music takes me along a ride beyond me, in a zone where the music takes over, and takes me to an alternative plain. I feel this particularly when I play two musical pieces– Hatchidori Wa Hana Kara Hana e Tobu (Hatchidori, for short; translated to mean “The Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower”), and Kozan no Kaze (“Alpine Winds” or Alpine Wind Storm). The other day, a fellow musician mentioned after one of my performances that “you are one of those performers who can take the audience to a higher plain.” He referred it as like a “black hole” into the unconsciousness that gives a glimpse into another world or realm of reality. It was powerful to hear that.

I hope I can do that every time I play. But before I can make any credible comment on that, I would say my music needs refinement, and this means I need to play on a real piano with real weighted keys and full depth with an 88- key range more than once every one or two months. Then, at that point, I may come to a place where I agree with this person. It’s much easier to reach that flow state when I’m alone in my room playing my mini- electric keyboard with no one listening.

The artist’s great challenge is to share that openly when the opportunity arises (and we are all artists at some level), and be always willing to push the envelop. Creative expression is full of emotion, and if you keep your peace in tact, share your creativity with the world, even if you don’t think you’re quite ready. So what I mean by being “ready” is not ready performance-wise, but be emotionally ready even if your performance level is not where you believe it can or should be. Look at the crazy popularity of karaoke singing worldwide– it gives people that creative outlet that is now socially acceptable, acceptable to take a stab at belching out your favorite tunes even if you don’t have that refined Whitney Houston kind of a quality voice. For me, while this website does offer some “rough” samples of my music, it’s not yet nearly refined to where it can be, but in any case, I do love the process. I love playing. 🙂 I think you’ll love it too– yes, the music too, but the process. Enjoy the ride, and don’t ever let go of your creative spark! Be the Hummingbird. 😉

Koto Jazz 33: Music & Mindfulness

Music is able to transform the human mind and spirit in similar ways as natural places of beauty. This is accomplished in part by the sound of music imitating nature by rhythmic beat and flow, its movement in and out of patterns, its simple resonation, coloration, depth of sound, and most importantly, its moments of intermittent silence.

Perhaps, my favorite musical pieces, especially those with koto jazz tunes and themes are those that are able to most effectively bring out the melodious expressions of beauty in nature. While I try to do this in all my music, here are a few feature samples of my music where I believe I come close to accomplishing this (I will be featuring these songs when I play at Seattle’s Royal Room on September 8th):

  • Ki Kara Amei no Shizuku (Rain drops from Trees; see the above photo)
  • Hatchidori Wa Hana Kara Hana e Tobu (Hummingbird Flies from Flower to Flower)
  • Kuriku Iwa no Hamon (Ripples over Creek Rocks)
  • Tori No Yo Ni & Koto jazz encore (rough live recording at the Brass Tacks, Seattle)
  • Certain harmony even dissonance, can induce the same euphoric state as inspiration from the natural world. From a health science perspective, it releases chemicals in the brain but also establishes an ionic, possibly magnetic balance in the brain to build upon higher spirituality and higher levels of intuition (again, referring back to James Redfield’s “intuition” in Celestine Prophecy).

    After all, music is made by the passing of energy through strings and other instruments. These “instruments of energy” pass on their energy and nurture our spirits. They often connect us with our subconscious emotions and life experiences, or to the contrary, may help us escape from them. It can also lead our spirits to an enlightened spiritual plain. When a musical masterpiece is played in your presence, do you not feel uplifted and recognize the performer taking you to a higher spiritual plain? I think this is what Ludwig Von Beethoven meant when he said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”

    This also explains the use of sound in some sects of Buddhism, and the use of the flute in the aforementioned Zen sect (see “suizen” or blowing meditation in Koto Jazz 34: Shakuhachi Flute).

    When we connect with people enjoying the same music, we feel a heightened euphoria and spiritual connection with them, as if we’ve learned something spiritual and profound about them without the need for communication of words. So in that sense, it is a powerful form of human spiritual communication, and communication with a Higher Power.

    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)
  • Koto Jazz 29: Health Science & Shinto Spirituality

    For decades, nearly all credible sources, including the World Health Organization (WHO), continue to place Japan as the #1 healthiest country in the world, consistently recording the world’s highest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates, among many other statistical categories. Scientists and health experts have asserted this is due to their diet — consumption of omega- 3 seafoods and seaweed. Perhaps, this is part of the picture. In Koto Jazz 24- Waterfalls and Koto Jazz 28- Beyond Prophecy, I explored the spirituality of waterfalls and the connection of spirituality to nature and energy, a crude attempt to describe the relationship between science and spirituality. This journey continues here.

    I would suggest that the top contributor to Japan’s world health status is more due to its healthy Shinto spirituality (despite their ongoing depletion of natural beauty in their own country in the interest of development), and the sheer luck of their geography (abundance of waterfalls, oceans, and mountainous country that cannot be developed). Spiritually, scientifically, Japan is a Shinto- spirit filled country that takes seriously the “inter-connectedness” of our body– our body’s spiritual and physiological health– with the Natural world. It is also a country with a highly developed infusion of “Eastern medicine”; a medical community and insurance industry that supports Eastern medicine.

    I have explored the health benefits of how electric ions we may receive in the presence of ocean waves, waterfalls, or old growth forests supports our pH balance. If we have a low concentration of electrons in our bloodstream, medically referred to as Acidosis (high acidic pH) (see Acidosis on Wikipedia), being present in these natural environments may increase negative electric ions in our body. An abundance of these negative ions can improve the body’s immune system. In addition to waterfalls and old growth forests (which we have successfully depleted worldwide), alkaline foods such as vegetables and some fruits can contribute to our body’s pH balance, according to Oriental Detox (see link below). Metabolism, the process which provides nutrients to our body and cells, is reinforced by negative ions, while positive ions in our bloodstream weaken our cell’s metabolism and immune system, according to Oriental Detox. High acidity, positive electric ions in the body not only harms our immune system, our body’s ability to protect ourselves from illness, but it also substantially accelerates the aging process.

    To circle back to the Shinto worshipful reverence to Nature, it is only in our own personal, individual best interest to heed the call of our own inner, natural attraction to waterfalls, oceans waves, and old growth forests to replenish our bodies with the spiritual, physiological food we need to sustain our lives. Unlike the western approach to being “saved”, we can actually take action in our day to day decision making and choose to care for “the Temple of the Spirit” by giving it the spiritual, physiological food our bodies need.

    In a following blog entry, I will propose how the presence of audio music and sounds can provide similar spiritual/ therapeutic/ scientific and physiological health benefits in our lives.

    Koto Jazz 28: Beyond Prophecies

    My basic but paramount premise of going “Beyond Prophecies” is this– that there can only be a mass global spiritual transformation if it is achieved in parallel with the fusion of pre-existing spiritual/ religious traditions with each other. And I would argue that is already happening among east- west traditions in unprecedented ways, and it will continue until the leading religious traditions worldwide are substantively virtually indistinguishable.

    When I first read the international bestselling novel, The Celestine Prophecy (click on this link to find out more information about The Celestine Prophecy), I was captivated from beginning until end. Today, I explore the phenomenon behind Celestine Prophecy and its connection with the spirituality of the East. James Redfield, author of Celestine Prophecy, seems to touch on this connection in his more recent book, The Secret of Shambhala: In Search of the Eleventh Insight (Warner Books). Even beyond The Secrets of Shambhala and the 12- Insights of the Celestine Prophecy, there is an underlying “eastern” and scientific support of the general ideas behind The 12- Insights.

    Before delving into these points, the only drawback I see about this amazing book is that it is put into a western linear context. Is it out of place that we need this western linear context? Is not the intention behind the 12- Insights directly relating to freedom from linear thinking, freedom from context, and bringing us closer to the spirit of Shinto- Buddhist- Hindu traditions that have been evolving over thousands of years (in the case of Hinduism and Buddhism)? That this newly evolving spirituality in fact has been in existence in Eastern and Native spirituality for centuries, even millenia? Let’s give credit where credit is due.

    The goal of Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto spirituality has always been to practice mindfulness in every precious moment of life, which parallels the premise behind The Celestine Prophecy. In our mindfulness of the present moment, we are mindful of our healthy mind, or we are mindful of perhaps some unhealthy thoughts passing through, and our awareness allows us to observe them and allow them to engage or act upon, or let go and pass by. That said, I love James Redfield’s references to being guided in life by healthy intuitions and being in “synchronicity with the universe”. To quote Redfield, we can “put spiritual knowledge into very practical application to find a higher path through life.” Back to Eastern spirituality, we do this by mindfulness obtained through meditation, accountability (through programs such as the 12-Steps), and connection to the energy of the universe.

    ENERGY:
    Beyond the Prophecy (even the concept of prophecy itself), our life is also about energy – positive and negative. We choose one or the other in everything we do, everything we say, and even everything we don’t do or say. We receive this energy, positive and negative, from all natural forms including from our fellows. We replenish our bodies with negative ions from the air in small amounts, but particularly in the presence of moving water like ocean waves or a waterfall, or in a dense old growth forest where a high concentration of negative ions are known to be present. We may even be naturally drawn toward an urban designed water fountain, or the water feature in a downtown Japanese garden. Here is a brief summary of a Presbyterian minister- turned “Shinto” nature spirituality chaser, in Chasing Waterfalls, a blog by Ariane de Bonvoisin.

    Likewise, we often find ourselves in a euphoric state of inspiration when in the presence of these natural forms. Some endorphins may help create the euphoric state. The medically accepted fact is that negative ions in the body relieves stress, improves communication between nerves in nerve endings and improves the natural flow in muscle fiber, and thus reducing cramps. This suggests that spiritual energy can offer a scientific explanation, to a degree.

    MINDFULNESS:
    Likewise, we replenish our mind and spirit by continual deeper and sharper mindfulness (which elevates our intuition described by Redfield in Celestine Prophecy) – in one level, observing our thought patterns and discriminating the mind’s healthy and positive wanderings and its unhealthy and negative attitudes and tendencies. This mindfulness brings us back to increasing our ability to replenish our spiritual presence in this world, and thus, emit positive energy rather than negative or toxic energy. Our daily walk of life becomes an ongoing spiritual path of mindful meditation. I believe, a scientist will discover the connections between the wanderings and tendencies of meditative mindfulness as connected to the reinforcement or oppression of negative and positive ions present in the body. I personally have no scientific evidence of this as of yet.

    It is also a looking inward at the things about us we try to avoid and have the courage to face them, face our fears, and perhaps our darker side; not to condemn it, but to accept it but account for it, make peace with it, and let it pass. This allows us to free ourselves from the judgement, and the judging and the judged, which today drives so much of the modern world’s toxic behavior. Does the phrase “Do not judge, and you will not judged; forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given back to you” ring a bell?

    So e Celestine Prophecy can be partially explained by our consciousness or mindfulness as it is known in Buddhism and empirically, with our own energy and how it affects the world around us and the people around us.

    More to come . . …

    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
  • 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 11: Koi NoBori & Koi

    To commemorate Japan’s Children’s Day or Kodomo no Hi, I play a jazzed up version of this non-koto but traditional Japanese piece called “Koi NoBori”, which means carp “streamer”. A short sample of “Koi NoBori” will be available for your listening shortly in the “sample sounds” page of this site. The Koi NoBori represents Children’s Day in Japan and is one of the most celebrated holidays of the entire year.

    Since 1948, this holiday has celebrated children’s personalities, the happiness of all children and gratitude for mothers. Originally Tango no Sekku, it was celebrated by all of East Asia on the fifth day of the moon based on the Chinese lunar calendar.

    The koi represents love and friendship in Japan, perseverance and faithfulness in relationships, especially romantic relationships. In China, where the koi originated, the koi represents masculinity, courage, individualism, determination, longevity, and perseverance. One of the most revered images or symbols of China, the dragon, is believed to have been transformed from a koi. This legendary koi had successfully navigated upstream to the top of a mountain where it was transformed into a dragon, according to ancient Chinese folklore.

    The carp serves an ornamental function in Japanese gardens. They are kept in outdoor koi ponds and Japanese gardens for decorative purposes.

    The Koi symbolizes lessons or trials we encounter in our own life’s journey. It symbolizes our own perseverance of enduring life’s struggles, which often call us to swim against the currents of our time and travel upstream. When you see a koi or connect with a fish in its wildlife place of residence, pay homage to its enduring serenity and perserverence, and honor its place in our lives. On one of the most time honored national holidays in Japan, Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) raises up the carp streamers or “koi nobori” as a reminder of characteristics we seek to pass on to our own children, the child within each of us, and what the koi symbolizes or represents.

    Songs about koi and matsuri(s) include:

    Other:

    Children’s Day is preceded in March 3rd with Hina Matsuri, which celebrates girl’s day or dolls day. The historical significance of the dolls are the hina- nagashi (floating spirits). The dolls are floating spirits floated down stream to the open sea taking troubles and bad spirits with them. Today, imagine for ourselves in our own lives and perhaps practice this time honored ritual in Japan, and place the troubles of our day and all bad spirits in our lives in a small boat and watch it float downstream and carry away. “We will be healed.”

    KotoJazz 7: Water, Water Everywhere

    “Water water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink. Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner). Famous poets the world over find inspiration from the simple element we call water (see Famous Poets and Poems or Haiku poems about water. So much poetry and music is written about water and the movement of water. What it is about water that inspires so much creativity?

    Water is not a new moving subject of our inspiration [see Smetana’s The Moldau or Kiyoko Miyagi’s Haru No Umi (The Sea in Springtime); for MP3 download, see a version by Fumie Hihara]. Water images and music about water are nearly boundless. To name a few, there’s:

  • Ameritz Sound Effects , Slow Boat on the Yangtze, Music of Japan;
  • Ayaha’s Kaze No Oshaberi, Sounds of Kyoto: Maboroshi;
  • Yuka Honda’s haunting Cycle of Water, Water on Mars or Hydrosphere;
  • Geoffrey Castle’s enchanting Waterfall, Float Downstream or Mist on the Mountains,
  • Riley Lee’s soul searching Spring Rain,
  • George Winston’s celebratory dancing Sea or Spring Creek,
  • Wind Machine’s steady rythm of Distant Shores, and
  • Davol’s meditative Mystic Waters or Cascade.

  • My most recent koto jazz piece, Ripples on Stones (short excerpt), borrows a few common koto chords combined with the ebb and flow of ripples on creek rocks. With Ripples, I depart from my koto and western jazz and rhythm and seek to follow the more free form of new age styles. Each musical work possesses in common the peaceful, free flowing meditative qualities of water.

    Japanese and Chinese gardens feature water – still water and more often than not, moving water. Whether a trickle from bamboo water feature onto a stone basin or a cascading waterfall from cathedral rock cliffs, water is a powerful, enchanting spiritual theme. It is a key energy source that sustains us physically, emotionally & spiritually.

    The serenity of the moment lies in the stillness of water, reflecting every part of who we are- reflecting the sun, the moon, the stars and the world around us. It is able to settle & calm every part of our mind and body if we are present to it. It may inspire emotions but is free of all emotions and through its stillness or its movement, it can lead our souls to that same place of freedom from thought, give us a reprieve from the chaos of our day and nourish our souls. Meditation in the presence of water, still or moving, connects us with the cycle of life of which we are a part.

    Again, it requires one thing — our presence . … not just physical, but our awareness and connection to the life it offers.

    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.