Tag Archives: bamboo flute

Koto Jazz 82: Kubota Gardens in the Autumn

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Koto Jazz 72: Koi (carp) & Nishikigoi (colored carp)

Here is a mini garden with a good mix of color combinations, land and sea image to create a balanced look and feel.

The highlight of this garden of course is the flowing carp swimming in the foreground.

The word ‘koi’ literally means carp, but also describes wild varieties of the common carp fish. Carp are a very hardy species and can withstand long travel. Around 1000 years ago, the carp made it’s way into Japan via China. Keeping koi was most popular with Japanese farmers who kept them as a source of food.

Sometime in the 1800s koi were kept in a closed breeding area to create colorful variations by the mutations over time. Out of personal interest, these new colored varieties were bred further and maintained as a hobby rather than as the traditional food source. These new ‘colored’ koi were called Nishikigoi.

The creation of these beautiful color variations in the early 1900s, brought about an explosion of koi caring as a hobby in Japan, and then worldwide. The Japanese turned the artistic form into a science. Japan is recognized today as the best koi breeders, today boasting as many as 13 color varieties!

You may source the koi symbol from Chinese legend about a carp that successfully swam to the top of a large waterfall on Yellow River became a dragon. Thus, koi symbolizes power and bravery, and overcoming adversity. The koi and Samurai have been a symbols of bravery for similar reasons. Like the Samurai facing death by the sword, the koi likewise, lies still beneath the knife.

KotoJazz 51: Japanese American Jazz

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.

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)
  • KotoJazz 27: Bamboo

    Bamboo has diverse applications in a Japanese garden, including the plant itself ranging from short ground cover bamboo to tall bamboo with distinctive black, yellow, even orange colored stalks. Bamboo is also used for wind chimes, water spouts, ground cover, wind breaks, garden furniture, trellises, and privacy screens.

    There are three main types of bamboo, and the two most common images of bamboo in gardens are the clumping bamboo and running bamboo. The third, tall timber bamboo, is not so commonly used in gardens due to their size- they grow to over 40 feet tall.

    Clumping Bamboo: One bamboo type more commonly used in Japanese gardens is the clumping bamboo, which prefers the heat and tropical climates, but can survive elsewhere. The clumping bamboo is ideal for all gardens because it tends to grow slowly and can be relegated to limited areas as the name implies; maybe only a couple of inches per year and no more than 10 feet range and more commonly 2-5 feet. Gardeners be forewarned that in the right environment, clumping bamboo species are known to spread uncontrollably despite its name and reputation.

    Running Bamboo: The running bamboo must be contained in a pot or other barrier in order restrict its growth in a garden, or it will take over the garden. It will do this by send out runners not too far under the surface to take root and expand outward. It virtually has no limit on its range of potential expansion. It is very important to create barriers for these types of bamboo and the runners are know to climb over and under barriers if they are not deep enough or high enough.

    Some of the most visually resplendent dwarf ground cover bamboo can be the most invasive runners, so it is recommended you restrict them to containers. These include the following dwarf species – white stripe, golden yellow stripe, green stripe, and fern leaf.

    I found these websites to be the most useful for learning more about gardening with bamboo:

  • Bamboo Inspiration
  • Bamboo Garden (Oregon)
  • Bamboo fences- Zen Japanese Landscape (Washington)
  • List of Bamboo Species, Wikipedia (technical information guide only)