Tag Archives: jazz koto

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.”

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KotoJazz 10: Cherry Blossom Season

Cherry blossom season has arrived. Consider the cherry blossoms today. Sakura, which means cherry blossom in Japanese, is a symbol of patience as it is the first of flowers to bloom in the spring after a long winter. When cherry blossoms bloom even before leaves are formed on trees, it represents the end of winter.

Whether you are in Washington DC, the Midwest, at the Seattle Arboretum or the Bay area Japanese Tea Garden, cherry blossoms are blooming everywhere. March 27 commemorates our National Cherry Blossom Festival. It would do us well as is done in all parts of Japan, to take a break from your daily toiling and spinning, to sit underneath a cherry blossom over sake or your non-alcohol beverage of choice, and see if a cherry blossom flower petal falls in your glass. If we established a policy for the people in DC or people everywhere to sit among the cherry blossoms in this special season of life and renewal with friends and foes alike, it would transform us where ever we gather.

So consider the cherry blossoms today and the lilies of the field which neither toil nor spin, yet kings and queens, politicians and billionaires in their best attire are not arrayed like these. Let us consider these.

There is no shortage of songs about flowers or cherry blossom images in Japanese koto music. Today, with the celebration of cherry blossoms and spring flowers, I begin with the most famous of these Japanese koto pieces, Sakura, and found a few others worth noting:

  • My Sakura, Koto Jazz version by Kenji
  • Hatchidori Wa Hana Ka(ra) Hana (e tobu), Koto jazz by Kenji
  • Hanami Odori
  • Japanese Flower Dance Folk melodies.
  • Tribute to Japanese Painter Higashiyama Kayiyi: I Winter Ice Flower, by Eileen Huang.
  • The Flower of Hsing-Jang, Oriental Flute Ensemble.
  • Saika “Accented Flower”, by Satomi Saeki;
  • Cherry Blossom, by Keiko Matsui.
  • Yamato (Japan): I. Ka (Flowers), by Aiko Hasegawa (koto music).
  • Lotus Flower, by Shakuhachi Sakano (shakuhachi flute).
  • Keshi no Hana (Puppy Flowers), by Ayako Hotta-Lister.
  • Hanamomiji – Maple Leaf Flowers, by Yoshinori Fumon.
  • Cherry Blossom Song, by Janine Cooper Ayres.
  • Japanese Flower songs
  • Over The Cherry Blossoms and Flower Road, by Naomi Koizumi, Flower of Sounds.
  • Japanese Lotus Flower
  • Symbol of the Flower:

    The vast array of flowers blooming outside of our door today, represent transformation, renewal, rebirth of ourselves — our thoughts, attitudes, perspectives, feelings, sensations. We may choose to take in their beauty as reflections of who we are. Every part of our lives we are in the presence of an efflorescent moment, and we choose to bring it out in our selves. We choose to seek out and summon the goodness and beauty in others. What better way to start every moment of our life with the flowers of spring front and center in our mind?

    At the Haiku society, you can find haiku poems about flowers here. It seems Robert Frost had something to say about the flowers in spring time too. For my taste, I’ll stick with the cherry blossom color of red in “A Red Flower” by Claude McKay.

    KotoJazz 9: Islands of Japanese Gardens

    When you grow up in a town like Boulder as I did, which sits at the front range of the Rocky Mountains, it’s not possible to miss out on the majestic boulders towering over the city. These “flatiron”- shaped boulders jut a thousand or more feet into the air like tectonic plates forced up to meet the sky by two converging continents. They stand tall as guards to the doorway of the Colorado Rockies.
    Whether a Flatiron rock laying against the Rocky Mountains or a stone strategically placed as the Buddha in a Japanese garden, there is a spiritual element to the stones we live among. Boulder residents, Silver Wave Records and Grammy award nominees Peter Kater, Carlos Nakai, and Steve Haun were undoubtedly inspired by the cathedral rocks of Boulder. I searched for both western instrumental and Koto music influenced by stone(s) and what it symbolizes, the island, and came up with the following collection:

    • Poem of Tree and Stone – by Masao Matsumoto (1956);
    • The Spirit of the Island – by Taiko Legends, Traditional Melodies of Japan;
    Towards the Vietnam Land (Hong Vi Dat Viet) – by Tran Quang Hai;
    Wind, Rock, Sea & Flame – by Peter Kater;
    Sacred Stones – by Asian Meditation Music;
    The Hour – A White Stone – by Lee McDerment;
    Stones, Baby Sleep Music – by New Age Music Academy;

    Other:

    Island Music of Hawa’ii – by Cyril Pahinui (no relation to koto, but . …) Hawaiian Ki Ho’alu Slack Key Guitar Master;
    Emerald – by Wind Machine, Wind Machine album;
    The Island – by Christopher Ryan, Lost: Music from the Island for Solo Piano;
    Gentle Flowing Brook Over Stones with Flowing Stream – by Green Escape, Nature Sound Series;
    Stone Tower Temple (Legend of Zelda) – by Monsalve – Majora’s Mask;
    Sacred Stones – by Oriental Music for Relaxation, Meditation, Massage Therapy, Healing, Zen Meditation, and Yoga; and
    Box of Stones – by Gavin Mikhail, Skinny Love.

    Stone – The Island in Japanese Gardens:
    The stone is a common element in the Japanese garden. The Way of Zen and Zen values of simplicity (kanso), naturalness (shizo), and refined elegance are similarly values expressed in the Japanese garden. Stones and rocks are as simple as they get. Normally stones are grouped by themselves or they are grouped in threes with a taller boulder standing regally behind two shorter boulders. This is believed to create balance. All three stones are generally vertical, with the taller stone in the center representing The Buddha (one who has become enlightened), and the two other stones on each side representing two Bodhisattvas (one who is “bound for enlightenment; the two stones are called sanson). They are placed next to water, a body of water or water feature, as images of water features and/or mountains.

    Bodies of water are represented in the Japanese garden by a pond or lake. In the case of dry Zen rock gardens where sand and gravel represent the sea or ocean, the stones would be placed next to or in the sand/ pebble garden. The scene of ocean and sea occupying the majority of the garden space (“chisen”) originates from China, as does the garden aesthetic and spirituality of Zen Buddhism. Groups of rocks on one or more sides of the body of water in the garden may represent the seashore.

    Japan is an island country surrounded by large bodies of water; the Japan Sea to the west, the North Pacific Ocean to the east, the Korean strait to the west, the South China Sea to the southwest, and the Philippine Sea to the south. Wikipedia says Japan has over 6,000 islands in total, with four main islands (Honshu, Kyushu, Hokkaido and Shikoku).

    Unique to Japan:
    Perhaps unique to Japanese gardens is the impact of Japan’s insularity; island mentality and sense of space. One can achieve the simplicity, elegance and Zen spirituality of a Japanese garden in a small space.

    The Japanese garden itself is a symbol of longevity, as it requires long term care over many years to reach its true potential beauty. There are two types of island stones that symbolize the longevity of the crane and tortoise (often shaped like them; these symbols also originate from China). These special islands are sacred and not accessible by bridge. If one sees a bridge to an island in a Japanese garden, these are ordinary islands called nakajima.

    The bonsai images of shaped evergreens in the Japanese garden symbolize happiness and longevity. Black and red pines represent positive (omatsu) and negative (mematsu) forces in the world.

    “The visual entities which may appear as a design in the Western sense of forms, textures, and colors are less important than the invisible philosophical, religious, and symbolic elements,” according to garden designer and architect Dr. Koichi Kawana. The Japanese garden represents a utopia or sacred refuge from the distractions of daily life.

    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 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.

    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 pieces that attempt to capture the energy 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 music, 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.