Tag Archives: koto jazz contemporary

“Breach” – Live Koto Jazz & the SyntHorn @ The Royal Room; NW FOLKLIFE Next

Here is a live recording of a tune I first played at Stone Way Café’s Fremont Art Walk on April 1st, then recorded live at The Royal Room on April 13th with Koto Jazz accompaniment by Patrick Wilson on the SyntHorn –

🎶  “Breach”, by Chris Kenji & Patrick Wilson.

 

Koto Jazz on soundclick.com

 

Join me and Koto Jazz partners next week in Pioneer Square and Northwest Folklife –

April 29th, 7-8:30PM, Saturday, Koto Jazz @ FREDERICK HOLMES AND COMPANY Art Gallery, 309 Occidental Ave., Occidental Mall, Pioneer Square, dowtown Seattle; #206-682-0166.

May 27, 4:30- 5:10 PM, Friday, 2016 NORTHWEST FOLKLIFE;“Koto Jazz – Sounds On the Coast” by Chris Kenji, Center Theater, Seattle Center, Seattle WA. No cover

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Join Me This Saturday, Nov. 21st in Ballard @ Egan’s Jam House

Come join me, Chris Kenji, Saturday, November 21st, 9:00 pm – 10:30pm, at Egan’s Jam House in Ballard, northwest Seattle. I will bring you new songs on the piano, including Odds & Endings, Seascape, and my new Koto Jazz piece, Motto Midare (More Chaos).

I will also sing a few popular classic rock/ folk songs with an eclectic alternative style. In between these vocals, I will play my “Koto Jazz- Sounds from the Coast” tunes. $5.00 cover. For directions and map, visit map here: 1707 NW Market Street (Ballard), Seattle; Call or text: 206-200-2733.

Marie Bolla and Chris Kenji on Stage @ Royal Room, October 27th

Marie Bolla will sing beautiful classic folk/ contemporary jazz songs with Chris at the keyboards. Marie has played piano and sang nearly her entire life, and has received local awards for her performances. She has played with the popular Seattle area bands. The first half of the show will feature Chris Kenji’s new piano instrumental tunes for his second CD “Sounds from the Coast”, to be followed by Marie Bolla and Chris Kenji in a keyboard duet with Marie singing solo.

Come join us OCTOBER 27th, 7:30-9:30pm (Tuesday),“Sounds from the Coast”, by Chris Kenji and Marie Bolla at the The Royal Room, Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood ; no cover charge. “Koto Jazz- Sounds from the Coast” by Chris Kenji and Marie Bolla. For directions and map, visit map to Royal Room, Seattle. Address: 5000 Rainier Avenue, Seattle, WA 98118; Call or text: 206-200-2733.

An Evening of Elegance: 55th Anniversary Garden Party at the Japanese Garden

This anniversary party was filled with positive interactions with the attendees between breaks and after my performance. It’s always a wonderful opportunity to meet new people intrigued by and find enjoyment from my music, but on a broader level, Japanese culture. It’s so good to be connected to such a wonderful, kind, generous, forgiving, and loving community in Seattle.

As I played the third song of the night, Tomio Moriguchi, otherwise known as “Mr. Uwajimaya”, came up to me and said he loved the first piece I played, Sakura, and of course I obliged to play it again. A true honor to have known you Tomio through the years, first meeting you in the early 90s karaoking with you and the late Joyce Yoshikawa at Bush Garden, getting caught up at the Bon Odori through the years, your reminders of how much you appreciated my sister Kimberley’s summer JAS programs with your family (yes Kimberley, Tomio asks about you every time!) and now, how could one not play a song for your memory in such a magical setting as Seattle’s Japanese garden! For the person who quite possibly brought more Japanese food and gifts to America than anyone in America! Domo, domo, domo. The people of Seattle’s Japanese Garden, so many of the attendees such as Tomio, The Sasakis (Cherry Blossom Festival and Fujima Fujimine Dance Ensemble) have colored this city of Seattle with the beautiful wonders of Japanese arts and culture for which I am eternally grateful.

Seattle Japanese Garden, University of Washington Arboretum
Setting up at the Seattle Japanese Garden, University of Washington Arboretum

University of Washington Arboretum Japanese Garden
University of Washington Arboretum Japanese Garden

The koto tunes I played at this event were:

  • My Sakura,
  • Haru No Umi (The Sea in Springtime),
  • Tori No Yo Ni (Like A Bird),
  • Aki No Hou (Toward Autumn Season), and
  • Tide Pools And Waves (Shiyodamari to Nami).
  • Seattle Japanese Garden 55th Anniversary garden party, University of Washington Arboretum.
    Seattle Japanese Garden 55th Anniversary garden party, University of Washington Arboretum.


    I was immediately followed by a traditional Japanese dance by Fujima Fujimine Dance Ensemble (pictured here):

    Seattle Japanese Garden 55th Anniversary garden party, University of Washington Arboretum.
    Seattle Japanese Garden 55th Anniversary garden party, University of Washington Arboretum.
    Seattle Japanese Garden 55th Anniversary garden party, University of Washington Arboretum.
    Seattle Japanese Garden 55th Anniversary garden party, University of Washington Arboretum. I saw familiar faces at the event, including Tazue Sasaki of the Fujima Fujimine Dance Ensemble, her husband Yutaka Sasaki, and members of the Japanese Consulate.

    Koto Jazz 77: Kawabe House Annual Reception

    There are good folks volunteering at the Kawabe Memorial House, a senior center in Seattle. Here are a few pics from the annual reception. There was good food, good company, and I hope everyone enjoyed my music. I played for about a half hour, mostly Koto jazz pieces and their lovely Korean upright piano. Thanks to all the staff and volunteers for your wonderful hospitality.

    kawabe memorial house annual volunteer reception with koto jazz by Chris Kenji.
    kawabe memorial house annual volunteer reception with koto jazz by Chris Kenji.

    <a href="https://kotojazz.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/wp_001032.jpg"><img src="https://kotojazz.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/wp_001032.jpg?w=300" alt="kawabe memorial house annual volunteer reception with koto jazz by Chris Kenji." width="300" height="225" class="size-medium wp-image-2308" /></a> kawabe memorial house annual volunteer reception with koto jazz by Chris Kenji.
    [caption id="attachment_2308" align="alignnone" width="300"]kawabe memorial house annual volunteer reception with koto jazz by Chris Kenji. kawabe memorial house annual volunteer reception with koto jazz by Chris Kenji Beer.

    KotoJazz 76: Kawabe House & 55th Anniversary of UW Arboretum Japanese Garden Preview

    When I first returned to Seattle as an adult in 1990 (I was born here), I started playing piano at senior homes, mostly George Winston and Scott Cossu re-runs. Today, I bring my own originals to senior venues as a volunteer to share with fellow Japanese Americans. My hope is they will connect with its Japanese koto music influences and enjoy listening to the tunes I play today.

    I will be playing at the Kawabe Memorial House on Friday, June 26th. This event will also be a good warm up along with other volunteer performances for the 55th Anniversary of University of Washington Arboretum’s Japanese Garden celebration on July 24th. I was chosen among numerous applicants to play for this exclusive event.

    Having played at the Seattle Center for the 40th Annual Japanese Cultural Festival in April, this has been a year of re-connecting with the Japanese communities in Seattle where I enjoy a solid following. The ”Koto Jazz & 55th Anniversary Event of the UW Arboretum Seattle Japanese Garden“ is “an evening of Japanese Arts and Cuisine to Benefit Seattle Japanese Garden”. The garden becomes the backdrop for an elegant fete of scrumptious Japanese cuisine with fine wines and sake, a Nodate tea ceremony, and traditional performance arts during this 55th anniversary benefit event. All are welcome to attend by contacting Tel: 206.684.4725; seattlejapanesegarden.org.

    Koto Jazz 74: playing @ 101 Public House pub

    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 . …

    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.

    KotoJazz 47: Jazz Koto & The Music of Eugene Yamamoto

    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.

    KotoJazz 46: Thanksgiving & Holiday KotoJazz Schedule

    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):

  • Mount Index Ice Caves, shortened clip by Kenji
  • Tide Pools in the Wind, shortened clip by Kenji
  • Ode To Joy, shortened clip by Kenji
  • Haystack Horse Trot, shortened clip by Kenji
  • Springtime in Dead Winter, shortened clip by Kenji
  • 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;

    Past:

    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;

    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.

    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 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.