Interview with Keiko Matsui: The intellect is supporting behind but, soul is there all the time: Video

Jazz interview with jazz keyboardist and composer Keiko Matsui. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Keiko Matsui: – I was born and raised in Tokyo ( except few years in Hiroshima when I was in elementary school.)  In Japan, it’s very common to start lesson when your kids are about 5 years old. Like, Dance, Math or Music. My mom took me to piano lesson (Classic) when I was five.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

KM: – From student era, I wanted to create strong melody which can stay for many years like classical composition or Jazz standard. When I had opportunity to compose for movie sound track in Japan, I started to receive melodies instead of trying to compose.

And naturally, my composition has influences from sometime classic, Jazz, Rock, world music, R&B…   And gradually, I realized that it is important for me to create original compositions and perform by myself.

Then by dedicating my music in different part of the world over 30years and experience that music connects us beyond all differences (Nationality, Culture, religion etc.) and can feel oneness. These experience made me to grow and made me to notice that this is my mission of this life.   Delivering my melody and dedicating my concert for create more harmony on this planet. My composition has reflection from myself, has influence from my thought and emotions.

Musically, depends on which kind of material I receive (while composing), sometime, there is influence form different genre. But, to me, music has no borders.

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

KM: – When I was student, practice of scales with metronome (That is very ordinal).

About rhythm, I did not do special training, but, I am enjoying to play with rhythm always and I believe that hearing silence and play in the pocket (right timing) is very important.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

KM: – Well, I am not sure, if I understand your question correctly but, I will try to answer. When I play, I enjoy to hear silence. Depends on the song, my solo becoming like story telling. But, I am not planning but, I care about dissonance.

My body feels that dissonance makes great intensity, makes phrase more sparking than filling notes, makes more vibe to feel…. that I enjoy.

When I receive motifs and melodies, same thing is happening. I am catching the notes and express thru key.

But, when I am in the groovy song, I play more rhythmic and passionately.

Of course, my emotions really effect to performance.

Music is like a mirror. Music is very honest. Have reflection from personality too.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

KM: – I am concentrating on my project. Most importantly, stick with my mission.

So, of course, when I had opportunity to perform with different artist, it is great opportunity to learn something else, but, also, good chance to re-think, who am I and how I want to present my own music etc. Interesting quest. Then I can keep choosing best of best for my original way.

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

KM: – Wow, that’s deep question. In my case, when I am connecting to somewhere and just concentrating, I am not thinking anything. But, of course, intellect is supporting behind but, soul is there all the time. Hard to explain. I put my heart & soul 100% with this human body which carry intellect I think…

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist, you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

KM: – Basically, I am producing show which I feel honest and best to my heart with material which I want to present at this moment.  I would like to dedicate my music in my way and of course I want to audience to enjoy together. But, I stick with my way.

Of course, even I have many new songs from new album, I am including my classic song from my previous album which many fan would enjoy.

Now I have over 280 songs. So, it’s getting harder to select 12 songs out of it.

Sometime, fan gave me request in advance, but, to be fare to everyone, I do not take request.

Concert is very special time which we can experience together.

I explain about my composition, what was inspiration of this song, or how I name this song etc.

Now so great to see three to four generations in the audience.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

KM: – Oh … so many memories …

In 1988, I did special guest (opening act) for Miles Davis concert.  It was so honor to share same stage with him.

Early 90’s. I did first All star tour with Patty Austion, James Ingram. Second one was with Chaka Kahn and Philip Bailey, Hugh Masekela, Gerald Albright….   Collaboration was not popular in those era. Great to form one band together and perform together.

In 2001, Bob James invited me to his recording with four hand composition. (One piano, four hand)

After the rehearsal, he told me that

Keiko plays piano like Haiku, like Japanese poetry. You have bulletproof because you are composing every moment. It is not permutations and combinations of common Jazz phrases. Your style is special. That’s wonderful.

That was so honor to hear from him and make me to realize about my style of playing.

After 9-11 2001 happened, I was invited to Charity show called Wave of Peace in LA.

I flu in from Tokyo and dedicate the song Deep Blue (piano solo) All artist gathered that night to pray and play music …. Stevie Wonder was surprise guest so, at finale, we all sing together on the stage.

After 3-11 2011 (Tragedy in Japan by earth quake and Tsunami) ,

I was invited to record the CD called <Jazz for Japan> by American artists to support Japan.  Gathered at Capital records. I recorded one song Cold Duck Time with David Paich, Rickey Minor, Bony James and Tom Brechlein. I felt so grateful by seeing all American Artist’s support and love for Japan.

#International Jazz Day April 30, 2013   I was invited to perform for this special event in Istanbul, Turkey. Great to perform together including RIP Hugh Masekela and George Duke.

Always, I feel that music has the gift from Universe for us to put our mind together. Creating harmony, oneness. So, that was so honor and happy to be part of this event.

FYI: – Celebrations in Istanbul will kick off with a special early morning performance for high school students conducted by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and others. The evening concert at Istanbul’s famed Hagia Irene will feature performances by stellar musicians from around the world, including pianists John Beasley, George Duke, Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Abdullah Ibrahim, Keiko Matsui and Eddie Palmieri; vocalists Al Jarreau, Milton Nascimento and Dianne Reeves; trumpeters Hugh Masekela, Imer Demirer and Christian Scott; bassists James Genus, Marcus Miller, and Ben Williams; drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Vinnie Colaiuta; guitarists Bilal Karaman, John McLaughlin, Lee Ritenour and Joe Louis Walker; saxophonists Dale Barlow, Igor Butman, Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter and Liu Yuan; clarinetists Anat Cohen and Hüsnü Şenlendirici; violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; Pedrito Martinez on percussion and other special guests to be announced in the weeks ahead.  John Beasley will be the event’s musical director.

Besides my tour, whenever I had opportunity to dedicate my music to charity for important cause, I spent time for that.

Did campaign tour for Breast Cancer awareness, support Born Marrow Donor program, Dedicate a song for Against hanger in Africa.

Also, in 2014, I started charity work for kids whom having problem to make living in poor country. So I did charity concert and work shop in Lima, Peru.

I will keep continuing this work. Next one will be in another country in South America.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

KM: – Since Jazz standards have many versions which covered by various artist:

Young people can listen to them to become familiar with Jazz songs.

The other option is going to the jazz concert.

That’s great way of experiencing Jazz.

I found it grateful that more young people come to my concert than before, although they hadn’t been listening since childhood.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

KM: – I believe that since each spirit arrived to this planet, you are on the learning progress.

Discovering true yourself. Who am I, why I came… And those progress <Soul Quest> is the meaning of human’s life.

Recently, one of my fan wrote me;

I enjoyed your spirit and could feel the warmth of your soul through your music. An absolute pleasure to have this experience. We are very much looking forward seeing you again.

I am so grateful to hear this. I am expressing 100% of my self…my spirit is enjoying my compositions…so happy feeling.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

KM: – Recorded music these days has become very mechanical in many ways. Most pop music is all programmed, there’s very little live interaction by musicians.

That’s one of reasons I’m so happy and excited about Echo. We went back to real musicians in a real studio playing together like a real band. There’s nothing that compares to the creativity that comes from one musician playing next to another musician and each being inspired by what the other is playing. I’d love for that approach to recording to become a trend again.  I started that way in 80’s when I create my first album in US.

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

KM: – I am traveling so much so, I am not listening anything.

Resting my ear, brain … I like silence.

JBN.S: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

KM: – Infinite love and light. Harmony, Unity.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go?

KM: – Around end of 80’s to 90’s. No download. So, music fan buy whole album and art work of the album is part of the art with music on vinyl.

And not too many collaboration show.

And radio station has not formatted so, station has more verity song list and

Kept unique character by director’s choice.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

KM: – You asked earlier, how can you get young people interested in Jazz.

My question is, since you have the ability to reach Lots of people thru your distribution, would you encourage your reader/listener to take their kids to concerts all kind of music including jazz ? Buy them albums of some of classic jazz recordings as well as some of the current jazz trendsetters? Help them develop a well rounded musical life as opposed to just being into one kind of music?

JBN.S: – Thanks for answers, yes, of course, but only Jazz, Blues, Rock and Classic musics.

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

KM: – If you’re asking how I would harness my wish of love and light to many parts of the world, I can only do the best I can by traveling to all parts of the globe and presenting that love and light through my music.  Hopefully, some people will take away from my concerts a sense of happiness and a feeling that they’ve experienced something very positive and good.  Those are feelings we all can use these days!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan 

P.S. – KM: – Thank you Simon for very deep questions. I am sorry to take so much time. It was not easy to write back quickly especially deep questions in English. I tried my best. Of course I am not native English speaker, so, hope you understand my English. If I am not understanding your question, please send me with more explanation. Thank you so much for your support. Hope to see you someday at my concert.

Are you in Boston? I might add show in Boston soon.

All my best,  Keiko Matsui

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