Jazz singer Matsui reveals soul

By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly


Keiko Matsui in 2012 at Yoshi’s in San Francisco (Photo from Keiko Matsui)

Japanese jazz pianist Keiko Matsui, a native of Tokyo, has traveled around the world for the past three decades, promoting her distinctive blend of smooth jazz, fusion, New Age, and soundscapes. This week, she’ll visit Seattle — playing Seattle’s Jazz Alley for four nights starting Thursday, Aug. 29.

Matsui, born Keiko Doi, began playing music at the age of five — “classical piano and basic music theory by private lesson,” she said. “Gradually I started composing while I was in elementary school.

She continued, “I was enjoying practice, but my hands are not so big, so I had to think about where to place my fingers. I had perfect pitch from the beginning, so besides reading [music] charts, I enjoyed playing other kinds of music by hearing (without charts).”

A director at the prestigious Yamaha Music Foundation eventually noticed her talent, and she began taking classes starting in junior high.

“The director from Yamaha saw my music notebook and introduced me to a special class run by the foundation. I was doing a lot in normal school, but besides school life, I was commuting to lessons. I learned about writing for film, TV, and arrangements for different instruments. My first professional work was writing a score for a Japanese film when I was 18 years old.”


Keiko Matsui’s Soul Quest (Photo from Keiko Matsui)

Matsui recorded several albums with a band called Cosmos, put together by the Yamaha Foundation. She describes her time with Cosmos as a “great experience,” but “expressing my feeling through my compositions, with my group, is best for me. I enjoy this progress, because I have to do the best for my compositions.”

A deeply spiritual woman, she describes her writing and recording as greater than herself.

“I do not think about me. It’s mystic progress,” she said. “Also, I can say, in any condition, I could complete a concert as my prayer for making more peace on this earth. Those experiences made me stronger and encourage me a lot.”

Asked to compare her hometown of Tokyo with her adopted hometown of Los Angeles, she remarks, first, “Lately I have been traveling so much, I say I live in the sky.” She allows that “speaking in English and Japanese are so different. Japanese depends on the situation or to whom you are speaking to. Also, men and women use different sentences, too.”

She describes the U.S., though, as, “an exciting place” with “the flexibility to make interesting opportunities.”

She remembers jamming with Miles Davis in 1988, and touring as an all-star on a bill including Chaka Khan, Philip Bailey, James Ingram, and Patti Austin.


Keiko Matsui performing with her band. (Photo from Keiko Matsui)

Remembering previous visits to Seattle, she recalls, “nature, seafood, flowers, coffee,” and a duet with famous jazz pianist Bob James, four hands on one piano. “Sometimes people from overseas plan vacations to come to my shows.  I’m very happy to meet them.”

Her latest album, “Soul Quest,” was released in July. The title track resulted in “very deep thought about human beings, life, and the universe.” She recorded “Antartica — A Call To Action” to call attention to global warming. The melody “made me cry.”

Asked about future projects, Matsui said she “would like to spread this experience of ‘Soul Quest’ with as many people as possible on this planet. At concerts, I always feel so fortunate because music connects us beyond culture, religion, ethnic background, etc. I would like to produce cultural events in different parts of the world, to unite people. I would like to do more concerts with an orchestra and would like to write more music for movies … I hope I can make more harmony on this Earth.” (end)

Keiko Matsui plays Aug. 29 – Sept. 1 at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 2033 6th Avenue. For prices, showtimes, and tickets, call 206.441.9729 or visit www.jazzalley.com.

Andrew Hamlin can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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