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Keiko Matsui Interview

Throughout a discography that dates back to 1987 and her debut recording ‘A Drop Of Water’, the wonderful Keiko Matsui has differentiated herself by continuously crafting memorable melodies that she considers to be reflections of herself. Her latest CD is titled ‘The Road’ from which the title track has just been released as a music video. When I talked to Keiko from her home in Los Angeles I was eager to discover more.

Given that ‘The Road’ contains a wonderful amalgam of exotic melodies, luscious harmonies and global rhythms I asked Keiko to explain the creative process that brought it to fruition. “When starting a new project,” she told me, “I specifically set aside time to collect the melodies and themes that I want to develop. For me it is essential to spend lots of time doing this. Composing music is such an important part of what I do. In this case I started to formulate ideas in August of 2010 and by the end of November the recording was complete. We cut six of the tracks in only a few days in LA and the other three (with Richard Bona) in New York.”

Indeed the connection with Cameroonian bass player and vocalist Richard Bona interested me and I wondered how Keiko had first become acquainted with him. “Originally,” Keiko said, “I met Richard in Japan through a mutual friend. Then, in 2007, when I was working on the ‘Moyo’ CD, I invited him to participate and it has carried on from there.”

Of course much of the early buzz surrounding ‘The Road’ has been all about the two tunes featuring Kirk Whalum. Both have already found a way to radio and I wanted to know what had led to him being involved. “I had known Kirk for quite a while” Keiko explained, “and although we had often appeared on the same bill we had never actually played together. As soon as the melody for ‘Affirmation’ came into my head I immediately thought of him. The song is an anthem for life and for many reasons he is just perfect for it. I called him up and he said yes.”

Keiko’s new music video features the title cut from the ‘The Road’. I had noticed that on the album the musicians who play on that track, Jackiem Joyner, Eric Baines and Chad Wright, are in fact all members of Keiko’s touring band. I asked about the rationale for including them. “They have played with me for a long time”, Keiko confirmed, “and as a consequence they understand me very well. ‘The Road’ is a complex piece which variously includes elements of classical, world music, rock and jazz. It evokes history, legend and passion. Consequently this complexity needed input from players with whom I have a strong connection. I travel with these people all the time. We are like family and I think this is reflected in the music.”

Directed by Ukrainian Philip Lee, the music video is a beautiful piece of work which depicts Keiko, in the desert, playing a magnificent white grand piano. The visuals are stunning and I was interested to know where it had been filmed. “It was in the Mojave Desert”, Keiko clarified, just outside of Palmdale, CA near to the border with Arizona. We filmed it in a single day but what a day it was. I left my home in LA around 4-00 AM to travel to the location and when we arrived at 7-00 AM it was freezing! Anyway, I needn’t to have worried because by the time filming commenced around noon the heat was sizzling. We worked right through until 7-00 PM to complete it.”

In the video Keiko’s playing is combined with images of a man walking down a road. I was curious to who he was and what his inclusion meant. “That’s for your imagination to discover” Keiko told me with a smile in her voice. “The story can be anything you want it to be” she continued. “A love story or a mystery; each of us has our own road, life is a journey”. Keiko pointed out to me how the title ‘The Road…’ appears on the album sleeve. “Those three dots (or periods) are significant” she revealed. “They indicate the continuation of the journey as it moves on down the road. It’s the journey of life.”

Finally, I asked Keiko about the tsunami that earlier in the year devastated parts of Japan. I had heard members of her family had been involved and that that she had been in the country at the time the disaster struck. “I was in Tokyo” she recalled. “Everything in the city was OK and my family there were fine. However I also have family members in the north east of Japan, close to where the disaster struck. We were unable to contact them for three weeks but eventually discovered that they had survived and are doing well. I received so many e-mails from my fans” Keiko added, “offering me so many prayers and so much love. It has been quite overwhelming. After that, in LA, I participated in the ‘Jazz For Japan’ project which was sent up to raise funds for those impacted by the tsunami. It was wonderful to be with the likes of Marcus Miller, George Duke, Steve Gadd and Tom Scott, all united by music to benefit such a worthy cause. What I hope most of all” she concluded “is that my music will bring calm and harmony to the world.”

Those words seemed to resonate with everything she holds dear and in addition summed up to perfection the essence of ‘The Road…'

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Keiko Matsui
  • Interview Date: August 2011
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