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Up Close and Personal with Kazu Matsui

Kazu Matsui is synonymous with American cinema music, particularly the films that feature Ry Cooder and James Horner as composers. Bursting on the scene in the early eighties with his eerie, suspense-laden accompaniment of the epic TV movie SHOGUN, he has been an ever-growing staple of action films. While he is a resident of Huntington Beach, CA, Kazu is the main proponent of his instrument, the Japanese shakuhachi flute, in the Western world. While carrying on the tradition of his mystical instrument, Matsui is opening up a new audience for his native temple flute that has a history well over 1000 years.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Hello Kazu, I'm glad to meet with you and Keiko today. It was a great pleasure to see Keiko and the band in action during sound check and you working on the mix. I also appreciate the chance to eat with you and the band; it was a great pleasure. Thanks so much for your southern hospitality. Kazu, I've noticed by viewing your various web-sites that you don't seem to have very many mid-west bookings. I have attended the last 2 Indy Jazz-Fest weekends in Indianapolis, Indiana and missed your music very much. I know they have about 60,000 in attendance over the weekend and pull jazz and blues fans from Bloomington, South Bend, Detroit and Chicago. Hopefully, you can be booked there on the summer tour schedule and more fans can see a great show.

KAZU MATSUI: We do play in Indianapolis about every 2 years but I don't remember where.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I remember the first time I heard your shakuhatchi music when watching the film Southern Comfort with the Ry Cooder soundtrack. Your flute was so dreamy and eerie at the same time. It really added to the tension and ambience of the swamp scenery and the chase sequences. This was the early eighties. The next film was the Long Rider's, another Ry Cooder exploit you contributed to. I love the mix of the slide guitar and the shakuhachi for great soul tones. I have some of this music on Ry Cooder's compilation, but wish the Southern Comfort soundtrack was released. How does the shakuhatchi work as far as the tonal range of the flute? Is the basic range at 2 octaves?

KAZU MATSUI: Yes. Two octaves and a little bit more.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: With saxophones you have the altissimo range, almost like harmonics on a string instrument.

KAZU MATSUI: Yes you have 2 . I'll say 2 ½ octaves.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Do you mean solid fundamental notes? Because, I hear some shrill tones that contrast with the lower range.

KAZU MATSUI: I can play 2 1/3 octaves with solid notes and half of the other range is more like overtones.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Harmonics? It seems like it has a fairly low midrange and extremely high level.

KAZU MATSUI: Yeah. It depends on the length of the bamboo. Different lengths.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: So you don't just use one set length or flute like you have here? (Kazu is holding the flute he performs "Wind And The Wolf" and "Walls Of The Cave" with in concert.)

KAZU MATSUI: For the movie soundtracks? Yes, I will use different lengths.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Was the one you used on Southern Comfort longer?

KAZU MATSUI: Yes it was longer and lower pitched. I'm pretty sure.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: When you perform on the shakuhachi, I'm not sure many people are aware that you were in India for 2 years and spent time in Europe as well. Did you pick up any different playing techniques or style of playing that was different to temple playing or do you add anything to what you learned from other places or instruments?

KAZU MATSUI: No. No. It's just shakuhachi technique. Yeah.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Which is really good. I really like it and so do many other people. You really bring a spiritual vibe to the music you perform and it is a pleasure to experience.

KAZU MATSUI: Thank You.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I do have one question for you and Keiko. When you finish a tour or recording project, how do you refresh yourselves for the next project or recording?

KAZU MATSUI: What do you mean refresh?

JAZZREVIEW.COM: How do you clear your mind or prepare for the next recording after doing the standard "live" set-list for a time? Say, you finish the current tour ("Whisper from the Mirror"). Do you travel or listen to different kinds of music for inspiration?

KAZU MATSUI: Oh No. Keiko might listen to a couple of other peoples music but I listen to just Keiko's CD's. Yeah. I rarely listen to other people's music. I just make music, which I want to listen to.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Yes, I love that because that way you're in control of the music but there is a certain time frame when you get the influence of whatever is around you.

KAZU MATSUI: Oh, Yes. Some players and arrangers they get influenced but I (pauses), maybe I'm getting some influence but I really never thought about it.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Then it gets to a point where once you reach a certain level you're too busy creating?

KAZU MATSUI: Not too busy, we just want 1 month every year to create new tunes or new CD. Other than that, we play about 50 to 60 shows a year then, other times we are a housewife and father.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Yes, you're two girls Mako and Maya. Do they go with you in the summer?

KAZU MATSUI: Summertime? Yeah.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Do the girls have any interest in music?

KAZU MATSUI: Yes. They are both taking piano lessons. I don't know how serious they want to be but I want to let them try it.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: That's really great you let them have access to music and even if they might go in another direction of the arts or other creative area. Of course, you've heard music can help children with cognitive skills and working both areas of the brain at the same time. In regards to your bookings, have you received any offers to perform in Nashville or Indianapolis lately? My first experience listening to Keiko came from a now defunct smooth jazz radio station there.

KAZU MATSUI: Yeah, I mean there are so many cities we missed this year and we get many letters from fans saying, why didn't you play our city this year and things like that but I don't know why that happened. You know, Just sometimes we miss a city. Nashville, I don't know maybe there is not a radio station there. We haven't done anything in Nashville.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I was telling Steve Snyder (the renaissance gentleman that hosts the USA fan site, keikomatsui-fansite.com) that the first time I heard Keiko was on a local smooth jazz station that was featuring the 'Dreamwalk' CD. I was knocked out by the melodies which, seem to be missing in all styles of music right now. Do you have any confirmed plans or dates on the "Ever After" composition dual piano or four hand techniques with Bob James in Asia or the US?

KAZU MATSUI: Yes. We are doing about a thirty-city tour.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: That's a great tour!

KAZU MATSUI: Yes. February, March, April here in the USA. And January in select cities in Japan. That is four hands piano.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: That is really going to be a treat. A 30 date tour with four hands piano is really interesting. I have the release with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock from the seventies but that was dual piano not in a four hands, one piano context. I hope that I can make a performance of this concert because this is unprecedented for two great icons of jazz are going to perform on the same instrument at the same time. This is like Count Basie and Duke Ellington on piano together or Chick and Herbie. Do you have any plans to go to Europe? I was just wondering because I haven't seen or heard of any dates for those fans.

KAZU MATSUI: Our records haven't really been promoted in Europe . Yet. You know, after Keiko making 11 albums that is kind of sad but nobody has been promoted, but we are going to (perform in Europe).

JAZZREVIEW.COM: You're going to get even more fans.

KAZU MATSUI: And you know, having this Internet shopping service, I do not think it is that difficult for European people or other people to get Keiko's music. They have access but we have to promote it.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Yes because I didn't know there was a video available for 'Light above the Trees' and didn't know it was filmed until I saw it on PBS.

KAZU MATSUI: We promoted the video to PBS in other countries and also they just aired BET (Black Entertainment Television) for a number of weeks (special program which was filmed early this Summer featuring music from the new release Whisper From The Mirror) here in the US. They will be airing Keiko's show in Europe and the BET performance will be released on DVD coming out in January.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Will this also be released as VHS as well?

KAZU MATSUI: DVD and video.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I have seen your video at Borders bookstore, which is really great because they sell CDs, VHS and DVD.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I noticed a picture of some music from the Mask of Zorro written in standard, western notation. Do you always read standard notation or do you have to use the traditional temple notation instead?

KAZU MATSUI: If it is simple I can read regular notation but usually for security I use the Japanese notation on top of the regular notation.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I'm not really familiar with the physical aspects of playing the shakuhachi like how to lip up, lip down or even if there is an embouchure. I was talking with Steve Snyder and he said he is learning the shakuhatchi and sometimes there can be a note that is fingered one way but has to be articulated with lip up or lip down to get the correct tone or inflection of the pitch. I really wanted to find out about the notation and technique. When I see a D note, which would be your base keynote in guitar notation, it might have instructions to use tremolo, slides, bends and vibrato. These raise or lower the pitch and give it that inflection. I knew you were playing on the Zorro movie soundtrack when I saw the movie. I'm really glad to meet you here in person today and talk about a really special instrument. I do have one question in particular. The "Garden" tune that Keiko performs on the video seems to have the same musical passage as an NBC public service announcement and I think they used her melodic sequence from the tune.

KAZU MATSUI: But that is such a short melody. That could be from anywhere.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: But it sounds like that exact articulation.

KAZU MATSUI: Maybe somebody stole it.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I looked up "A Night Hawk's Dream" because of the Gift of Hope breast cancer awareness that Keiko had performed at the event with Ekaterina Gordeeva live as a duo. I found that she had used the music in three other contests and had placed 1st and 2nd in international contests using the tune. That must make you very proud. Are you glad to see more sales of music in Japan, which has picked up lately? It seems to be really catching on, especially with the DVD releases, which are really being anticipated there.

KAZU MATSUI: Of course. Any country!

JAZZREVIEW.COM: The music speaks for itself just like your shakuhatchi music is like a homecoming of sorts for you and Keiko. I was surprised she was not more well known there.

KAZU MATSUI: Because there is no smooth jazz station there, so Boney James, David Benoit, nobody knows them there.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: That will certainly change with your tour announced ahead of time and the collaboration with Bob James. I know that the jazz audiences in Japan have a special place in their hearts for Bob and he in turn has a great affinity for them as fans and the culture overall.

KAZU MATSUI: Yes, Bob is a very good artist and really was great on the four hands tune "Ever After" from 'Whisper from the Mirror', it was a special moment. Bob James urged Keiko to try more or encouraged her to create or develop in this style.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: That is very beautiful to see two very secure and creative artist urging one another on to an undiscovered level of creativity. Guitarist develop this bonding or friendship early in the development of duet or group playing but it is certainly rare for contemporary artist of piano even in the classical genre.

KAZU MATSUI: The four hands piano is totally different for Keiko and Bob but they enjoy the style very much.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: There is no doubt that the music will be most inspired. I'm just trying to picture the piano and the two of them switching sides or staying in the same player position. This is a great technical challenge for both of them but well worth the effort.

KAZU MATSUI: We think the audience will enjoy it very much.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I believe they will be happy and mesmerized at the same time. I mean, you just don't see 4 hands piano performed by virtuosos every day. This is as big as Chick and Herbie or Chick and Gary Burton on vibes but unique just the same.

KAZU MATSUI: Yes. This is very rare. Keiko and I are very happy with the tour.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: What, a great homecoming for you and Keiko, a special performance in front of family and friends in Japan. I hope to see four hands show, in fact, I'm sending your booking agent information to my area concert halls and colleges. I even sent a memo to a concert hall in St. Louis Missouri.

KAZU MATSUI: We haven't toured as much this year compared to last year but will tour a lot more with a new CD coming out in January and the duet project.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Yes, indeed! Kazu, I have to complement you on your great production on Keiko's music as well as your mixing of the stage sound during the sound check awhile ago. You are a very gifted musician on the shakuhachi and producing.

KAZU MATSUI: Thank You.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I have really enjoyed your film music performances and the classical salutes on 'Tribal Mozart' and 'Tribal Schubert'. I hope you have time to record again soon and I can't wait for the show tonight. Many thanks for your valuable time and best of luck in Japan. I'm sure you will be surprised from the fan response this January and have a great time with friends and family. Domo Arigato! Peace.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Kazu Matsui
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