Ambassador of Jazz
Keiko Matsui is a Japanese contemporary jazz pianist and composer who has received international acclaim for her 24 albums spanning a quarter of a century. Born in Tokyo and living in Los Angeles, California, Keiko spoke with Tokyo Journal during a recent trip to Japan before embarking on a tour to Peru, the U.S., Indonesia and Russia.
TJ: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
MATSUI: I was raised in Japan and started piano lessons when I was five years old. I went to private school in Japan and studied jazz at Yamaha Music School. After graduating from university, I was in the music business in Japan for a while before moving to the U.S.
TJ:What was your major at university?
MATSUI: Great question. I studied children’s literature at Japan Women’s University. I chose that because my dream since junior high school was to compose and perform music for children.
TJ:Tell us about how you first learned the piano.
MATSUI:My mother was a teacher of nihon buyo – traditional Japanese dance. She wanted me to do that but I wasn’t interested at all, so she took me to piano lessons and I loved it. In addition to the piano, I learned to play the organ and the electron at Yamaha Music School.
TJ: What kind of music were you interested in?
MATSUI: I listened to many different kinds of music, not only classical but also pop and movie soundtracks. I listened to people like Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder. For me, music has no borders.
TJ: Can you describe how you compose music?
MATSUI: When I decide to make an album, I sit in front of the piano without playing, just waiting to hear something from somewhere. I catch notes and write them down on paper, so it’s a very interesting, mystic process.
TJ: Wow. How would you describe your music?
MATSUI: I think my music connects people beyond culture and religion. The challenges we face on earth such as 9/11 and the March 11th Japan disaster impact my music.
TJ: Can you tell us about some of the people you’ve played with?
MATSUI: I’ve opened for Miles Davis and George Benson, and I’ve done collaboration tours with Chaka Khan, Philip Bailey, Bob James, James Ingram and Patti Austin.
TJ: Which show was the most signif icant for you?
MATSUI: One of my favorite shows was my first performance with an orchestra for the U.S. Air Force at Constitution Hall, Washington D.C., where I was introduced as a music ambassador between the U.S. and Japan. Another show that was special was a 9/11 benefit for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund called “Wave of Peace.” Other artists included Stevie Wonder, Pattie Austin, Kenny G, James Ingram, and Al Jarreau. Everybody was there to pray and dedicate music for peace, so it was a very sad occasion but was very special because for me music is like a prayer, and spirituality is very important.
TJ: Is there someone you’d like to collaborate with?
MATSUI: Sting. He’s my favorite artist of all time.
TJ: What are your plans for the future? MATSUI: I’d like to write more movie soundtracks. I’d also like to develop my collection of songs for live orchestra performances. The most important thing in my life is to dedicate concerts to peace on earth and share my passion and emotion with the audience.
TJ: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians who are just getting into their career now?
MATSUI: Well, I think technology has made it easier for people to do many things without an expensive studio. So there are many ways of creating music, but at the same time it’s getting harder and harder, not only because of the economy but because the industry has changed and there are so many musicians out there. I know it is hard but if you believe in something then keeping your identity and character is very important. I hope that you can trust and visualize your dream. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #274 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.