Keiko Matsui: A Night of Firsts...
By: Art Jackson
Keiko Matsui's last concert date in the United States in 2010, ended as a night of firsts at the House of Blues in Anaheim at the famous location of Downtown Disney adjacent to Disneyland Amusement Park. Not only did she play her first Christmas concert in the US, but she also showcased two new songs from her soon to be released CD entitled "The Road..." (January 20, 2011). Additionally, her new record label (Shanchie Records) begins a journey into another busy year filled with touring and special projects, but most importantly, as Keiko admits, “giving back to her fans who have been waiting four years to hear new music” is what she is most excited about.
A few days after the show, Keiko took some time to talk with Smooth Jazz Magazine about the memorable evening and the past year which featured months of touring throughout Europe.
"The Road..." reflects Keiko's idealism of life journeys that continues for us all. The insight and passion within her expressed through her music and touches her fans from all around the world. Recording in both New York and Los Angeles has been a labor of love. All the touring and business endeavors for the CD was completed the week of Thanksgiving before playing at the Blue Note in New York that same week. “I was being thankful for both the completion of the CD and Thanksgiving. It was such a great celebration.”Although this new CD is self-produced, Keiko also worked with two co-producers. Derek Nakamoto co-produced 4 tracks and has been with her for many years; and, Richard Bona, Bass Guitar extraordinaire from Cameroon who produced 3 tracks. Featured artists on the CD includes saxmen Kirk Whalum and Jackiem Joyner, both of whom tour as apart of her band.
“At a concert, it is like sharing a special time with someone. The excitement and joy of life is between us and the piano. So I see it as a great opportunity, and maybe I don’t need the piano, but the universe is giving me the piano to share this energy with everyone. In New York, I was surprised at how many people from all over the world came to my concert. I was talking to a lady from Chile, and I said I would like to make plans to visit there. Then, I began to notice the different people from other countries as well. I became so amazed that I started writing down all the countries while signing autographs from so many people was an overwhelming experience.
SJM: How do you create your music that fans loves so much?
Keiko: Composing is so important to me. I prefer to set a special time when I can just be quiet. But with so many thing going on, I couldn’t set a lot of time aside until this August. I got the chance to just sit in front of my piano. I just sit and wait to hear something like melodies from above. It’s something mystic, and when I begin to hear something I start taking notes and that is the beginning of the process. With my last CD “Moyo”, I had those special times in Africa, but for this CD those special times were in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Once I have something in mind, I then arrange and develop the tunes while touring.
SJM: Before going on stage do you have any rituals?
Keiko: When I was on my tour in Japan with Huge Masekela, he would say let's have a prayer and the whole group would stand in a circle and hold hands. Afterwards he would say let's rock!! Saying a prayer is what we have been doing.
SJM: When did you start doing a Christmas show?
Keiko: Last year in 2009, I did a Christmas show at the Blue Note club in Tokyo for a few dates which was a major success. Christmas time is very nice and it was my 2nd annual Christmas show in Tokyo. I hope to do the same in the US.
SJM: When you played your new song on stage, it seemed that you had butterflies, was that the case?
Keiko: Actually, it was more of an excitement and most enjoyable feeling to have finally played it live for an audience.
SJM: Based upon your classical background, I can hear a little of that influence on stage.
Keiko: I want to do a full Orchestra show and bring it to Tokyo and the US. When in Russia, we played in St. Petersburg, Moscow and other cities. They have these beautiful theatres with sold-out seats of 1,000 and 2,000 people at each city and we played with full Orchestra 's which made for beautiful evenings and the people were so happy to see me. But each show carries a different elements and dimension from a piano solo to classical to jazz.
SJM: While touring in Russia were there any humorous moments?
Keiko: Oh yes, (laughing) true story... Touring in Russia is very hard. It is so big; and, while traveling in Siberia, in winter in the middle of no-where during -28º temperatures, the promoter arranged a bus that was really old, and it didn’t have a bed like fancy American tour buses. I still remember the look on the faces of the band members when they first saw the bus. The promoter said here is a mattress and blanket to lie down on. So we had to lay the mattress down on two seats facing each other and had to sleep like that. The really old bus and the roads in the countryside made the ride really bumpy and the bus was shaking like a blender. Our bus broke down twice, first. the driver had to fix a tire, then he had to fix the engine. (Laughing) The video of the bus ride is on YouTube. Stopping for the restroom, is nothing like in the US, it’s just a hole and a wall, with no signs, it’s really scary and sometimes there are white dogs barking at you. The whole time, my band members kept, they couldn’t survive the trip over a six week tour. But when we got to Kiev, seeing the 2,000 seat orchestra venue, which is beautiful, and filled to capacity with people who knew my music it helped make the hard traveling conditions worthwhile. Oh and Volka works also. (Laughing).
SJM: A number of artists cover other people's songs but I noticed that you don’t do that. Why not?
Keiko: No, I feel I have to express my feelings through my music which is very important to me.
SJM: You are involved in so many great causes how do you find the time?
Keiko: I feel so fortunate and happy that I can travel with my music and meet people from all backgrounds and religions. I feel like I would like to give back with my music. Organizations approach me and after I do research and feel deeply about the cause is when I become involved. It is important because I have an opportunity to tell the people and help them to become more aware of the various issues that are happening today.
Some of the noteworthy organizations includes: “The United Nations World Food Programme efforts in Africa”, “Children who have been orphaned or abandoned because of war and AIDS”, “The National Donor Program and Marrow Foundation” in support of A3M and Breast Cancer Research with the “Susan B Komen Foundation.”
SJM: You are on a new record label. What was the emphasis for the change?
Keiko: I started producing for myself and it gave me new opportunities to meet new people. After talking with my new manager and lawyer we felt it was a great opportunity to begin anew.
SJM: Do you have any special projects with other artists in 2011?
Keiko: I was invited by Dave Koz to his summer cruise to Alaska in August. And also, I recently recorded with Bob James on a project entitled, “4 Hand Piano”; one piano with four hands duet which comes out later in 2011.
"Once, a fan told me that by hearing my music, I feel like your music brings us back to the root of the soul. So when I play and when I record, I feel that I put it in some place and when I play I feel that we are connecting.“
“This whole album is an epic plan for me. I was thinking... I am not aiming for, but I am receiving songs in my mind about life and where we came from and about our souls. It was really very special and deep when I started composing the first song of the CD , “Secret Pond.” I felt like life has many things tobhappen; whether happy or sad, whether drama or not, it’s still you and it’s your life, and you are creating your life. That is why I feel this is your journey as it continues on “The Road ... “
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