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Kaoru Watanabe: a rare musician who traverses the traditional music forms both East and West, classical and contemporary, predetermined and improvisational. His expertise in taiko drumming and bamboo flutes gives his music both force with extreme delicacy. His superb musicianship makes him a joy to create with. He enriches any musical situation with his unique perspective.
— Jason Moran (Jazz Pianist, Blue Note Recording Artist)
 

The summer has been very fruitful. I have recently finished shooting a whirlwind 6 courses for KaDON, an online instructional resource presented by one of the most venerable taiko makers in Japan, Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten. The courses, which will be uploaded over the course of the next year, range from fue fundamentals, fue improvisation (which delved into various Japanese pentatonic scales, embellishments, phrasing, rhythm and ear training), fue melodies (I presented 10 simple and a couple not-so-simple melodies for students to learn by ear), taiko fundamentals (posture, body awareness, using a metronome, etc), stage presence (how to move instruments in a safe, efficient and elegant way), and finally an advanced level course on my own composition called Prism. 

 

The reason I decided to teach Prism is that there are many compositional elements in the piece that I don't see many taiko players deal with in terms of rhythms and structured improvisations. I wanted to give people tools - and some courage - to write pieces that are less conventional, perhaps challenging the notion of what people think of when composing for taiko and fue. We spend time learning about polyrhythms- 3 over 2, 5 over two, 9 over two, etc. We practice going between rhythms subdivided in triplets and subdivided in sixteenth notes and playing phrases that decidedly avoid down beats. We learned about how to improvise over unconventional ji patterns. The player must create a compelling musical story in way that fits within the mood and tone of the composition, all while counting odd numbers of beats and phrases and not loosing the beat. I'm happy with how the courses turned out in the shoot, now it's time for the pros to edit them so I sound like I'm at least half articulate!

 

In terms of performances, while I've been working off and on with one of Yo-Yo Ma's groups for a couple years now and I'm featured on one track of his new album, I finally shared the stage with the maestro for the first time. I was at the prestigious Tanglewood Summer Institute where for a week I taught improvisation and Japanese music to some of the top young classical musicians in the world. It was inspiring to be among such talented and driven young musicians and gratifying that I felt I could offer them something from my experience.


I worked for the first time with the great musicians in Rubens Salles' group at the Brazilian Festival at Cornelia Street Cafe. Purely by coincidence, I played the following evening at the Cornelia Street Cafe's Percussion Festival with my own new ensemble featuring, among others, a Brazilian percussionist named Rogerio Baccato who didn't play in the Brazilian Festival this time and a bass player named Edward Perez, who played in the Brazilian Festival the same night I did, but just in a different band. By the way, I first met Edward about 20 years ago while in high school.

I am busy preparing for a couple concerts this month as well as a variety of projects coming up in fall: performances with various folks- members of Kodo, Kenny Endo, PAN Project, Gamin and others - in Belgium, Paris and Antwerp, Montana, California, Philadelphia, Edmonton, New York and elsewhere. More information on all of that as the dates near.


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Chance Improvisation Duet