January and February of 2018 were incredibly productive, inspiring and challenging on so many levels. My mind and body are reeling from all the new experiences.Read More
Very excited to share information about some upcoming activities for the new year.
While I've already been up to various projects with others in the last few weeks, MY first show of the year is on January 19th and it's going to be something new for me. A little background information:Read More
From here I’ll spend a bit of time in Kentucky, up through Ann Arbor, MI, Dublin, OH, DC and back to Philadelphia all for workshops and performances. Thanks, Shoji, Aya, Yoshi, Yui, Jacob, Joe, Eileen, Brian, Mark, Lisa, Evan, Therese, Tamiko, Fumi and others for making things possible and meaningful.
Only a few days after getting home, I will get on a plane to Japan for about two more weeks of performing and teaching. Please see the complete listing of activities below. If you have friends or family anywhere near where I'll be, I'd much appreciate help getting the word out. The music continues to develop and grow with each encounter and interaction I have and I continue to look forward to sharing with an ever-expanding circle of friends.
IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS, I found myself performing and teaching in Istanbul, Tanglewood (in MA), Washington DC, San Diego, Los Angeles, St. Louis, London and of course NYC. All journeys were incredibly rewarding and challenging all at once, whether it was doing a video shoot with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble, curating a mind-bending collaborative performance with musicians and dancers representing Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru, debuting an arrangement of one of my pieces for piano in my hometown of St. Louis (playing on the same stage on which I first played taiko 31 years ago), performing for the first time with jazz/electronica musician Mark De Clive-Lowe, bilingual MC Shing02 and others, recording music in London for Wes Anderson's new movie or doing an improvisation with a master soba maker for the Japanese delegation to the UN General Assembly (Prime Minister Abe opened for us).
COMING UP, I'm taking place in a fundraising event with Silkroad Ensemble, in a few weeks, I'll be performing at the National Gallery as part of the Canales Project and TEDx Mid Atlantic. A couple months from now I'll be performing at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in Indiana.
One more project that's a little further down the road is a tour we're calling KAORU'S JAPAN. I will be personally bringing a handful of people to Japan in late November through mid-December, introducing and translating for workshops (Miyake, Edo Bayashi), demonstrations (Noh and Kabuki), concerts(my own, Kabuki) and site visits (Ranjo's fue making studio, Chichibu Festival). It's open to taiko drummers and fue players of all levels (including absolute beginners). Please check out the details here!
Finally, when I write these updates, I often feel a huge chasm between how grateful I am for the opportunities I get to perform, teach and travel and the immeasurable suffering I see and feel all around me- whether it's from natural disasters, man-made crisis, hateful and hurtful policies, racism, sexism, classism, and sickness. I am plagued with feelings of guilt and pettiness for pursuing my selfish artistic dreams. It is, however, all I know and is the best way I feel I can contribute to society.
Greetings. It has been a little bit since sending out my last newsletter. In the past month I have performed in various parts of the US (Maine, Colorado, DC, NY) and a last minute trip to Istanbul with the great Kenny Endo where at one point we found ourselves performing for the controversial Turkish President Erdogan and his machine-gun toting body guards. I performed with PAN Project, Mike Block and Shane Shanahan from the Silk Road Ensemble, did a little recording with Jayme Stone and other various projects. I've also been very busy preparing for some interesting projects in the works for this coming fall and winter (first time performing at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention or PASIC), a trip to Japan and a BIG thing coming up in early 2018 in Sydney (more on that soon!)
SO- before all that, however, I have two shows this weekend. The first is with Adam Rudolph's GO:Organic Orchestra at the Brooklyn Conservatory July 29th and the second is JO | HA | KYU part II on the 30th at National Sawdust.Read More
I'm spending most of May in at home in New York, cultivating both my actual and artistic gardens and trying not to get too caught up in the news. I've been composing, arranging and experimenting with music daily with my eye on various upcoming projects. It's been a very rewarding endeavor and I always feel blessed to have musicians around me that can help hone and develop ideas.
UPCOMING PROJECTSRead More
I'm happy to announce that I've received a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council to fund a four part concert series I'm calling JO | HA | KYU. The basic concept of the series is developing meaningful dialogue between Japan and other regions of the world through music, dance and art, while celebrating Brooklyn's rich cultural makeup. Details of all the concerts are still being hammered out but the first one is coming up very soon!Read More
Hello Friends and family,
It's been an interesting year so far to say the least. I'm trying to stay positive, creative and proactive through all that is happening. With the deliberate intent of fighting the ignorance and hatred permeating and emboldened in our global society these days, I promise to keep pushing my art forward, to continue working with an ever more diverse array of collaborators.
I will be performing at Joe's Pub on Feb 25th with the great Kenny Endo, a huge influence and inspiration in my life- in a way a singular predecessor to my path, a Japanese American who moved to Japan and lived there for a decade studying and working with the vanguard of Japanese artists.Read More
2016 was a milestone for me personally and it came and went without me even realizing it: Ten years ago, I left Japan and started a new life in Brooklyn, NY in 2006.
I had actually made my decision to leave Kodo in 2005. I told then director Ryutaro Kaneko on the ferry ride back to Sado after a Spring tour of my decision to leave and his response, I remember clearly was: 遂に来たか (So finally the time has come!). This was about a month before my directorial debut of Earth Celebration, a big annual festival where Kodo hosts groups from all over the world for collaborations and Ryutaro san recommended two things: 1) I wait until after Earth Celebration to make the announcement 2) if I really wanted to do things right by Kodo, I should stretch my transition out for about a year.Read More
Last month, almost thirty taiko players, coming from as far away as by Buenos Aires, visited my home to study with first Chieko Kojima and then Kazuhiro and Hidenori Tsumura. People were treated to in-depth physical training (a memorable two hour period of time was spent on just the elusive left arm technique of Miyake island drumming) as well as comprehensive lectures on the history, the traditions and the evolution of traditional performing arts of the Hachijo and Miyake islands. The artists also spoke at length of their personal relationship to music and the struggles and challenges they faced along their journey. I saw many participants in tears as they listened to these inspirational stories.Read More
While I was living in Japan the end of the summer was marked by Earth Celebration, Kodo's annual world music festival and the Bon (ancestral) celebration in the town of Ogi where I lived. Earth Celebration to me was an intense period of the year for me- a month of sheer exhaustion from countless rehearsals and meetings, the physical labor of putting up and then taking down a large outdoor stage, high energy performances with top class musicians from across the globe and most important, seeing friends new and old, many of whom come from oceans away for the festivities.
Life in NY for me doesn't have that relentless backbreaking pace but has a different sort of intensity and fulfillment. In the past couple of months, I debuted a new group, mixing Brazilian and latin jazz musicians and Korean traditional/contemporary music to my own sound. I also continued to develop existing groups and taking part in other people's projects, including an interesting theater project- a brand new work-in-progress that, while set in the Jim Crow era resonates heavily with current day politics regarding immigration, assimilation, racism and violence.
On a very different note, I was honored to be a judge in an online shinobue competition in Japan. While in close contact with fue players and other instrumentalists of traditional instruments, I don't have the opportunity to interact or hear amateur musicians very often. For those of you interested in seeing how the results and all the participants' entrees, please click here:
Kiyohime on Sado x Chieko Kojima w/ Kaoru Watanabe
Sunday, October 9th | 6pm | $15
ShapeShifter Lab | 18 Whitwell Place, Brooklyn, NY 11215
A long time collaborator and friend, Chieko Kojima, one of the founding members of my old group Kodo, will be in NY to give an intensive weekend workshop at my studio. Then on October 9th, we will perform together at Shapeshifter at 6 pm in conjunction with the opening of a photography exhibition by Maiko Miyagawa, someone responsible for many iconic images of Kodo from the last couple of decades. We will be joined by Fumi Tanakadate and Gamin, one of the foremost practitioners of traditional, contemporary and improvisational Korean music. Chieko is a rare performer, able to create fantastical worlds through her movements and rhythm. This concert's main theme is Kiyohime, a character from Japanese folklore made famous in the Noh play Dojoji- a woman whose unrequited love for a buddhist priest transforms her into a giant snake demon. Fun!
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/307233399635979/
ShapeShifter Lab website: http://www.shapeshifterlab.com/
Photo credit: Maiko Miyagawa http://soaring-photo.com/
The following weekend we will be hosting an intensive weekend workshop as well as short Sunday workshop by two brothers from the Tsumura family, the most renowned practitioners of the traditional festival music of Miyake Island.
On October 20th, Thursday, I will be performing with another longtime collaborator and friend, the great Kenny Endo at Mansfield Theater Great Falls in Montana. Following soon after that will be lots of traveling for performances and workshops at Cornell University, Brussels, Paris, Hamburg, Edmonton, Los Angeles, San Diego and New York to close out the year. More information to come.
Hope to see you all around!
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.
Hello friends and family,
I'm writing this the day after returning from a week at Avaloch Farm- a beautiful ranch deep in the New Hampshire countryside where composers, soloists and chamber ensembles are provided an environment conducive to developing new works.
I was a part of the PAN Project, a new ensemble that features forward-thinking musicians of traditional instruments from China, Korea and Japan. We spent hours upon hours teaching each other melodies and rhythms as well as improvising together. We spent even more hours discussing our traditions, our instruments as well as our personal artistic processes. We devoted a great deal of time to understanding the various ways to preserve the essential qualities of our respective musics while creating a unified ensemble sound. These discussions ranged in topic from intonation, embellishments, compositional structures, timbre, and volume (the talk about whether to amplify or not took a good part of one morning). We spoke of the various subtle differences between the court musics, theater musics, festival music, shamanistic musics, ritual music, secular musics of our respective countries, as well as how we blend with musics of other styles of music and other countries. One theme that kept coming up was the desire of all musicians involved to find authenticity within themselves and a desire to make music without compromise.
I found myself constantly referring to the many collaborations I've had over the last couple of decades and reflect on how my work continues to rely on the influx of information and inspiration gleaned from these collaborations. I have performed with Mongolian throat singers, dancers from Burkina Faso, stilt dancers from the Ivory Coast, Indian tabla players, electro-acoustic hurdy-gurdy players, Galician bag-pipe players, steel pan players in Trinidad, Romanian brass bands, Brazilian capoeiristas, Polynesian nose flute players and on and on. Due to lack of time or funding, a couple of these interactions were one-off jam session type situations. Most however, involved in-depth back and forth exchanges, like the one described above. I often walk away from all these projects with more questions than answers but at least I feel like my questions are getting better.
This coming week I will be continuing along this path, teaching and leading ensembles for Silk Road Project's Global Musician Workshop at the Tanglewood Music Festival. Other things happening this month include performing with Gamin, a master musician of Korean traditional music and fearless improvisor and bassist Edward Perez and my continued work with a group of LGBTQ youth at the New Museum as part of Simone Leigh's important exhibition Waiting Room.
A few great reviews of my new album Néo are popping up here and there. Please read them here:
Drum!, Feature story, 07/07/2016, Kaoru Watanabe
Songlines, Album review, 07/01/2016, Asia Reviews Attachment
All About Jazz, Album review, 04/13/2016, Kaoru Watanabe: Néo Text
RootsWorld, Album review, 06/10/2016, Kaoru Watanabe talks with RootsWorld:s Tyran Grillo about his latest work, Néo Text
And here are a few upcoming shows this month:
8/4 - 9 Silkroad Project Global Musician Workshop @Tanglewood Music Festival
8/27 Rubens Salles @the Cornelia Street Cafe Brazil Festival|10.30pm|$20 cover includes a drink
8/28 Kaoru Watanabe with Gamin and Edward Perez @ the Cornelia Street Cafe Percussion Festival|8.30pm|$20 cover includes a drink
Thank you for your continued support!
Greetings from Anchorage, Alaska! I had a concert with Yoshikazu Fujimoto and Chieko Kojima of Kodo a few days ago at the Alaska Performing Arts Center. For those of you who don't know who they are, Chieko and Yoshikazu are members of the original Ondekoza group, as well as founding members of Kodo. They are legendary in the world of contemporary taiko and dance and after spending ten years on the road with them, they are like family to me. I hadn't performed with Chieko san in about two years and haven't worked with Yoshikazu san in about five.
At one point in the concert, Chieko san and I improvised for about ten minutes together- listening, watching, reacting to the others movements and sounds. The performance had many sections- slow to fast and everything in between, ebbs and flows and moments of sheer silence- all of it unplanned.
The day after the concert, our hosts, a local taiko group called Tomodachi Daiko took us camping and to see the glaciers. Yoshikazu san and I ended up at one point alone tending to a fire for about an hour. The sky was as bright as dusk although it was well past midnight. All in all, it was wonderful catching up with these old friends and sharing the stage with them.
Chieko will be teaching at my Brooklyn studio in October this year and we will be performing together October 9th. More info on that to come.
Coming up for me in the meantime, a few different projects. First up, a multi-disciplinary opera and film by old/new friend Leyna Marika P. called Song, running at Here Theater June 29th through July 2nd. I say old/new because I only formally met her in recent years although our parents have known each other for decades. As usual, I will be playing fue, taiko and a god-like fox character. The opera will also feature Kamala Sankaram, Ava Mendoza and others. Please check out this link to support!
I am proud to be a part of Simone Leigh's The Waiting Room at the New Museum. Each week, eight young adults from the Hetrick-Martin Institute, an organization that provides services for LGBTQ youth and is an ongoing partner of the New Museum, will meet to make drums and learn taiko drumming with musician Kaoru Watanabe.
I will be performing with Sumie Kaneko at Tenri Cultural Center on July 8th.
I have a couple of shows coming up in NY that I'm very excited about. The Brooklyn-based collective Motions (with Chris Dingman, Tim Keiper, Matt Kilmer and myself) is finishing out what has developed into a three month long residency at the East Village venue Nublu. We've been experimenting with different iterations of the group - bringing in such artists as Ches Smith, Tamango and Yasushi Nakamura and having amazing guests sitting in with us. Our next (and last for the time being) show is this coming Sunday, January 25th at 9pm. Keita Ogawa will be joining us on percussion with other special guests.
After that I'll be in LA for about week performing with the great On Ensemble and Sumie Kaneko. Back in New York after that, I'll be performing with long-time collaborator and mentor Kenny Endo with my group Ne-O Ensemble at Shapeshifter. I'm honored and excited to have been asked by Shapeshifter to be one of their first artists-in-residence as part of their new non-profit Shapeshifter Plus. We will be presenting a series of concerts and workshops over the course of a year and this event is a sort of pre-residency celebration.
The following day, I will be flying to Japan for some performances with such artists as Semba Kiyohiko, Tetsuro Naito, Shogo Yoshi, Yuko Miyagawa and the great calligrapher Koji Kakinuma.
Thank you to everyone for your ongoing support and friendship.
Happy New Year to one and all!
As 2014 comes to an end, I'm feeling immense gratitude for all the people who've given me the opportunity to share my music and art. Trying to make a living in New York as an artist is a constant challenge- full of instability, doubt and frustration and having a young child to support makes things that much more complicated. However, all these challenges only makes one's resolve stronger and the rewards that much sweeter.
This year, I had the great pleasure to perform with a wide variety of artists including Elena Moon Park, Sachiyo Ito, Sumie Kaneko, Shane Shanahan, Kenny Endo, Motions with Tim Keiper, Matt Kilmer and Chris Dingman, Adam Rudolph, Tetsuro Naito, Patrick Graham, TaikOz, So Percussion, Hadi Eldebek, Ned Rothenberg, Jerome Harris, Samm Bennett, On Ensemble, Abe Lagrimas, Chieko Kojima and Eichi Saito from Kodo, Semba Kiyohiko, Kaori Takahashi, Ralph Samuelson, Steve Gorn, Tamango, Shogo Yoshi, Satoshi Takeishi, Shoko Nagai and Jonathan Goldberger, Ne-O Ensemble, Gutbucket and Marvin Sewell with performances in Sydney, Tokyo and Fukushima, Montreal, Puerto Rico, LA, SF, NY and DC. I taught another semester at Princeton University, did workshops and performances through such organizations as the Silk Road Project, Midori and Friends, the Japanese Consulate, Music From Japan and others.
In terms of my educational activities, my taiko school, the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center (KWTC) enjoyed the first full year in our Crown Heights space. Besides teaching weekly classes, we hosted three weekend long intensives, led by Tetsuro Naito and Patrick Graham, Kazuhiro and Hidenori Tsumura from Miyake Island and Chieko Kojima from Kodo, as well as two workshops by Shoji Kameda from On Ensemble. Also, I'm proud to be one of the instructors for kaDON, an online taiko and fue instructional series presented by one of the most respected taiko makers in Japan, Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten.
As for some things that I'm looking forward to in 2015, performances in LA and Japan in the Spring and some fun touring in the fall. Also, I'll be teaching alongside and performing with Yo Yo Ma and other inspiring artists in June as part of the Silk Road Projects Global Musician Workshop. I've been composing a lot recently and am starting to see new directions that my music is heading in.
Besides all the people mentioned above, I'm thankful for Ranjo, the man responsible for making all of my amazing shinobue bamboo flutes for his continued support, guidance and friendship. None of my activities would be possible without my wonderful family stretched wide across the US and Japan.
Most importantly, I give thanks to my wife Mari and daughter Shinobu for their sacrifice, their fire and love.
Happy New Year to all!
This is the first time I'm posting directly to my new website- I'm still figuring out how to add pictures and move things around with catastrophically altering the original layout. Thanks for visiting this page and please continue to do so. Please contact me and I will try my best to respond. I also promise to try to keep things up to date and post often.
SO, I have a few pieces of news that I'm very excited about.
1) The upcoming show at Shapeshifter featuring Satoshi Takeishi, Shoko Nagai and Jonathan Goldberger and members of Ne-O
2) I have been asked to be one of the faculty of the Global Musican Workshop (GMW) next summer at Depaul University. GMW is presented by Silk Road Project and among the faculty will be Yo Yo Ma himself. Very excited to be a part of this. Info here.
3) kaDON, an online Taiko and Fue video resource that I'm honored to be a part of is offering a year-end shimedaiko give away. Please go here for more info.
Among a few performances I have this month, I’m excited to announce that Motions, a collective of Matt Kilmer, Tim Keiper, Chris Dingman and myself, has been asked to extend a residency at the great East Village spot Nublu on Sunday nights. We will be presenting compositions by all four members as well as improvisations.
I’m also excited to working with old friend from high school Ty Citerman and his great band Gutbucket during their residency at the Stone as well as a few concerts featuring my Japanese music Ne-O Ensemble. Check out the Calendar for all upcoming shows!
Hello Friends, The last couple of weeks have been an intense period of activity- three weekends ago, I was performing and teaching at the first ever World Taiko Gathering (WTG). WTG and the other such gatherings, such as North American Taiko Conference (NATC), Collegiate Taiko Invitational and the East Coast Taiko Conference (ECTC) are great opportunities to connect with old friends and make new ones.
I've been playing taiko since 1986 and attended the first NATC in 1997 while I was playing with Soh Daiko. This was also the year before I moved to Japan to become a Kodo apprentice.
The concerts at WTG were titled Taiko Nation and featured six different groups and individual artists. I had the great pleasure of performing with two of them, the virtuosic TaikOz from Australia (with whom Kenny Endo was also a special guest) as well as a trio made up of two veterans of Kodo, Chieko Kojima and Eiichi Saito and myself. It was interesting to recall the conference I attended in '97, back before I really knew anything about the music, to almost two decades later in 2014 as an instructor and featured performer who is focused intently on the question of how to support and encourage the next generation of taiko players.
Another exciting development that was announced at WTG is the start of KaDON, an online resource for taiko and fue instruction presented by Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten, one of the most respected taiko makers in Japan. I am honored to be one of the three instructors featured on KaDON and I hope it turns out to be beneficial for as many people as possible. Please visit Kadon.com for more details about this.
Last week, the aforementioned Chieko Kojima visited New York for a week for a performance with me at Shapeshifter. Lab in Brooklyn as well as a three day intensive at my studio. Ten participants from Boston, Philadelphia and NY areas stayed over night while Mari cooked delicious meals with a handful of volunteers, Cathy Tio, Cassandra Huebenthal, Yumiko Higaki and Alex Pfister who donated time and energy and food.
Coming up after this is a lot of traveling but continuing with classes in NY when I'm in town.
Hope to see you all soon and enjoy the summer until then!
Friday, Aug 8 | 7:30pm - 9:00pm | $16 Sumie Kaneko @Regatta Bar (Boston) Sumie Kaneko's project J-Trad & More will present trio version with Kaoru Watanabe on Taiko and Fue, Yoshiki Yamada on Bass. New pieces will be played!. She is currently making new album with new instrumentation, you will see some of them. Must come! 1 Bennett Street, Cambridge MA, 02138. http://www.regattabarjazz.com http://www.sumiekanekomusic.com
Saturday, Aug 16 | 3:00pm Palo Alto Buddhist Temple presents: Hiroshima & Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble Kenny Endo (taiko), Kaoru Watanabe (taiko, fue), Hiroshi Tanaka (taiko), Abe Lagrimas, Jr. (drums, vibraphone, ukulele) More info TBA Schultz Cultural Arts Hall at the Jewish Community Center 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303 http://www.paloaltojcc.org/on-campus/albert-janet-schultz-cultural-arts-hall/
Saturday, Aug 23 Kaoru Watanabe and Sumie Kaneko at Tenri Cultural Institute (New York) First duo concert with Kaoru Watanabe. Program will be mixture of Kaoru's original, traditional piece, Sumie's new compositions. More info TBA 43A West 13th Street, New York, 10011 http://www.tenri.org http://www.sumiekanekomusic.com
Friday, Sept 5 Fukushima Ongakudo http://www.f-shinkoukousha.or.jp/ongakudou/wp-content/uploads/282cb4d1d63ddf0177ffad86cd8f937a.pdf More info TBA
Thursday, Sept 11 Resonance 2014@Super Deluxe More info TBA