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About Kaoru

Kaoru Watanabe is a Brooklyn based composer and musician, specializing on the Japanese taiko drum and shinobue flutes. He has spent decades artfully blending the sounds of Japanese instruments with those from around the world, collaborating with such artists as National Living Treasure Bando Tamasaburo, Jason Moran, So Percussion, Adam Rudolph, Kenny Endo, Stefon Harris, Kiyohiko Semba, Alicia Hall Moran, Tamango, Tatsuya Nakatani, Imani Uzuri, calligrapher Kakinuma Koji, visual artist Simone Leigh, Martin Scorsese - creating music for the film Silence - and was a featured guest on Yo-Yo Ma's Grammy Award winning album Sing Me Home. Watanabe has performed his compositions at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum, Kabukiza, Minamiza, Blue Note NYC and has performed in all 47 prefectures in Japan.

As a passionate educator, Kaoru has taught at Princeton University, Wesleyan University, Colby and Dickinson Colleges, Tanglewood Music Festival, and Silk Road Project's Global Musician Workshop at DePauw University. Kaoru gave a workshops to children of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds including a group of LGBQ youth. Kaoru is an instructor for kaDON, an online taiko and fue resource presented by preeminent taiko maker Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten of Tokyo. 

Kaoru was born in St. Louis, MO to symphony musician parents.  In 1997, after graduating from the Manhattan School of Music with a BFA in jazz flute and saxophone performance and performing with New York’s Soh Daiko, Kaoru moved to Japan and joined the internationally renowned taiko drum ensemble Kodo.  Based in Sado Island in the Niigata prefecture, Kaoru toured across the globe with Kodo, performing the taiko, traditional Japanese folk dance and song, and especially the various fue (bamboo flute) such as the noh kan, ryuteki and shinobue. From 2005 to 2007, Kaoru served as one of Kodo’s artistic directors, focussing on their world music festival Earth Celebration.  During this festival, he directed shows that combined music, dance, and visual arts and that featured such luminaries as Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo, Carlos Nunez, jazz pianist Yosuke Yamashita and casts comprised of West African stilt dancers, tap and contemporary dancers, traditional Japanese folk dance, live calligraphy, break dance, capoeira and of course the taiko.  Also during and since his time with Kodo, Kaoru worked closely with legendary Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo, an experience that had a profound effect on his artistic growth.

In late 2006 Kaoru left Kodo and returned to NY to teach and continue performing fue, western flute and taiko in a variety of musical and artistic settings.  Recent projects have taken him across the US, Canada, Japan, France, Mongolia, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad, Honduras, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, France and Puerto Rico, Germany and United Arab Emirates.

I have long felt that Kaoru Watanabe has the greatest sound on the shinobue of any player in the world.
— Ranjo (master shinobue maker)
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 exteme 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)
Kaoru’s fue performances, compositions, and teachings bring this ancient sound directly into our modern world with clarity and relevance, His background in jazz and improvisational music further extend his range of expression and musical depth.
Kaoru’s taiko performances are exciting and impressive. He utilizes a philosophy which stresses engaging and relaxing the entire body with maximum power and resonance.
Kaoru is reinventing the tradition and pushing the edge of innovation- all within one deep breath and one clear sound.
— Kenny Endo (leading taiko artist)
Kaoru was one of the principal artists at Town Hall Seattle’s 2008 project, “Japan in America.” He is an extraordinary young musician, equally adept on traditional Japanese fue (flutes), contemporary Western flute, and taiko — Japanese drums. Our project was a unique one, and Kaoru’s keen intelligence, good humor, collaborative skills and stage savvy helped in the development and rehearsals for the project’s major concert and its educational and community programs. He was a great pleasure to work with throughout, and I recommend him without hesitation to those who seek a gifted artist with these skills.
— Spider Kedelsky (Producer, Town Hall Seattle’s Global Rhythms Series)


  • Kaoru Watanabe's Ne-O Ensemble
  • Kenny Endo/Kaoru Watanabe Convergence Duo
  • MOTIONS featuring Matt Kilmer, Tim Keiper and Chris Dingman
  • Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
  • Kaoru Watanabe’s RESONANCE featuring Kiyohiko Semba, Kaori Takahashi, Shogo Yoshii, others)
  • KODO, guest artistic director and guest artist
  • Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra
  • Kaoru Watanabe/Satoshi Takeishi Duo
  • PAN Project with Jeff Roberts, Gamin, Sori CHoi and Yingchieh Wang!pan-project/c1dtd
  • So Percussion
  • Simone Leigh (visual artist)
  • On Ensemble
  • Kakinuma Koji (calligrapher)
  • Sun Trio feat. Tetsuro Naito and Patrick Graham
  • Flutes of Hope featuring Ralph Samuelson, Steve Gorn, Sumie Kaneko 
  • Alicia Hall Moran’s Motown Project
  • Imani Uzuari’s The Gypsy Diaries/Hush Arbor
  • TaikOz (Sydney)
  • Tamango's Urban Tap 
  • KODO, performer, composer, artistic director, Sado Island, Japan 2000-2006
  • SOH DAIKO, member, New York 1996-1997
  • ST. LOUIS OSUWA DAIKO, founding member, St. Louis, MO 1986-1992


  • SILK ROAD PROJECT, Global Musician Workshop, faculty
  • KADON ONLINE INSTRUCTION, instructor, Taiko and Fue
  • WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY, instructor, Japanese Taiko – Spring 2011 to 2013
  • DICKINSON COLLEGE, instructor, Japanese Taiko- Fall 2012
  • COLBY COLLEGE, instructor, Japanese Taiko - Winter 2011


  • KODO, apprentice - SADO, ISLAND JAPAN 1998-2000
  • Intensive studies in taiko, folk dance, folk song, shinobue, Noh, Kyogen, tea ceremony, Japanese traditional performing arts history, farming, sewing and woodworking.
  • MANHATTAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC New York, NY, BA in Jazz Performance 1993-1997
  • INTERLOCHEN ARTS ACADEMY – boarding arts high school – Michigan


Jan Smith (flute), Harold Jones (flute), Steve Slagle (saxophone/flute), Hiroyuki Matsuda (noh kan), Kyosuke Suzuki (Edo Matsuri Bayashi), Kiyonari Tosha (taiko), Tadashi Ogasawara (Kyogen), Meisho Tosha (noh kan), Robert Dick (flute)


Japanese flutes (shinobue, ryuteki and noh kan) are provided by master flute maker Ranjo of Chiba Prefecture, Japan.