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About Kaoru

Kaoru Watanabe is a Brooklyn based composer and musician, specializing in 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, calligrapher Kakinuma Koji, visual artist Simone Leigh, and director Martin Scorsese, and was a featured guest on Yo-Yo Ma's Grammy Award-winning album Sing Me Home.

After graduating from Manhattan School of Music with a BA in jazz flute and saxophone, Watanabe moved to Japan and joined the world-renowned taiko performing arts ensemble Kodo, the first non-Japanese to do so. He spent close to a decade performing with Kodo as well as acting as artistic director of their world music festival Earth Celebration, where he curated works with such esteemed guests as Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo, Carlos Nunez and Yosuke Yamashita.

In the decade since leaving Japan to return to New York City, Watanabe has focused on elevating the quality, sophistication, and depth of his music by collaborating with high-caliber artists of various disciplines and cultures, and by stripping his performances down to essential components and fastidiously avoiding the flashy, pseudo-ritualistic and superfluous elements that are commonly found in taiko shows. 

Watanabe has performed his compositions at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, Kabukiza and in Minamiza, has performed in all 47 prefectures in Japan as well as across the North, Central and South Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia.

As a passionate educator, Kaoru has taught courses at Princeton University, Wesleyan University, Colby and Dickinson Colleges and has been a faculty member at Tanglewood Music Festival and the Silk Road Project's Global Musician Workshop at DePauw University. Kaoru is an instructor for kaDON, an online taiko and fue resource presented by preeminent taiko maker Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten of Tokyo. 

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)

SELECTED ENSEMBLES and COLLABORATORS:

  • Kaoru Watanabe's Ne-O Ensemble
  • Kenny Endo/Kaoru Watanabe Convergence Duo kennyendo.com
  • Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble silkroadproject.org/ensemble
  • Kaoru Watanabe’s RESONANCE featuring Kiyohiko Semba, Kaori Takahashi, Shogo Yoshii, others)
  • KODO, guest artistic director and guest artist kodo.or.jp
  • Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra www.metarecords.com/go.html
  • Kaoru Watanabe/Satoshi Takeishi Duo
  • Jen Shyu: Jade Tongue
  • PAN Project with Jeff Roberts, Gamin, Sori CHoi and Yingchieh Wang  jeff-roberts.org/#!pan-project/c1dtd
  • So Percussion sopercussion.com
  • Simone Leigh (visual artist) simoneleigh.com
  • On Ensemble onesnsemble.org
  • Kakinuma Koji (calligrapher) kakinumakoji.com
  • Sun Trio feat. Tetsuro Naito and Patrick Graham
  • MOTIONS featuring Matt Kilmer, Tim Keiper and Chris Dingman motionsmusic.com
  • Flutes of Hope featuring Ralph Samuelson, Steve Gorn, Sumie Kaneko 
  • Alicia Hall Moran’s Motown Project aliciahallmoran.com
  • Imani Uzuari’s The Gypsy Diaries/Hush Arbor imaniuzuri.com
  • TaikOz (Sydney) taikoz.com
  • 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

TEACHING

  • SILK ROAD PROJECT, Global Musician Workshop, faculty
  • PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, lecturer, Japanese Taiko, INT’L PERSPECTIVES
  • KADON ONLINE INSTRUCTION, instructor, Taiko and Fue
  • KAORU WATANABE TAIKO CENTER, founder, instructor - BROOKLYN, NY 2008-PRESENT
  • WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY, instructor, Japanese Taiko – Spring 2011 to 2013
  • DICKINSON COLLEGE, instructor, Japanese Taiko- Fall 2012
  • COLBY COLLEGE, instructor, Japanese Taiko - Winter 2011

EDUCATION

  • 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

PRIVATE STUDIES

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)

SPONSORSHIP

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