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First Lady of Contemporary Jazz

Keiko Matsui, first lady of contemporary jazz, offers a brand new "collection" of recordings, adding to her never-ending search for the perfect melody. Keiko Matsui's new release "Deep Blue," shows her artistic depth in full tandem with her re-acquaintance with acoustic piano.

Although Keiko's recordings always feature keyboards and acoustic piano, her reflective collection boast a grand piano at the forefront of her compositions. The moody, emotional pieces that encompass "Deep Blue" have an abundance of melodic development and dynamics her listener's have come to enjoy. The programmatic imagery of her compositional style and her use of space breathes life into the tapestry of sounds reminiscent of the Mediterranean.

Mrs. Matsui has been very busy and unrelenting in her creative pace the past twelve months. After concluding the "Whisper From The Mirror" (Fall 2000) tour with her electric band, Keiko set out on a special duo tour with Bob James. The unprecedented meeting of these two titans in a "four hands-one piano" context was an extension of their pairing on each other's recordings "Dancing on the Water" - James, and "Whisper from the Mirror," - Keiko, utilizing the exciting four hands approach both had experimented with during their mutual recording sessions. The duo tour began January and concluded in April (2001) offering a chance to tour Japan, Puerto Rico and the USA.

Keiko has toured throughout the summer and found time to work on her husband Kazu's new release, "Bamboo" (June 21 release in Japan), where she performs acoustic piano accompaniment to his shakuhachi melodies. Keiko has also been working on a solo piano version of her compositions from "Deep Blue" which will be released in Japan on September 21, 2001. The CD title "Mizu No Yousei" or "Water Fairy" will mirror the compositions of "Deep Blue" containing intricate, introspective versions of acoustic piano without the loops or postproduction to the tracks. It seems the number one Female Artist of the Year Oasis Awards 1999/2000 has found a wellspring of inspiration from her never-ending activity as a mother, performer and humanitarian.

Keiko's latest recordings are on a new label, Narada Jazz, which coincides with her unrelenting pace of creativity. Keiko is also adding an EP disk to her cancer treatment benefit efforts entitled "A Gift of Life." The National Marrow Donor Program and The Marrow Foundation, along with Asians for Miracle Matches (A3M) are the recipients of her living trust. All of the proceeds from her 17-minute EP go to these causes, which are co-sponsored by Jazziz Magazine, Narada Jazz, Wherehouse Music and others. For detailed information on these groups and their causes, check out Keiko's home page at

Our interview took place while Keiko was in Tokyo preparing for her "Starnight 2001- A Decade of Miracles" at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, California July 28, 2001 (her USA home base). I found Keiko to be very excited about her latest project and very personable during our discussion where she proves great music has "No Borders," to coin a title from one of her previous releases. "Music is like prayer." - Keiko Matsui. We're glad to speak with you about your new releases and musical projects since last year. You've been extremely busy.

Keiko Matsui: "I'm busy, but enjoying myself." I really enjoyed your concert in Atlanta last fall where you performed tracks from 'Whisper From The Mirror' (2nd sold out performance in two years). A lot has happened with you since I spoke with Kazu in an interview.

Keiko Matsui: "Right." Now currently you have a Japan only release entitled 'The Piano' which seems to be a greatest hits package based upon the song selection for that market.

Keiko Matsui: "Yes, solo piano and DAT (self accompaniment on piano /keyboards). That was in the beginning...just a special concert for Japanese fans at the church. But, the record company wanted us (Keiko, Kazu) to release it." Well, great. I'm glad that you did. Now is that CD going to be released in the US that same collection?

Keiko Matsui: "In the future I think so, but right now we don't have any plans yet." I noticed 'Deep Blue' had different selections, so I know you've been really busy doing a lot of composing.

Keiko Matsui: "Right. After I met you (October 2000), I had a Japan tour and US tour with Bob James." Yes. Four-hand piano!

Keiko Matsui: "Right, only with one piano. So, during that time I was also recording the music for 'Deep Blue.'" Kind of at the same time?

Keiko Matsui: "Yes, kind of the same time. (laughs)" Did you record some of "Deep Blue" in Japan?

Keiko Matsui: "No, in the States. I was preparing and composing during the tour too. I finished recording in the US. During some parts of the tour I did recording too." Well, I know you had to be very busy. That had to be very, very strange to work a whole show in the four-hand duo style, apart from a few of the solo spots you and Bob James performed in. That had to make you concentrate 100% the whole time.

Keiko Matsui: "It was sort of different because usually I just tour with a (electric) band. So this is very different but a very interesting project." Absolutely! I hope we will see more of this duo in the future. The tour was a very rare occasion and I'm surprised there wasn't more press on that project. I found out about the tour from interviewing Kazu and I was very surprised there wasn't more awareness from the jazz community about it because that tour was so rare and special for you, Bob James and the listeners. The tour was so special. I hope you have a video document of the performance possibly for release. The video or recording could be nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance with group or duo.

Keiko Matsui: "That would be great!" You really worked hard and that is part of the reason your fans love you so much. There is always some surprise.

Keiko Matsui: "Some people were surprised a lot." It is hard to explain to people how special that was. My first recollection of you was on the 'Dreamwalk CD (1996) that was a special release for me and I've been checking you out ever since.

Keiko Matsui: "Thank you, very much! That CD was the hit." It was really a hit with me. Although you changed your style somewhat, a lot of your playing retains integrity and quality. Your last two releases seem to have more of an esoteric style of music almost like a film score and use mood settings as opposed to the electric grooves from the past. Regardless of the change from year to year, you always have the same elements of your playing.

Keiko Matsui: "Right. Right. I was enjoying playing acoustic piano more and more. Also, the scenery or the depth of the sound I enjoyed the acoustic a lot more." It sounds like it. Even your touch on the electric keyboards is very good and comes from your acoustic approach and is so sensitive dynamic wise.

Keiko Matsui: "Right." That it is like a voice. The articulations are not one- dimensional, but reflect a voice with all the dimensions, loud, soft, hard, etc.

Keiko Matsui: "Right. Just like 'Deep Blue' there are so many wide dynamic changes." I noticed.

Keiko Matsui: "The sensitivity?" Definitely. The damper pedal is your friend.

Keiko Matsui: "On some tunes it was like I was talking. I was playing like I was talking like reading a poem type of feeling. But, some tunes I play hard (dynamically) and I've been enjoying the difference in this form of expression." Yes, it is very expressive and programmatic when you have a piece like "Deep Blue." It is almost like descending into warm water or something. It brings a mental image to your mind.

Keiko Matsui: "Yes." That's another element your bringing to the music. When you have bass, drums, guitar or other instruments, it translates to more groove or riff music, but this is more intimate for the listener because you have the programmatic, mental scenery that matches the music.

Keiko Matsui: "Right. I like the combination of using loops (sampling) and the acoustic piano because with loops, I can get more of a hypnotic feeling. I love playing with musicians, but at the same time, for the album, this is a very interesting combination of human and digital using program loops that are real sounds. Musicians play these too (loops) and combining these elements together gives more of a hypnotic feeling." Oh Absolutely! I noticed more use of Middle Eastern percussion and strings that fade in and out of a number of the pieces. You never write one composition that has the same mood all the way through. You always develop your music and that is what is so good. It isn't like listening to the first 30 seconds and you know how the piece is going to turn out over the next 4 minutes or more. Because, 30 seconds seems to introduce the actual body of the piece you are performing. This method is almost like a suite form how there are three distinct sections, all fully developed from one passage to another. Your style is special and the music really grows.

Keiko Matsui: "Yes, I love dramatic elements too. This time the compositional images are from the Mediterranean. The scenery and the "inside passion" from that area are part of the inspiration." I noticed 'Deep Blue' almost begins as a children's lullaby and the descending melody line in 5ths is really beautiful. You've got a lot of things working there. Believe it or not, some of the most beautiful notes are the space notes because you utilize "space" notes in a very special way. It is almost like

Keiko Matsui: "Great. I'm so glad you used the word 'space' because for me, the silence between the notes is so important and space speaks more to me." It is almost like the same device Miles Davis would use. He would use space intentionally letting the listener participate in the composition. It is not like a two dimensional reaction - performer, listener, where the listener just listens- the performer just plays. There is interaction there because the listener can almost telepathically, musically or spiritually feel or hear what you are about to perform next. That makes the relationship three-dimensional.

Keiko Matsui: "Right. I'm so glad you noticed that." There is a quote from the poet Keats; "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard (i.e. like your melodic style - between our ears) is sweeter. That is a perfect example of your use of "taste" in performance and there is always a mood involved and that is why your fans love you so much. Speaking about your fans, Congratulations on your second Oasis Smooth Jazz Award for "Best Female Jazz Artist" the second year in a row!

Keiko Matsui: "Oh, right. Thank you very much. I was surprised when I received the award for the second time." We had staff (Jazz Review) covering the show and it has a picture of you and Bob James in your four-hand piano performance.

Keiko Matsui: "Thank you. During the last concert of the four-hand tour in Japan, we broadcasted the concert on broadband or the Internet and you can get a link from my site (Steve Snyder's Fan site USA) and Bob James ( if anyone wants to see the performance on streaming video." Thanks for your information.

Keiko Matsui: "Actually, right now I'm doing a small tour for the Bone Marrow Awareness and that will begin in late July through August and we will tour Japan and South Africa in August -September." You also have a birthday coming up soon. Happy Birthday! (July 26th)

Keiko Matsui: "Thank you. Everything seems so worldwide. I just received emails from Germany, South Africa, Taiwan and Europe and now quite a few from Japan." I know the fans and people from Japan are really proud of you and have been listening and buying the music a lot know. Perhaps, they will show you on TV there.

Keiko Matsui: "Some people now say they saw my concert video on BET." (BET Jazz presents- Keiko Matsui on DVD, VHS) Your video from San Francisco won an award and I loved the program and guest artists like Paul Taylor.

Keiko Matsui: "Thank You." I noticed this year you are not performing much on the East Coast. Was this because you toured that area heavily during the four -hands tour with Bob James?

Keiko Matsui: "That was with the four- hands tour but right now I will be touring with my electric band." Any way we can see you is fine. Ha! Ha! Because, it is good all the time. The National Marrow Donor Program you are show you will be performing in Long Beach is an extension of Your Work with a Gift Of Hope and the Say It, Fight It, Cure It campaigns. In the Gift Of Hope show you had an elegant duo performance with World Champion Ice Skater Ekaterina Goordeava. She chose "Nighthawk's Dream" for her routine and actually won contests with the music. This shows how graceful and melodic your music is.

Keiko Matsui: "I was really happy that she liked my music. She is one of the world's best champions so I was very glad to perform my music with her. That was a special moment during the Gift of Hope campaign." Yes. Now this time, are donating a disk for the bone marrow cancer group?

Keiko Matsui: "Yes. It is called 'Gift of Life' and it has four tunes. During my tours I get in touch with many people of different ethnic groups and this is a very good thing for me to do." The "Starnight - A Decade of Miracles" program has a focus on bone marrow screening for Asians since this ethnic group has 1/3rd less a chance of finding a suitable donor than other ethnic groups. (1-888-236-46730)

Keiko Matsui: "Yes. I am from one of the Asian groups so I feel I can use my position as a musician or artist to help bring a cure for the cancer and help celebrate the benefit campaign (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and " The benefit EP has four tunes and is about 17 minutes long.

Keiko Matsui: "Yes. All of the proceeds go to the National Marrow Donor Program ( and it is on my new label Narada Jazz (" Yes. I also noticed that you packaged the 'Deep Blue' CD just like the others since 'Dreamwalk'by offering an enhanced CD with extra cuts via video.

Keiko Matsui: "Right, We know we can create the music for the album but also be creative input with the video and CD cover too. Some people cannot see my tours, so sometimes, I will put a diary or interview with a performance so they can see how it would be like at my shows." I think that really helps because you have so many fans in Asia, Europe and as you mentioned, South Africa. They don't have a chance to see you in performance sometime so this can definitely help widen your audience. On Kazu's new CD 'Bamboo' I see that you play acoustic piano on this as well.

Keiko Matsui: "Yes, I play piano and Derek Nakamoto does the arranging-the same team." Now just to update everyone, You finished the Four-Hand Tour with Bob James. You have recorded a new cancer benefit EP called 'Gift Of Life' and released a full length CD titled 'Deep Blue'. You have changed your record label and management and have a video of the duo with Bob James that might be released in the future.

Keiko Matsui: "Right. I am also recording solo piano arrangements of the 'Deep Blue' tracks for Japan release called the 'Water Fairy.'" You also have a DVD, VHS of your BET Jazz concert (Washington D.C.) available and you will be touring from now till the winter and again in the spring. I want to congratulate you on your benefit efforts first of all and let the readers know you have a really big show coming up next year at the Kennedy Center March 29, 2002.

Keiko Matsui: "Thank you so much. I'm looking forward to playing there and meeting people at the show. It is a great honor to play there. We have many friends in D.C." I think this is an extension of your body of work, including electric and acoustic music. The diversity of influences in music and the make up of your audience plus, being a number one female artist doesn't hurt either!

Keiko Matsui: "Yes." I think your fan base is going to continue to grow because your music is so melodic and ever changing. Weather it is solo piano, four - hands piano, your electric band or the loops, your melodies are always at the center of the composition. You always project elegance in your music and that is punctuated in the live setting. Your music reflects the way you would seem on stage and the way you seem on stage reflect the music you perform very graceful.

Keiko Matsui: "Thank You. I hope so." I do have some questions about how you conceptualize or go about composing at home. When I spoke with Kazu (husband &producer) he said you like to be alone at night and you will wait for a melody to come to you and once you "receive a melody you develop it from that point on.

Keiko Matsui: "Right, before a tour I will spend more time to prepare and this time I am also working on 'Deep Blue', so we will rehearse with the band. I also write the music down so I don't forget." You always have a great band and everyone works will with each other including Kazu. Ha! Ha! No matter what type of project you work on you always bring great assets to the performance. Melodic development, great sounds, heavy use of dynamics and space are typical tools you use. You use all the great elements that make up great music and with your taste in tones and soul you really breathe soul into your music.

Keiko Matsui: "Thank you." I was going over each track on the new CD 'Deep Blue and I find it hard to narrow down my favorites. That must be difficult for you to pick your live material from the album.

Keiko Matsui: "They are like my child so I cannot say which is my favorite tune sometimes." I know your booking is through Ted Kurland Associates in Boston and let the readers interested in booking you get the site. Telephone - (617) 254-0007.

Keiko Matsui: "Thank you for your help." This wouldn't be possible with out your hard work so Thank you very much, Keiko! We look forward to seeing you on tour again!

Keiko Matsui: "Thank You, Ron."

Keiko Matsui -
Narada Jazz -

In the week ending August 18, 2001 Keiko's new CD, Deep Blue has been #1 on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Charts for three weeks in a row so far. Congratulations, Keiko!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Keiko Matsui
  • Subtitle: Keiko Matsui
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