New Age and Smooth Jazz artist Kazu Matsui was born in Tokyo on June 5, 1954. He studied ethnic arts at UCLA after traveling through Europe and India in the mid 1970’s. He went back to Tokyo to teach Educational Theories at Toyoeiwa Woman's University. At the same time, Matsui began his music career with studio sessions that included major players of the day, Danny O'Keefe (1979’s The Global Blues), Ry Cooder (1982's Slide Area) and Joni Mitchell (1985's Dog Eat Dog). He was a musical contributor to major Hollywood features including Willow, Legends of the Fall and Jumanji. Kazu also produced recordings for his wife, keyboardist Keiko Matsui. His debut solo album, Sign of the Snow Crane, was released in 1989, and then, after a too-long-of-a wait period, he released 1995's Wind, 1997's Tribal Mozart, and its 1999 sequel, Tribal Schubert. In 2002, Bamboo was released to great critical acclaim, and three years later came Stone Monkey, a wild mix of his masterful shakuhachi playing mixed with break beats. This year we are fortunate to see the release of Pioneer, another CD for his side group, the Kazu Matsui Project. He is also now involved in the educational process in his home country as a member of the State Board of Education in Saitama. I was recently able to speak with Kazu and asked him why he wraps himself around certain projects in his life.
Kazu Matsui is a master. He is a master shakuhachi player (a native Japanese flute), a master music producer, a master educator and a master parent. Just a few minutes discussing his newest album and you see how all of this mastery combines to make a better world for us all. Kazu is a fascinating character. Speaking with him was an honor.
Kazu's newest music endeavor is Pioneer, the creation of a compilation featuring the works of the Kazu Matsui Project circa the 1980’s era. As producer and contributor, Kazu put together music rendered by great and renowned studio musicians such as Robben Ford, Paulinho DeCosta, and Carlos Vega, as well as Kazu’s prolific wife, Keiko Matsui. These now famous musicians were "young, coming up, and just starting at that time," says Kazu. "Russell was playing with Robben Ford 25 years ago, at a time when I was fortunate enough to be producing five albums a year."
There is no denying that the music on this CD is from that era, full of the new electronica of the day, and chocked full of songs with lyrics that, while they transcend time, are familiar words to those who pine for the 80’s mantras. This is what Kazu calls a "Vocal Album." "Vocal albums had no radio outlet then and producer-oriented albums were impossible to market", says Matsui. With the dawn of the Smooth Jazz radio format, that changed and the success of that genre has made the product much easier to sell. When I asked Kazu why he was putting out a compilation of ‘80’s made music now, in 2006, he says it’s because "the ‘80’s sound is back, full of good melody, lyrics, and sincere projects. The music of that time is sincere; fresh. Some people dig into the music. There seems to be an almost ‘cult-like’ following of my old stuff. I have very loyal followers," says Kazu modestly.
The smooth jazz format is changing, and according to Kazu, it is getting "weird It’s getting strange all over the United States", but he is hoping that his new album will get airplay and that his theory of the importance of vocal albums to new listeners of the format will make his music popular to those outside his "cult following" in the States. Two-thirds of the tracks on Pioneer were never released in the U.S., and there was only a small release of the other third. So this renaissance is new to us all
As passionate at Mr. Matsui is about his musical projects, he is no more thrilled than when talking about his education platform. In Japan, Kazu is a member of the state board of education in Saitama, a state prefecture of Tokyo. His heart is intensely involved with cultivating what he calls "the Parental Mind." Kazu says his theory is based around his belief that "we are all capable of being happy with small children because their qualities are in our DNA". His quest is to see the implementation of mandatory parental involvement in their children’s preschool and kindergarten education in the classroom setting. This, he says, will "create a generation of people who respect their parents," and who become happier adults.
Kazu talks of a theory that states that "the weakest of the weak, in this case, babies, pull out the goodness, kindness, peace and calm of society." He says that "babies grow parents; parents don’t grow babies." This would mean that parents should spend more time raising their children as they grow up. In America, this is rare. Also in America, we are taught to push our kids to be successful financially and in their careers. Kazu believes this is a mistake because, he says, only ten percent of the American population "owns" 86% of American wealth. Therefore, we are setting our children up for failure. These children turn into unhappy parents, and the cycle is repeated.
According to Kazu, people are not meant to be independent. We need to realize that we all should be able to rely on one another. Sacrifice is the key, according to Kazu, who says "God gave us the way to become happy. It is to become good parents. To sacrifice for our children. This is the key to happiness." Well, Kazu: I personally think that you are dead-on right, and one other thing. Mr. Matsui. God also gave us your vision, your wisdom, and your music. Thank you, God!
Pioneer from The Kazu Matsui Project is currently available at music stores worldwide.