by Kenny Endo
In 2013, Kaoru Watanabe and I released a CD titled, Convergence, which includes original compositions by both of us as well as improvisations and pieces influenced by Japanese classical drumming (Hogaku Hayashi).
Kaoru and I met in St Louis in 1993 when I performed at the Sheldon Concert Hall. Kaoru was a high school student and was one of two members of St. Louis Osuwa Daiko, who were guests in the concert. At that time, I was impressed by his flute (Western flute) and taiko playing. He went on to finish his degree in music in NYC, and joined Soh Daiko. Eventually, he moved to Japan and was accepted as a member of Kodo and served as one of the main players and an artistic director of the group. In 2006, he relocated to NYC, where he leads his own ensembles, collaborates with artists from around the globe, and teaches both taiko and bamboo flute (shinobue) at the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Brooklyn, NY.
Having played drums and percussion since I was 5, it wasn’t until 1975 that I started taiko with Kinnara Taiko in Los Angeles and later studied with Seiichi Tanaka of the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. From 1980- 1990, I lived in Japan and studied and performed with Osuwa Daiko and O Edo Sukeroku Taiko. During the time in Japan, I studied hogaku hayashi with Saburo Mochizuki and Bokusei Mochizuki as well as Edo Sato Kagura with Kenjiro Maru of the Wakayama Shachu. Since 1990, I’ve been based in Honolulu where my wife, Chizuko and I established the Taiko Center of the Pacific. I continue to lead my taiko ensemble as well as collaborate with a wide variety of artists.
In 2007, when Kaoru and Chieko Kojima (Kodo) were touring the US, the three of us (along with Monami Shishikura- koto, shamisen, vocals) had the opportunity to perform together in Honolulu.
Since that time, Kaoru and I have performed as a duet, in each other’s ensembles, and in collaborations. Although Kaoru is based in NYC and myself in Hawaii, we’ve managed to work together many times throughout the years.
We’ve talked about recording for a long time and our CD, Convergence was recorded in August 2011 at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center’s Aratani Japan America Theater. The recording engineer was Shoji Kameda (of On Ensemble) who not only did a great job recording but offered artistic advice as well. We spent about three days recording. By the time the CD was mixed, mastered, and printed, it was February 2013 when we finally released Convergence. Mari Nakano did a wonderful job designing the CD artwork (which included her photography as well).
Convergence is a unique meeting of East and West, tradition and innovation, and discipline and improvisation. There is an instinctive energy and communication that happen when Kaoru and I work together. We can take the stage without playing together for many months or even speaking about what we’ll do onstage- and the music will happen.
In the same way, the recording of Convergence was created organically. The compositions on the CD were born in 3 basic ways:
– Individually- (Kaoru’s Nocturne, Together Alone, and Procession: Ascent/Descent and Kenny’s Sand and Swing, Soul, and Sincerity)
– Collaboration/ improvisation- (Fire Improv and Chigen)
– Rearranged traditional pieces (Chakuto/ Tobi Sari and Steppes)
Kaoru and I hope to continue our collaboration in making music and will seek opportunities to present live performances together.
This article was written on: November 5th, 2013
Original language of this article: English
Pictures: All the pictures were provided by Mari Nakano
Author: Kenny Endo
Nationality: United States
One of the leading personas in contemporary percussion and rhythm, Kenny Endo is at the vanguard of the taiko genre, continuing to carve new territory in this Japanese style of drumming. A performer, composer, and teacher of taiko, he has received awards and accolades, including a very special recognition in Japan— the first foreigner to be honored with a “natori,” a stage name, in Japanese classical drumming. Endo was a featured artist on the PBS special “Spirit of Taiko” in 2005. He has performed for such musicians as the late Michael Jackson and Prince. He’s even opened for The Who, Princess Diana, and Prince Charles. Endo also performed a duet with singer Bobby McFerrin and is featured on the soundtracks for Kayo Hatta’s “Picture Bride”, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, and James Cameron’s Oscar-winning film “Avatar”. He is one of the few people in Oahu to have a day named on his behalf by the Mayor of Honolulu (“Kenny Endo Day”), and was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts for American Masterpieces. Kenny Endo is a consummate artist, blending Japanese taiko with rhythms influenced by his jazz background and by collaborations with musicians from around the world. Born in Los Angeles, he matriculated at the University of Hawaii. For more information see: www.kennyendo.com