Keiko Matsui

2014 Keiko Matsui

A story of grace-in-motion describes the rise of composer and jazz pianist Keiko Matsui upon the world music scene from Japan. She slowly but surely won fans with a unique blend of musical textures, woven from the diverse influences guiding her since childhood: classical, fusion, R&B, pop, sacred music, and the sounds of nature.

With yet more grace, it has been her consistent practice to offer music in service to the world. Few performers have developed humanitarian efforts to such a high degree. Over the years, she has donated proceeds of ticket sales from concert tours, and has created 4-selection CDs to benefit breast cancer research, the U.N's World Food Program, bone-marrow donor organizations in the Asian/African/Hispanic communities, and various peace agencies.

In the late 1960s, five-year-old Keiko began piano lessons in Tokyo. In middle school, she discovered composing. Even then, her music was an unusual melange reflecting eclectic tastes. Classically trained, she counts Rachmaninov as her biggest influence back then, but reports also wanting to create music in the styles of Stevie Wonder and Chick Corea. She studied music at the prestigious Yamaha Music Foundation, and under its auspices composed a major film score for 'Hyoryu' at the age of 17. Her education continued with a college degree in children's culture earned at Japan Women's University and at the same time, she formed the jazz group Cosmos. A performance career began in 1982 with Cosmos, for whom she composed four albums.

Keiko's career as a world performer was launched when she married Kazu Matsui, a player of the shakuhachi - the Japanese traditional wood flute - who became her producer. Between 1987 and 2003, the team produced more than 12 albums, including 'Doll,' 'Sapphire,' 'Dream Walk,' 'Full Moon & The Shrine,' 'Whisper from the Mirror,' 'Deep Blue,' 'Gift of Life,' 'The Ring' (the most familiar to American Generations X and Y), 'The Piano,' 'White Owl,' and 2004's 'Wildflower.' Each generated more buzz than the preceding in her native country and around the world. An appearance at the famed Newport Jazz festival brought her to the attention of ticket holders who might never have discovered her, and she impressed the sophisticated audience with her music's distinctive qualities. A PBS special in 1998, 'Light Above the Trees,' filmed at the famed 1300-year old Itsukushima Shrine in Japan, gave her further exposure.

Prestigious awards to her credit include Billboards Magazine Top Indie Contemporary Jazz Artist of 1996, the American Society of Young Musicians Essence Award for 'capturing the very spirit and soul of audiences worldwide' in 1997, an Oasis Smooth Jazz Award for the video from her PBS special in 1998, and the Oasis Smooth Jazz Award for Best Female Artist in 2001 and 2002.

Keiko Matsui's music is hard to classify in one musical genre, though 'smooth jazz' seems to be coupled with her name most often. But fans don't care what it's called - they'll joyfully continue to purchase CDs and concert tickets. Her entire persona continues to fascinate, with her uncompromising approach to music and her generous humanitarian spirit.


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