Renowned jazz pianist Keiko Matsui is on a journey to find and share hope
For Japanese jazz pianist Keiko Matsui, life’s a journey. Her 23rd album is characterized by the ellipsis after the title: The Road … Matsui says the three dots represent the idea that the road is like a journey that never ends. “We are the owner and creator of the road, each one of us.”
Her album takes the listener on a worldwide quest for peace, and offers insight into her personal odyssey. “I started feeling that it was a long way to come here, and there were hardships,” says Matsui. “But still, life is beautiful. When I received the first melody, I thought about that, and all these inspirations reflected toward my whole album.”
Asked what it means to “receive” a melody, Matsui describes her songwriting process. “I set special time without playing, just sitting in front of the piano, waiting to hear something,” she says. “So it’s more like trying not to write. The beginning point is waiting to hear.”
The pianist claims she has no clue from who or where she receives her melodies. “Somehow the melodies carry elements from somewhere,” she says. “I have never been to Argentina or any place like that, but still my writing is sometimes jazzy, sometimes tango, sometimes rock, sometimes classic. But all the elements came through me.”
Perhaps her worldwide fans and collaborators in the studio, have something to do with her eclectic musical blend. Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona—one of hundreds of jazz musicians to work with Matsui—helped her craft the song “Nguea Wonja” off her new album. She remembers asking Bona what Nguea Wonja meant in his native language. “To be proud of your journey,” he replied—a fitting theme for an album about finding your own path.
Matsui admits that her fans have just as much of an impact on her music. “Sometimes people are listening to my music when they are having hard times with disease, or during the war, and they find hope in my music,” says Matsui, referencing fan letters she has received. “I’ve heard that doctors are using my music for operations, or for the baby birth too. Or sometimes a painter, or masseuse, or figure skater—they are all using my music when they do their own art. I have never met them, but still my music has met them, and we collaborate.”
Appealing to all walks of life, Matsui’s music appears to have some sort of transformative quality that transcends boundaries. “One thing that I know and experience from my live performance is that my music has some mystical magic power,” she says. “Music connects beyond the culture, or the difference of the religion, or the country. And I feel so fortunate, because I can travel with my music in any country, and we can feel oneness, and we can connect to each other with the music.”
She felt that intimate connection with fans 15 years ago at a concert in South Africa. Matsui’s manager had informed her that she had become a big star in the country after a PBS satellite broadcast featured her song “Bridge Over the Stars.” She didn’t believe him until she began playing and the crowd started singing. “What are they singing?” she remembers thinking, since her songs are instrumentals. “Then I noticed they were singing along to the melody … ‘Keiko,’ ‘Keiko,’ ‘Keiko Matsui.’ They were singing my name with the melody,” she says.
“It was so powerful,” she continues. “And at the same time I feel that they have so much passion, because the society is having a hard time. So they are passionate with hope toward music.”
Matsui brings that sense of hope to Kuumbwa Jazz this Thursday, where she will debut her latest work. “This is a beautiful album for my life,” she says of The Road … “And I’d like to send energy to each one of you for your courage and send energy for your life.”
INFO: 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 11. Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz. $28/Adv, $31/Door. 427-2227.