Dubbed the first lady of contemporary jazz, Keiko Matsui has been surrounded by music throughout her life. Her mother taught traditional Japanese dance, and her husband plays the shakuhachi flute and has established his own music career. Matsui, who began playing piano and composing music at a very young age, has developed her own multicultural style that has touched the hearts of fans across the world.
Born Keiko Doi on July 26, 1963, in Tokyo, Japan, Matsui began taking piano lessons when she was just five years old. From there, she attended the Yamaha Music Foundation in Japan. She composed her first pieces of music when she was in junior high school. At the age of 17, the Yamaha Music Foundation gave her the opportunity to become one of their recording artists. That same year, she wrote her first major film score. After she finished her education at Yamaha, she attended Nihon Joshidaigaku (Japan Women’s University), where she earned a degree in children’s culture. While in college, she continued to pursue music and recorded four albums with her jazz group, Cosmos.
After she and Kazu Matsui married in the mid-1980s, the couple decided to use the money they had set
Born Keiko Doi on July 26, 1963, in Tokyo, Japan; married Kazu Matsui, mid-1980s; children: Maya and Mako. Education: Attended Yamaha Music Foundation; degree in children’s culture, Nihon Joshidaigaku (Japan Woman’s University).
Began playing piano at age five; studied at the Yamaha Music Foundation; recorded four albums with jazz group Cosmos; released U.S. solo debut, A Drop of Water, signed with MCA Records, 1988; released Night Waltz on Sin-Drome, 1991; signed with Unity Entertainment, 1992; released two LPs on White Cat label and five on Countdown label, 1992-99; released Whisper from the Mirror, 2000; signed with Narada Jazz, released Deep Blue and Gift of Life EP, 2001.
Awards: Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Year, 1996; Essence Award, American Society of Young Musicians, 1997; Best Female Artist, Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards, 1999-2000.
Addresses: Record company —Narada Jazz, 4650 N. Port Washington Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53212. Booking —Ted Kurland Associates, 173 Brighton Avenue, Boston, MA 02134. Website—Keiko Matsui Official Website: http://www.keikomatsui.com.
aside for their honeymoon to produce and release Keiko Matsui’s first solo album. A Drop of Water was released on Passport Records in the United States in 1988, and it featured singer Carl Anderson. Her early style combined Asian and Western classical music with modern jazz. The LP gave Matsui enough recognition that she garnered the attention of major American record labels, and she signed a contract with MCA Records. During the next two years, she recorded and released Under Northern Lights and No Borders.
For her third LP, Night Waltz, Matsui had left MCA Records and released the album with Sin-Drome Records. She then signed a record contract with Unity Entertainment and released her next seven albums on their White Cat label followed by several more albums on their Countdown label. In 1995 she began to receive more American recognition with Sapphire, which climbed to number one on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts. The following year, Matsui released Dream Walk, which included the single “Bridge over the Stars.” As a result of her growing success, Billboard named Matsui the Contemporary Jazz Artist of the Year. “Sometimes when I’m creating, I feel like the music is coming to me from a different space, another dimension,” Matsui told Jonathan Widran in Smooth Jazz News, “as though I am catching notes from the silence and then simply placing them together.”
With almost ten years of recording and touring in the United States behind her, Matsui decided to use her music and fame to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer in 1997. She released a four-song EP titled Gift of Hope and donated the proceeds to the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization. She also donated part of the proceeds of her tour. “I have been so fortunate in my life that I decided I wanted to give something back through my music to charity,” Matsui told Terri Horak in Billboard. “As a woman and the mother of two daughters, I became alarmed by the [breast cancer] statistics and wanted to do what I could.”
That same year, Matsui received the 1997 Essence Award from the American Society of Young Musicians. But her success didn’t cause her to slow down her writing and recording pace. In 1998 she came out with Full Moon and Shrine, which was released at the same time that her special, Keiko Matsui: Light above the Trees, aired on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). The special featured Matsui performing at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, as well as the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyagama Island in Japan. Donn Jehs wrote at the music-reviewer.com website, “Keiko slips from jazz to classical with ease, and both forms are equally compelling.”
In 1998 Matsui also formed a collaborative partnership with pianist Bob James. They began performing fourhands piano together, a technique in which two artists play the same piano at the same time. James and Matsui recorded “Ever After,” which appeared on her Whisper from the Mirror album in 2000. They also performed a four-hands tour, which spanned the United States, Japan, and Puerto Rico. Her music on Whisper from the Mirror came as a result of Matsui’s own self-reflection.
“Recently, I’d been thinking about the vastness of the universe and where we all came from, and to me, part of the answer can be found in the mirror,” Matsui told Widran in Smooth Jazz News. “It reflects not only what is on the outside, but also what lies beneath. For me, the music reflects that inner part of myself, and so I see a great connection between what the mirror whispers and how I express my feelings.”
After Whisper from the Mirror, Matsui switched record labels once again. This time, she moved to Narada Jazz. Her previous works were rereleased on her husband’s label, Kazu Records. Her first CD on Narada, Deep Blue, was released in July of 2001. She not only incorporated her previous style but also added Mediterranean and African rhythms to expand her musical repertoire. Her experiment was successful: Deep Blue reached number one on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart. “I hope to create harmony through my music,” Matsui told Steve Grayhow in Billboard. “The way to do that is to let the music speak in as many languages as possible.”
With another hit record in her repertoire, Matsui did not forget her focus on charity. She dedicated her 2001 tour to increasing awareness for the National Marrow Donor program and donated part of the proceeds to the organization. She also released another four-song EP titled Gift of Life, and she donated 100 percent of the sales to the charity.
Throughout her extensive career, Matsui has worked with her husband, Kazu, who has produced most of her albums. They both frequently contribute to each other’s recordings, making for a sound musical partnership. The couple has managed to balance an accelerated recording and touring schedule and a family life with their two daughters, Maya and Mako. They spend half of their time in Tokyo and the other half in Huntington Beach, California.
From the very first note she composed to her ongoing success 20 years later, the first lady of contemporary jazz has insisted on making music her way, whether it becomes a hit or not. “My style comes from deep within and I just let it flow naturally, whichever direction it goes,” Matsui said in an interview with the GPU Berks Jazz Fest website. “If success meant altering my music to fit preconceived formats, I’d rather stay home and write songs for my children!”
A Drop of Water Passport/Kazu, 1988.
Under Northern Lights, MCA/Kazu, 1989.
No Borders, MCA/Kazu, 1990.
Night Waltz, Sin-Drome/Kazu, 1991.
Cherry Blossom, White Cat/Kazu, 1992.
Doll, White Cat/Kazu, 1994.
Sapphire, Countdown/Kazu, 1995.
Dream Walk, Countdown/Kazu, 1996.
Gift of Hope (EP), Countdown/Kazu, 1997.
Keiko Matsui Collection, Countdown/Kazu, 1997.
Full Moon and the Shrine, Countdown/Kazu, 1998.
Keiko Matsui Live, Countdown/Kazu, 1999.
Whisper from the Mirror, Kazu, 2000.
Deep Blue, Narada Jazz, 2001.
Gift of Life (EP), Narada Jazz, 2001.
Billboard, May 3, 1997; August 4, 2001; August 18, 2001.
Smooth Jazz News, July 2000.
“Jazz Fest Artists: Keiko Matsui,” GPU Berks Jazz Fest, http://www.berksjazzfest.com/bios/matsuibio.htm (December 6, 2001).
“Keiko Matsui,” music-reviewer.com, http://www.musicreviewer.com/06_98/nwage11.htm (December 6, 2001).
“Keiko Matsui,” Ted Kurland Associates, http://www.cyclonecafe.com/tedkurland/artist.php3?code=KMA (December 6, 2001).
“Keiko Matsui… First Lady of Contemporary Jazz,” JazzReview.com, http://jazzreview.com/interviews127.html (December 6, 2001).
Keiko Matsui Official Website, http://www.keikomatsui.com (December 6, 2001).
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