Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe Celebrate New CD, Convergence with Concerts in Washington D.C. and NY

Posted by Lia Chang

Kenny Endo, one of the most acclaimed Japanese taiko drum performers in the world and Kaoru Watanabe, Brooklyn based Japanese flute and taiko drummer, are celebrating their new CD, Convergence, with guest artist Sumie Kaneko on koto and shamisen at Shapeshifter Lab, 18 Whitwell Place in Brooklyn, NY on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Doors open at 7:30pm and tickets are $12 at the door. Take the R train to Union. Click here for more information.

Kenny Endo, Lia Chang and Kaoru Watanabe.

Kenny Endo, Lia Chang and Kaoru Watanabe.


I caught up with Kenny and Kaoru at their sold-out concert on Saturday, February 23, 2013, presented by The Music From Japan (MFJ) Festival 2013 at New York City’s Baruch Performing Arts Center. An informative lecture/demo preceded the powerful program “Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes – Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue” which celebrated the unique rhythmic and timbral scope of Japanese music and showcased Japanese drums and bamboo flutes in music both new and traditional.

Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe. Photo by Lia Chang

Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe. Photo by Lia Chang


“Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes — Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue” juxtaposes arrangements of traditional Japanese music with original compositions and improvisations by the two performers themselves. Both born in the United States, Endo and Watanabe each spent ten years honing their craft in Japan and are leading exponents of their instruments; as Endo explains, their work “is informed by the traditional music of Japan as well as the improvisational characteristics of American jazz.”

Kenny Endo shows off his newly released collaboration with Kaoru Watanabe- Convergence. Photo by Lia Chang

Kenny Endo shows off his newly released collaboration with Kaoru Watanabe- Convergence. Photo by Lia Chang


Their new collaborative album, Convergence, is now available on CD Baby. A taiko master, Endo was featured on the PBS special Spirit of Taiko (2006) and as artist-in-residence at New York’s Lincoln Center Institute. His soundtrack credits include Apocalypse Now and Avatar, and he has opened for The Who, played duets with Bobby McFerrin, and performed with orchestras including the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Watanabe, a former member and artistic director of the renowned taiko ensemble Kodo, is a master of experimental improvisation and contemporary jazz, as well as of Japan’s classical and folk traditions.

MFJ’s 38th festival season draws to a close with a repeat performance “Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes — Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue” at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC on Wednesday, February 27, 2013.

Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes — Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue
Artists: Kenny Endo, taiko (drums); Kaoru Watanabe, taiko and fue (bamboo flutes)
Program: Kenny Endo: Jugoya
Kaoru Watanabe: Together Alone
Chakuto (trad.)
Kenny Endo: Symmetrical Soundscapes; Sand
Kaoru Watanabe: Hiraki
Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Chigen
Kenny Endo: Spirit Sounds; Swing, Soul and Sincerity

Kenny Endo. Photo by Lia Chang

Kenny Endo. Photo by Lia Chang


Kenny Endo
One of today’s leading figures in percussion and rhythm, Kenny Endo is at the vanguard of taiko performance, continuing to carve new territory in this Japanese drumming style. A performer, composer, and teacher of taiko, he has received numerous awards and accolades, including very special recognition in Japan, where he was the first foreigner to be honored with a “natori”: a Japanese stage name. Endo was a featured artist on the PBS special Spirit of Taiko in 2005. A consummate artist, he blends Japanese taiko with rhythms influenced by his jazz background and by collaborations with musicians from around the world. He has performed for such musicians as Prince and the late Michael Jackson, opened for The Who, and played a duet with singer Bobby McFerrin; he has also been featured on the soundtracks for Kayo Hatta’s film Picture Bride, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and James Cameron’s Avatar. Endo had a day named for him – “Kenny Endo Day” – by the Mayor of Honolulu, and was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts for American Masterpieces.www.kennyendo.com

Kaoru Watanabe. Photo by Lia Chang

Kaoru Watanabe. Photo by Lia Chang


Kaoru Watanabe
Based in New York, Kaoru Watanabe plays various Japanese traverse bamboo fue, the taiko drum, and Western flute, blending Japanese folk and classical traditions with contemporary improvisational and experimental music. After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music, Watanabe moved to Sado Island, Japan in order to join the iconic taiko ensemble Kodo, with whom he toured Japan, North America and Europe, in venues including Carnegie Hall and London’s Barbican Hall. He served as one of Kodo’s artistic directors from 2005 to 2007, and his compositions can be heard on the ensemble’s Sony albums Mondo Head, Prism Rhythm, and One Earth Tour Special. Collaborations include performances with jazz pianist Jason Moran and Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo, while recent projects have taken him to Mongolia, French Guiana, Argentina, and the Caribbean, receiving support from the Japan Foundation and Asian Cultural Council. Watanabe teaches workshops and master classes internationally, besides giving courses at Princeton and Wesleyan Universities and regular classes at his own studio, the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Brooklyn. His fue are provided by master flute maker Ranjo. www.watanabekaoru.com

Kaoru Watanabe with his wife Mari Nakano. Photo by Lia Chang

Kaoru Watanabe with his wife Mari Nakano. Photo by Lia Chang


Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe. Photo by Lia Chang

Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe. Photo by Lia Chang


Founded in 1975 by current Artistic Director Naoyuki Miura, Music From Japan continues to preside as the leading presenter of Japanese contemporary and traditional music in the United States and the world. After three decades of touring throughout North and South America, Central Asia and Japan, Music From Japan has presented about 400 works, including 81 world premieres and 69 commissions (for both Japanese and American composers). Over the course of 37 years, more than 166 Japanese composers have been showcased, as well as many traditional Japanese pieces. Music From Japan was honored for its activities when the organization received the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation in July 2007. Mr. Miura was awarded the Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Award in December 2007, the Sen Kayoko Award from the Soroptimist Japan Foundation in November 2010, and the Gen-On Special Award (given by the Japan Society of Contemporary Music) in 2012.www.musicfromjapan.org

Music From Japan Festival 2013, now in its 38th season, is made possible in part by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the state agency.

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Kenny Endo, Lia Chang and Kaoru Watanabe. Photo by George Hirose

Kenny Endo, Lia Chang and Kaoru Watanabe. Photo by George Hirose


Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist.