LEVEL21 EXCLUSIVE- In collaboration with Chequelle Brown
When asked about how she got her start in the music industry, legendary jazz pianist Keiko Matsui remains humble about her roots, crediting her mother with instilling a love of music in her from a young age, and pushing her to get into the industry. Matsui, who was born in Tokyo, began taking classical piano lessons when she was five, but developed an interest in the jazz tradition in junior high school. Today, the musician boasts an impressive career, one which has included working with the likes of Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masekela, and Bob James. With that being said, Matsui isn’t interested in material success. Instead, she finds joy in being able to perform for a crowd, and watching people enjoy her music. Now, after over four decades in the music industry, Matsui has the privilege of watching generations of families enjoy and share in her music— and she looks forward to sharing her music with many generations to come.
Matsui has had a very busy career, and has no plans of slowing down now. Prior to the pandemic, Matsui released her 28th recording as leader, entitled Echo, which was co-produced by Grammy nominated producer Bud Harner. Matsui has sold over 1.2 million albums in the United States alone, and plans to continue touring for at least the next five to ten years. This latest project, which was released in 2019, features a plethora of well known artists, including bassist Marcus Miller, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and Kyle Eastwood (the son of Clint Eastwood). And yet, even with all of these sonic influences, the album remains uniquely her own, featuring the lush harmonies and global rhythms that are characteristic of Matsui’s timeless musical style.
When asked about what went into producing the album, Matsui remains introspective about the process. “While composing the songs on Echo, I had a feeling of gratitude and a sense that there were infinite possibilities,” the artist reflected. “This music is close to my heart because it is a celebration of the joy of the imagination, the strength of courage and the endurance of faith. It is about romance and a reminder to honor all living things.” Echo is a musical reflection of the artist’s own contemplations, featuring tender melodies such as “Invisible Rain” and “Spirit Dance.”
Echo is the latest of many successful projects that Keiko Matsui has underneath her belt. After making her US debut in 1987 with her album A Drop of Water, Matsui went on to produce a plethora of different albums throughout the late 80s and early 90s. In 1995, she reached No. 1 on the Billboard magazine Contemporary jazz chart with her album Sapphire, remaining there for over fifteen months and solidifying her reputation within the industry.
In the late 90s, Keiko Matsui took an interest in philanthropy, and utilized her music to give back to her fans and the community. In 1997, Matsui launched a tour that was dedicated to raising awareness for breast cancer, releasing a CD entitled A Gift of Hope that benefited the Y-Me Breast Cancer Organization as well. In 1999, Matsui performed at a skating concert that featured Olympic skaters Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski, Ekaterina Gordeeva, and Katarina Witt— benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation. In 2004, the title track of her album Wildflower was used to support the United Nations World Food Program. When asked about her humanitarian efforts, Matsui remains characteristically humble about her music and its impact. “When I hear of a cause that resonates with me that I can dedicate my music to, then I am always willing. It is my way to show gratitude and give back,” the musician reflected.
More recently, Keiko Matsui has found success with her 2001 release entitled Deep Blue, which topped Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart for three consecutive weeks. In 2009, Matsui put together a Christmas show at The Blue Note Club in Tokyo, and then went on to play a sold out debut show in 2010 at The Blue Note in New York. In 2016, Matsui released her first acoustic project entitled Journey to the Heart, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts. Now, with her 28th recording under her belt, Matsui is excited to continue sharing her music with the world. “My sole desire is to write songs that create a feeling of oneness,” she explains. After a year of pandemic isolation keeping us all apart, it seems as though Keiko Matsui’s music is just what we all need.