Keiko Matsui brings global grooves to D.C.

International jazz piano sensation Keiko Matsui’s previous visit to D.C., in 2011, comprised four sold-out nights at Blues Alley. Thanks to the U.S. Air Force Band’s annual Guest Artist Series, you have the opportunity to hear her in a free D.C. performance, this coming Sunday at DAR Constitution Hall.

Matsui has released 23 albums since her first recording at the age of 17, marrying her elegant piano melodies and gentle jazz grooves to diverse styles. She packs concert halls throughout the world and has collaborated, most recently, with the likes of Hugh Masekela and Cameroonian bassist and vocalist Richard Bona, who lent his distinctive sound to The Road…, her 2011 release.

Matsui returns as a “fan favorite” in this, her third appearance alongside the USAF Band in their Guest Artist Series. Leading the USAF Band will be Second Lt. Shanti Nolan, who says the show will be multi-faceted, featuring members of the Concert Band, Strolling Strings and the USAF’s rock band accompanying Matsui on arrangements orchestrated by the USAF’s musicians. The show will also feature USAF ensemble performances and a piece by the Young Artist Competition Winner, Tubist, Evan Zegiel.

Speaking by phone from Tokyo, Matsui recently answered a few questions about the forthcoming performance.

CapitalBop: This will be your third collaboration with the USAF Band; what kind of show can we anticipate?

Keiko Matsui: For me, it will be a special performance, as this year is the 100th anniversary of the Washington Cherry Blossom planting. The first time I performed with the USAF was during the Cherry Blossom Festival, and I was part of the parade. Last year, when I opened the Cherry Blossom Festival, right after the tragedy in Japan, which happened when I was in Tokyo, I felt such gratitude for everyone’s support and prayers. I talked about that and performed some solo piano songs.

Returning, this time to the DAR Constitution Hall, will be very special for me. Some songs from my new album, The Road…, will be performed with an orchestral arrangement for the first time, along with some of my hits from the past. So, something new … but with the best of the best, I think!

CB: How do you and the band prepare for a collaborative performance of this kind?

I live in the U.S. and go back and forth to Japan, so I will be flying in on the Friday before the show. We will rehearse with the orchestra the night before the show. The orchestra will be prepared and we will be ready – jetlag will not be a problem with such excitement! I’ll be bringing with me drummer Chad Wright, Eric Baines on bass and Jackiem Joyner on saxophone. In the past, the U.S. Air Force Band has made great arrangements of my songs, so we have a good repertoire. The orchestra enhances my music and it’s a truly wonderful experience to perform with them.

CB: Your most recent albums have a diverse, sometimes “world-music” sound in terms of the musical themes and musicians you choose to work with, such as Richard Bona. A tune like “Affirmation” featured a gospel feel – do you see these changes as reflecting a change in your style?

KM: To me, music has no borders. My music is not just contemporary jazz. My compositions are born from my inspiration and sometimes are more like classical, sometimes like rock, sometimes like world music. A song like Affirmation is an anthem for life – it’s a very spiritual song for me. Kirk Whalen (saxophone), who is also a pastor, made a beautiful prayer for me before we recorded the song, which was very moving…. I was very impressed. I do like to feature different types of musicians from all over the world and make collaborations in many different genres.

CB: What’s happening in the future for Keiko Matsui?

After the D.C. show I go to Russia and then Hawaii for more shows. I’ll also be touring the U.S. – since the USA is so big, there are still many places to take my new music. I’ll be back in Washington to play at Blues Alley again in April.

At the same time, I have a different project with Bob James, which is one piano, four hands, and we will do some tour for that too. I would also like to make new project… but that’s in my head! My hope and aspiration is to continue to make a peaceful air on earth through my music.  Music is great – I have been fortunate to play in different countries with different religions – music connects us across all the differences!

Keiko Martsui performs at 3 p.m. this Sunday, at DAR Constitution Hall. For more information, click here, or visit




About Ken Avis

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Ken Avis is a writer, broadcaster, film maker and musician with D.C. world-jazz group Veronneau.

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